Can music improve performance?

When exercising there are a considerable amount of things to decide, whether to lift weights or run for twenty minutes, what parts of the body to improve, etc. These choices lead to everybody choosing relatively different types of exercise, but what seems to be common throughout the majority of “fitness enthusiasts” is the fact that they all listen to music while going through their respective routines. Now this always interested me as a fellow gym-goer at PSU because when for example one is on a treadmill (with no upper body restrictions) it almost seemed strange to me to just run and listen to music, so I began doing what anybody would do and I started watching Netflix while running. Initially I never saw it as a big deal, I even thought it would make running for twenty minutes go by faster than if I were listening to music. However a few days in I started noticing that I could not produce the same results (time on treadmill, distance run) as I could prior to the switch from music to Netflix. Due to these lacking performances I switched back to listening to music while running and instantly saw my results return and even improve prior to my running with Netflix. This made me genuinely wonder if music does something to the brain/body to make it more durable, ease pain, or uplift mood during times of physical or mental stress.

Courtesy of (

Courtesy of (


To first find this out we have to look at a how music affects the brain, and how something like physical exertion affects the brain and body. Over the decades the effect of music on someone’s brain has been studied somewhat extensively, mainly because many want to know the benefits it can bring when it comes to overall brain power. In The neurochemistry of music , doctors Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel J. Levitan research and write about the effect music can have on the brain when it comes to emotions, healing, and etc with a genuine discussion of how it can have purpose within the field of medicine. Early on in the study it is stated that music can have a strong effect on emotions, with the ability to evoke a wide array of feeling from fear to even emotional arousal. Stating that there are cases in which music has been linked to dopamine, meaning that in some cases it can be considered a strong stimuli.The study goes on to say that though there can be direct emotional response, no information can be deemed conclusive do to the lack of control within each experiment conducted. However what I took away from it is that though it can not be concluded how music affects our minds, there are signs it does in fact elicit some emotional/physical response.


The next thing to determine is what effect exercise/physical exertion has on the mind of humans. It is hard to determine what exactly happens within our brain when we run, play sports, push ourselves (not literally), etc. What I have decided to do is take an element of what I feel when I run everyday and research what response the brain traditionally has to it, pain. Whenever I run I tend to go about ten to twelve minutes at a consistent pace before I begin to start feel my body getting tired, and by this I mean soreness in my legs or possibly cramps around my body. This is where I feel having music is truly crucial, considering that I tend to doubt myself far more without music somewhat jeering me on to keep running. Now I understand that this is completely subjective and others may differ on the value of music in their running, but I still think it is interesting because I believe there are a number of runners who feel the same towards music as I do (due to large numbers of runners I see wearing headphones).


To shift the focus back onto this minor pain one can feel while running, what we really need to look at is ways that this pain can be pacified because that can show how perhaps music plays into this whole idea of creating stronger durability within myself and perhaps other runners. However because nobody has tested these two things together we will have to look at how the brain diverts minor pains within the body, the specialists from give ways in which one can mentally divert attention from pain. The part of the list I would like to focus on is distraction and repetition of mantra because these can be two key parts to what music is used for during a run. Supplying a steady calming rhythm while also providing a subtle distraction from what you are doing, almost putting your body on autopilot.


This idea of distraction is the key idea in all of this, in an article written by Joe Brownstein he writes about a trial in which distraction was used upon participants whilst they were in slight pain and the results were that there was less discomfort due to said distraction. While I think the pain is a different type when running I think it creates the same service as distraction for pain as in the trial, and though I understand it isn’t full proof evidence by any means I think there is a definite connection between music and minor pain relief.


In conclusion I would like to state that though in my mind music is a clear mental and physical strengthener, there has been no strong research to conclude whether it can truly assist in way of durability whilst running. To perhaps have some evidence one could conduct an experiment on two randomized groups of individuals, giving one music and the other nothing, and simply test if there is a strong difference within the results of how long one group can run compared to the other. However at this point in time I am not sure if that is valuable or interesting to anybody but me, but perhaps in the future it could have greater implications in running and sports in general.



Chanda, Mona Lisa, and Daniel J. Levitan. “The Neurochemistry of Music: Trends in Cognitive Sciences.” Accessed October 5, 2016.

Gardner, Amanda. “How to Use Thoughts to Control Pain –” Health. Accessed October 20, 2016.,,20655874,00.html.

Brownstein, Joe. “Distraction Reduces Pain, Study Finds – Live Science.” LiveScience. Accessed October 20, 2016.

1 thought on “Can music improve performance?

  1. Michael Robert Szawaluk

    I must admit that your title drew me to this post. I kept reading as I, too, try to make it to the gym as frequently as possible. When I only have a short period of time, I will go for a run. I always have my earbuds in and play music when I run. I don’t think I could run without them. I feel that music is an excellent motivator and I plan my run based on the number of songs that play on my playlist – time versus distance! I agree with you that watching something on a screen slows you down. I believe you get distracted by the story and try too hard to watch and listen while you are using an exercise machine. In essence, you are attempting to multi-task, when the focus should be on exercising. Yes, listening to music may be considered multi-tasking as well, but it motivates me to continue, maybe even workout harder, depending on what music is playing. According to this article, published by Psychology Today, music can be beneficial during a task that is repetitive.
    This publication serves to support your opinion that music can improve performance. As a test subject, I agree as well. I thought you did a good job providing details and the scientific evidence that no firm conclusion can be reached, even though some do support your belief.
    I will continue to rock on while exercising, but after reading the article on multitasking, I will try to study without music playing in the background.

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