Many wisdom traditions have attributed creativity, in part, to both a higher source and an inner soul force. Many of the mythical identities and personifications—the gods and goddesses of creativity—also have the designation as the divine sources of music, arts, and even healing—linking music and the arts with health and knowledge.
The ancient Greeks personified these higher powers in the god Apollo and defined that inner creative soul force known as genius that we can all tap into. The term genius—as in creative genius or musical genius—has found favor with more secular worldviews as well as with those trained in the fields of stoicism, contemporary science, or business innovation.
Another classical personification commonly used when referencing creativity—in both ancient Greece and modern times, is the Muse. The words music and muse share the same roots. In Greek literature, the nine daughters of Zeus—bearers of all knowledge and arts, including music and lyrical poetry (lyrics)—were referred to as the nine Muses.
With the emphasis ancient Greek culture placed on the intelligence and creative power inherent in music, it is not surprising that music was held in such high esteem by philosophers like Plato and Pythagoras. They saw music as essential to both understanding the workings of the universe and to fulfilling one’s true potential.
Some of the most highly creative people I know today see part of their creative processes as involving a higher source of intelligence. And, even if their modes of creative expression are not music, per se, they may use music to awaken their genius and open up neural pathways for new ideas and more innovative thinking. In short, they use music to amplify their creative potential.
Whether you subscribe to ancient wisdom or modern neuroscience, you can do the same.
Debunking the Creativity Myth
“What makes a person creative?” Contrary to popular belief, creativity is neither a magical power nor a talent available to only a limited number of gifted individuals. Creativity is within each of us, and it is the very reason the world exists. It is what makes us human, distinguishing us from other species. Expressing your creativity is key to the process of self-actualization, the evolution of society, and the fulfillment of your highest potential. And regardless of how you express your creative nature—through art, science, or innovation in business—music can bolster your creativity and amplify your potential as a human being.
Rather than try to unpack precisely what makes a person creative (a subject far too complex to cover in a single article), let us focus on what we do know and what might be more relevant to you. I invite you to consider the following premises as our foundational principles for exploring the topic together:
- Creativity is one of the most essential skills required for navigating, adapting to, and innovating in an ever-changing and highly disruptive future.
- Every person is born with the innate ability to be creative. It is one of the key attributes that sets humans apart from other living beings on the planet.
- Music can help us access and cultivate deeper levels of creativity.
Of creativity’s three basic components—problem solving, self-expression, and imagination—the last component is the wellspring of creativity. It is your capacity to imagine that pushes the boundaries of possibility.
Music can help stimulate your imagination and, in doing so, aid in the creative process. Try listening to a song you love, singing, or fully immersing yourself in a piece of beautiful music before you sit down to tackle a creative endeavor or solve a challenging and complex problem. Besides providing a great way to shift gears in your mind and motivate you, listening to music sets the inner stage for your creative genius to shine. Music can help you focus, unlock your imagination, inspire self-expression, and open you up to new and more innovative ideas.
Using Music to Enhance Creativity in Other Fields
In addition to stimulating creativity and innovation in the moment, music can help contribute to the development of a more creative mind and form new neural pathways, whether inside the highly impressionable brain of a developing child or in the acutely trained mind of a physicist.
Einstein, considered to be one of the most creative geniuses of the past century, often turned to music to help with his creative process.
Undeniably a creative genius, Einstein recognized an inexplicable connection between music and his science, and he often attributed his scientific insight and intuition to music. He told creativity scholar Max Wertheimer that he never came up with new ideas or had scientific breakthroughs by thinking in logical symbols or mathematical equations, but rather in images, feelings, and even musical structures. “If I were not a physicist,” he once said, “I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music . . . I get most joy in life out of music.” According to his sister, Maja, when Einstein faced a moment of unclarity, he would sit down at the piano and play just a few keys, after which he would get up, saying, “There, now I’ve got it.” Something in the music would guide his thoughts in new and creative directions.1
Parag Chordia, director of the Music Intelligence Lab at Georgia Tech, contends that music is a significant if not essential contributor to the development and cultivation of creativity. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Chordia researched the neurological roots of the creative process. Music was a key ingredient in his studies. In a 2011 article by members of the National Science Foundation, Chordia says, “To be a great engineer; to really produce innovative products and to advance the frontiers of science, you have to be creative. And it’s not just that music is a diversion or an extracurricular, but it’s actually something that’s fundamental to life and mind.”2
In my discussions with leading theoretical physicist and humanitarian Neil Turok, he shared three related perspectives on the subjects of creativity, music, and physics: First, creativity is at the heart of everything. Second, both music and physics are math—and the highest form of math is music. And third, the relational principles of both math and music can help us understand and explore the mysteries of the expanding universe.3
Based on the insights of Einstein, Chordia, and Turok, it isn’t surprising that so many of the foremost technical designers and engineers in Silicon Valley have studied music or are practicing musicians.4 Playing music involves highly engaging processes that activate multiple areas of the brain, which helps us develop greater creative capacity.5
If entering an optimal creative state is as dependent on us tempering certain parts of the brain—those responsible for logic, critical thinking, judgment, and even self-protection—as it is on activating those that enhance creative flow, music is a proven gateway. Researchers Monica López-González and Charles Limb have found that brain areas deactivated during improvisation are the same as those at rest during dreaming and meditation (other rich states for imagination and creativity). Simultaneously, the brain’s activated areas include those that control language and sensory motor skills, which are highly useful control centers for creative expression.6
Simply listening to music can help us relax, and relaxation is one key to creativity and flow.7 One of the eight characteristics of flow, as defined by the leader in the field, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is “effortlessness and ease.” Other characteristics of flow music can support include concentration, perceived transformation of time, an intrinsically rewarding experience, and the merging of actions and awareness.8
Using Music and Creativity in Your Life and Work
You don’t have to be a musician to use music as a creative device. You can listen to music to shift your mental state before or during your work. Whether you are writing a paper and need to focus, looking for some motivation and inspiration to get you started, or need help rebooting in the midst of a work session, choose music to help you underscore the activity at hand and amplify your potential for more innovative and fulfilling outcomes.
It is worth noting that creativity, like energy itself, begets more creativity. The more you try new things, the more challenges you face that require you to find innovative solutions. Likewise, the more you bring an inspired, playful, and curious mindset—whether to your toughest challenges or to your more mundane daily activities—the more creative your life, and you, will become.
Try it. Let the Muse in music help you. Be the creator you were born to be. With a little practice, you can transform routine into ritual and alchemize the mundane into the marvelous. You can imagine new pathways where you once saw only walls. While you may not create a symphony, a best-selling novel, or the next Google, you can create a masterpiece in which the canvas is your own life. And as with any great film, the story of your life—the one in which you star—will need a soundtrack.
Learn more about Creativity, Music & Unleashing Your Potential with my best-selling book, Amplified, Unleash Your Potential Through the Power of Music.