How Music Makes You Smarter, More Likeable, and Better at Your Job

Picture this. You are walking into the office feeling good about starting your day when you sit down at your desk and realize…you forgot your headphones.

If images of horror films and apocalyptic doom just came to mind, you are not alone. For many people, listening to music at work is a mainstay. It is often the rock that holds our day together. The security blanket that maintains our semblance of sanity. It is the thing by which all other things are secondary. Lost your favorite coffee mug? No biggie. Forgot the music? End of the world.

Turns out, we are not nuts. There are scientific reasons for our dependence on music to make our jobs, and life, more enjoyable. Luckily, the enjoyment is not the only benefit. As it turns out, this dependence on the finer tunes in life actually helps your career, raises your smarts, and makes you an overall better person to be around. In fact, nine out of 10 people perform better while listening to music (scientifically speaking of course). So never forget your headphones. Your boss will thank you for a job well done, your coworkers will like working with you, and you will (more often than not), leave the day with a smile on your face.

Take a look at many ways music can help your job performance and what type of music is best for the type of task at hand.

2015.05.20 headphones and ipad

Benefits of Listening to Music on the Job

Music Makes You Better Able to Work in a Group  

As it turns out, listening to music helps you work in a group more cohesively and be a cooler person to hang out with at the office. From an evolutionary perspective, creative domains like music allow humans to connect in a synchronized way, which enables people’s ability to work together to solve problems. This shows that the power of music is deeply rooted in our brains, and developed along the lines of human evolution out of a need to empathize, harmonize, create connections, and survive.

Various studies and neuroscientists solidify the idea that music not only fosters a group identity, but makes people more cooperative and productive in a group. Now think about how this can help you. On any given day at your job, you are working with multiple types of groups. You may have a cross functional team for a specific project, with designers, strategists, and marketing specialists all working on one campaign. You also have your everyday work group, an entire department full of people with different personalities and at various levels of ability.

Music’s benefits, and its proven abilities in cultivating cohesiveness and creating a sense of community, will only enhance what you bring to the table for any of these groups and strengthen your place on a team. So you want to play nice? Be happy together? Listen to music.

Music Makes You More Productive and Efficient 

Listening to music while you work helps your productivity. You will get things done faster (yes even boring tasks like Excel spreadsheet data entry) and with far fewer errors than working without the pleasantries of your heavy rotation in the background.

In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience of Behavior and Physiology, it was found that a person’s ability to recognize images, letters, and numbers was faster when music was playing in the background compared to when there was no music. A similar effect was noted when workers on an assembly line listened to music. The workers who listened to music were more happy, efficient, and made fewer errors than workers who didn’t indulge their ears with good music.

Music Can Help Improve Your Confidence 

Have an important pitch to give that can make or break your revenue goals? Heading into an interview that makes you nervous? Listening to some fist-pumping, bass-heavy tunes will make you more confident and more likely to handle important or nerve-racking meetings with ease. In one study, it was noted that specific types of music can improve confidence. High-powered anthemic rock and base-pumping pop music to be exact. This music boosts confidence, eases stress, and can even make you enjoy situations that may otherwise freak you out, such as speaking in front of a large crowd. Confidence directly correlates to how well you handle those big-deal interviews and make-or-break meetings.

So you know what this means. Before your big pitch—get your Rocky on.

Listening to Music You Like Sparks Creativity and Improves Overall Performance

Nothing affects the brain more than music. Rightfully so, nothing is said to ignite creativity more than listening to and participating in music. Think of music as a full body workout for your brain. It is one of the most valuable tools available for creating an efficient, creative, and happy workforce.

Whether your career requires a strategic mind or is more geared toward the creative space does not matter. Music will help improve any skill and any job— as long as you are listening to music you like while you are doing whatever it is that you do. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that surgeons worked more accurately when music they liked was playing in the background. Music that they didn’t like was second best, and no music was least helpful of all.

So What Music Should You Listen To?

Well, the foolproof thing to listen to is whatever you want to listen to on any particular day or in any given moment. Listening to what you like, regardless of your job or current project, will make you better. Period.

So no need to apologize for jamming out to some Brit Brit if that floats your boat. Start the day with some Bon Jovi and end on the other side near Daft Punk. You go right on ahead…you rock star.


If you don’t enjoy listening to a type of music, it won’t help your job regardless of what research says. With that in mind, there are certain types of genres that studies, like ones conducted by Mindlab International, have shown to have more of a positive impact on certain types of work than others. So if you are up for some experimenting, here are some genres that are best for various tasks and job requirements.

Classical Music

Best For: Work that requires creativity or extreme attention to detail.

Classical and baroque music stimulates the most amount of brain activity and creativity in people.  Listening to classical music can actually create new neuropathways in your brain, so it smartens you up. Some Beethoven and Bach can also push your brainwaves into a Theta state, the state responsible for creativity and inspiration. Essentially, classical music is the golden cat’s pajamas when it comes to how much you can kick butt at your job.

Pop Music

Best For: Work when you are on a tight deadline.

Pop music, alongside dance music, has shown to result in the fastest overall performance for getting work done. When you are on a tight deadline, music with higher beats per minute (BPM) will speed you up without hindering your quality. However, if your deadline requires a lot of focus and strategic thinking, you may want to switch to some dance or electronic music without lyrics. Lyrics can take your thoughts away from you if you tend to be the type who sings along (shower singers that means you).

Ambient Music

Best For: Work that requires solving equations.

Ambient music results in the highest level of performance for people working with numbers and equations. So, when it comes time to calculate revenue or dive deep into analytics, tune into the soothing sounds of waves, babbling brooks, or the soft arrangements credited to your local elevator muzak.

Dance Music

Best For: Overall job performance. Writing, web development, and copyediting. Work that requires a lot of accuracy.

In tests, dance music produced the highest overall accuracy and fastest performance amongst the widest variety of tasks. Jobs that require pristine accuracy, such as copyediting and web development, can benefit from dance music. Dance music also combines the best of many genres. Some trance can affect you similarly to classical music. Big room house can give you confidence like your favorite power tunes. Downtempo can even substitute ambient music when you need it. Really, dance music works for anything if you like it—so go ahead and queue up that Armin Van Buuren marathon.

Music is not the only form of entertainment that can help your career. Take a look at the many ways traveling can also benefit you at the office.