Running While Mozart Is Playing
Those of us who’ve listened to Mozart in our youth learned (and probably hummed in our sleep) the adage “Get good at something, you’ll be good at anything.” However, if you decided to pursue a career in music, chances are you had little else in mind. But if you try to view it as a career, you begin to pay attention to the ways music may affect your thinking.
Although the words “music and psychology” tend to go hand in hand, there are very few studies that look specifically at this connection. But there are a handful of examples where music played in its instrumental form did more to influence thinking than perceived lyrics. The most famous example is that of Kay Cannon, an author and psychology professor who wrote several books about music and psychology, and which include “Getting It: How Everyday People Master Music” and “Don’t Stop Believing: A Remarkable Life and a Disbelief-Altering Revolution.”
Cannon notes that one of the greatest inspirations for her research was the famous English polymath John Cage. In 1965, when the idea of using instruments to write music was still considered experimental, Cage founded the Commissioning and Composing Office, a society that funded other composers to develop music with new instruments and ways of writing.
One of the first post-modern compositions written using Cage’s methods came from Robert Smithson, known for his ” Spiral Jetty” project. It’s composed of two hillocks, each topped with a typical arched roof that is also contained within the first hillock. It was commissioned by the Commissioning and Composing Office.
Cannon interviewed Smithson and the composer/scientist Wallace Bartlett about how music could be used to benefit society and science. Along with being used to express thoughts or emotion, music may enhance cognition, shape the body’s response, and change mood.
As for running on a treadmill when listening to Mozart, Dennis de Jong tells us: “Stereotypes of runners are born from knowing we’re an intense-competitive bunch. Watching Mozart while running lends credence to this stereotype. As running has evolved in tandem with music and facilitated by technology, we now seem to be even more competitive and intense. In a training gym, you’ll hear dancers tapping, a bell-ringer bellowing, and the littlest tunes getting amplified. The runner paces themselves to a certain beat, often ‘smarps,’ the occasional marching type music such as Puccini or Verdi.”
The rules have changed for endurance runners, too. De Jong tells us: “I race bass-playing rhythmically, and the rhythms range from classical to jazzy to catchy without being an attempt to keep up with someone faster. I’ve even run six miles unbroken while listening to karaoke music, aided by the fact that everyone in the gym knew what I was doing.”
One of the most difficult musical challenges is “the fear of not having a tune to relate to,” notes de Jong. “Tune-based running can give you songs and rhythms that personalize what you are doing. When I ran alone, I’d sing along with classical tunes, going over the same beats I’d be singing. But when I’m not solo, I’m out in a crowd and the world is not there.”
And one of the best recommendations to keep in mind when entering a new area of interest is to “listen to music you’re already running to.” And if you’re not training or running on your own, then the contemporary beat of techno music can really change your thinking.