The human mind is a busy place to be. It’s working full speed ahead at any given moment, processing everything from mundane activities like breathing and regulating temperature, to more complex operations like interpreting language.
But, there’s no off switch - which is why it feels so good to give the mind some TLC with things like meditation, yoga, art, or even just unwinding in bed after a long day.
For most of us, a little rest time is appreciated. And thanks to its calming effects, ambient music helps us relax and let go of our worries. It’s designed to be calming and subdued, consisting of synthesised soundscapes and minimalistic instrumental textures, often with little to no melody. In fact, it’s almost certain to feature as background music in several of the activities mentioned above; guided mediation, yoga, art classes.
But why is ambient music so calming? And how exactly is it good for us? We explore some of these concepts below.
The therapeutic benefits of ambient music
Ambient music is becoming increasingly popular as more people are looking for ways to reduce stress and anxiety levels in their everyday lives. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why, and how this genre of music can help improve day to day life.
1. Reduces stress and anxiety
Listening to ambient music has been linked with several psychological benefits such as reduced stress and anxiety. This can be attributed to its slow (sometimes fluctuating) tempo, which helps listeners easily immerse themselves into its sonic atmosphere with enough time and space to explore its subtleties.
Additionally, because the genre typically has little to no vocal qualities associated with it, ambient music allows the listener’s mind to wander in and out of the soundscape at any given point, while providing enough gentle stimulation for this transition to feel smooth and unnoticable.This can help occupy the mind with something to focus on, without distraction from other noises or external stimuli.
This can be an effective tool for enhancing focus and productivity while also promoting relaxation and mental clarity. It enables individuals to concentrate better on tasks such as work or study, and also helps to soothe and calm the mind by pushing negative thoughts and emotions to the background.
When investigating the possible reasons why ambient music has such a therapeutic effect on stress and anxiety, research finds that it’s generally due to the immersive qualities the genre offers. While ambient creations are produced for all kinds of audiences and with all kinds of intentions, it’s safe to assume that what we broadly refer to as ‘ambient’ is made without intent; to triage neither the forefront or background. A sonic occurrence that, like aether, fills the region of space around us.
Not only can it help ease anxieties, ambient music has also been found to reduce agitation in people suffering with dementia and alleviate pain in postoperative patients.
2. Promotes creative output
Ambient music can help improve creative output by providing a conducive environment for the brain to relax and focus. The repetitive and often slow-paced sounds of ambient music can help to reduce distractions and create a peaceful background that allows the mind to wander and explore new ideas. Additionally, ambient music can also affect emotions, which in turn can influence the creative process, allowing for greater imagination and open-mindedness. However, it's important to note that everyone's experience with ambient music is unique and some people may find other forms of background noise, such as white noise or nature sounds, more helpful in enhancing their creative output.
There is actually research that looks into the effects of ambient music on creative output.
A study conducted at Radboud University in the Netherlands provides evidence that ambient music can have a positive impact on creative thinking.
The study got participants to complete a series of creative problem-solving tasks while listening to either:
1. ambient music
2. music with lyrics
3. no music
The participants that listened to ambient music demonstrated significantly higher levels of creative performance compared to those in the other two groups. The study concluded that ambient music can actually enhance the cognitive processes involved in creative thinking by reducing distractions, increasing attentional control, and facilitating a positive affective state.
3. Making ambient music improves cognitive function and critical thinking
So we’ve understood that listening to ambient music has several therapeutic benefits, but what about making it?
Producing ambient music can improve your cognitive function and critical thinking abilities by engaging the parts of the brain responsible for creative processes and attentional control. Unlike other music genres that rely on structured beats and rhythms, ambient music is characterised by a more atmospheric and textural approach, making it a great way to challenge the brain in new and different ways.
Working with the many sound layers and textures involved in ambient music production requires a high level of attention to detail, as well as an ability to manipulate and arrange sounds in innovative ways. This process can help to engage the brain's working memory, allowing for improved cognitive function and greater attentional control.
Think about it - when you're composing and producing ambient music, you're using your musical skills to craft beautiful soundscapes that can capture the imagination.
Additionally, the act of creating ambient music can help to cultivate a state of focus, which, as we've seen from the research above, allows for greater concentration, the ability to think critically, and improved creatively.
Making ambient music can also be a form of meditation - a way to calm your mind, reduce stress, and promote a positive emotional state. So, not only are you flexing your musical muscles, but you're also taking care of your mind and soul.
If you’re looking for somewhere to get started with ambient music production, check out our top rated ambient VST plugins.
4. Improves sleep quality
Are you having trouble getting a good night's sleep? Well, you might want to try putting on some ambient music before bedtime! Studies have shown that listening to ambient music before bed can help improve sleep quality and even provide a host of other benefits.
For starters, ambient music can help induce a state of calm and relaxation - there's a reason it's often used to accompany meditation! It is also shown to help to reduce stress and anxiety, which are common factors that interfere with sleep.
By creating a peaceful and calming atmosphere, ambient music can help to quiet the mind and promote feelings of relaxation, allowing you to drift off to sleep more easily.
Listening to ambient music before bed has also been shown to improve sleep quality and increase the amount of slow-wave sleep, which is the deep sleep stage that is most important for physical and emotional restoration. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Fribourg, found that listening to 45 minutes of music before bed led to increased slow-wave sleep and reduced waking during the night.
So, if you're looking for a natural and effective way to improve your sleep quality, try listening to some ambient music before bed.
5. Improves music production skills
Ambient music is a unique genre that provides a rich playground for music producers and sound designers. Creating ambient music encourages producers (of any genre) to experiment with techniques in sound design, texture, ambiance, and sound layering.
By focusing on the finer sound details, ambient music helps producers and sound designers alike deepen their understanding of how sounds interact with one another, and how to craft an immersive sonic experience.
It's a great way to step outside of the constraints of traditional music structures, giving you the full freedom to experiment with new production techniques. Ambient music production offers an appreciation for sound and an understanding of innovative music creation techniques like no other genre. There's no beats, vocals or often melody to hide behind, forcing you to hone in on texture and sonic experience alone.
Ambient music and its therapeutic benefits: summarised
In conclusion, ambient music is found to have numerous therapeutic benefits for the mind and soul. It can be a great tool for those who struggle with anxiety, stress, or sleep issues.
Characterised by its atmospheric, dreamy, and relaxing qualities, ambient music, its therapeutic benefits range from reducing stress, to improving focus and creative output.
Whether used for meditation, yoga, or simply for background music, ambient music has the power to create a peaceful and soothing environment. If you're looking for a way to manage stress, improve your sleep, or simply add a little more peace to your day, incorporating ambient music into your daily routine may be a beneficial choice.