197: The Many Benefits of Listening to Classical Music
Monday February 26, 2018

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~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #197
~Subscribe to The Simple SophisticateiTunes | Stitcher | iHeartRadio | YouTube

As a young girl I took piano lessons, and I will admit, it was not the greatest joy of my life. A timer would have to be set for me to sit down for even 30 minutes to practice, and even then I would get up from time to time to check and see how much more time I had to play. So, no, I was not someone who found joy in playing; however, when my mom would sit down and play and let the notes ring melodically throughout our home, I thoroughly enjoyed listening. We still have that piano, and from time to time I will get the opportunity to hear her play and watch her fingers dance across the keys. There is a tranquility that is shared when such harmonious tunes without lyrics are played. To my ear, it is quite peaceful.

Perhaps that is why as well, I am drawn to jazz, as I do prefer music without lyrics when I am working, relaxing and simply going about my day. I enjoy bringing my story to the notes, rather than hearing someone else’s. Perhaps that is a lack of imagination on my part, but when there are no words, the rhythm is mine to dance with and let my mind wander.

Having always loved jazz since I was a teenager, I have since begun to welcome more classical music into my life and regularly beginning this past fall as I shared in this post (episode #187). Many of my students over the years have been actively involved in the symphony and orchestra, and successfully so, so I do find myself learning from them as I am by no means savvy when it comes to music.

1. Reduce stress

If you find listening to classical music relaxing, then it can reduce your stress levels. Upon listening to classical music, your body releases “pleasure-inducing dopamine and inhibits the release of stress hormones, all of which generates a pleasant mood”. Now, the key is to understand what you find relaxing, make it a regular practice and observe your body and mind relax which will then enable you to think more clearly and thus make better decisions.

2. Increase your ability to think abstractly

The Mozart Effect, as it was coined in 1993, was discovered by Dr. Gordon Shaw of the University of California-Irvine to cause a temporary spike in an individual’s IQ after listening to Mozart. While the findings need to be clarified: no, listening to Mozart doesn’t make you smarter, but it does, Shaw states, “warms up the brain’s ability to think abstractly”.

3. Heighten EQ (emotional intelligence)

In 2001 Southern Methodist University shared their findings of their study revealing participants were more “expressive and effusive with their comments, [and] . . . more forthcoming as well.” Perhaps when we choose to listen to classical music as we relax, our walls come down a bit more, we are more willing to be vulnerable and less quick to react.

4. Increase focus

A study done in France published in Learning and Individual Differences revealed that students who listened to a one hour lecture with classical music playing in the background scored better on the corresponding quiz than those who did not listen to music. Why? The researchers proposed that “the music put students in a heightened emotional state, making
 them more receptive to information . . . It is possible that music, provoking a change in the learning
 environment, influenced the students’ motivation to remain focused during the lecture, which led to 
better performance on the multiple-choice quiz”.

5. Fall asleep more quickly

The University of Toronto discovered that when classical music is played when you settle into bed, participants in the study were able to fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep longer. Why? The study found that the music by Bach, Brahms, Handel, Mozart,  and Strauss offered “rhythms and tonal patterns that create a meditative mood 
and slow brainwaves”.

The inclusion of listening to classical music in my everyday routine has become a form of simple self-care. Having a sound mind to navigate successfully through the day is an invaluable tool, but it is one that can easily deteriorate if we do not tend to it.

Many readers shared their favorite classical radio station (many of which have free apps available), and I have listed them below. An unexpected benefit I am finding is listening to the hosts of each of the programs whether I am listening to KUSC.org or WRTI.org as they speak about each song, often share the history and other intriguing information. I may never pick up a flute, a violin or an obo, but I certainly am finding I appreciate even more those who do and those who have written the music creations.

Classical music stations:

I have compiled a Luxurious Classical Music playlist on Spotify (of which there are many others to find as well) that plays for one hour and 16 minutes 12+ hours with more than 157 tracks (updated as of November 2020) and includes some of my favorites as well as new music I am ever so gradually being introduced to. View the playlist here.

The Playlist: Luxurious Classical Music (below are just a sampling of the tracks):

  1. Vivaldi: 12 Violin Concertos, Op.8 “Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’ invenzione” / Concerto No. 1 In E Major For Solo Violin, RV 269 “La Primavera” – 1. Allegro
  2. Yo-Yo Ma – Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: I. Prélude
  3. Vaughan Williams – The Lark Ascending
  4. 2 Cellos – Moon River
  5. Mozart : Serenade No.9 in D major K320, ‘Posthorn’ : IV Rondeau – Allegro, ma non troppo
  6. Giancarlo Andretti – Piano Sonata No. 5 in G Major, K. 283: I. Allegro
  7. Murray Perahia – Italian Concerto, BWV 971: I. (Allegro)
  8. Wolfgang Rübsam – Suite in A Major, BWV 824
  9. Dubravka Tomsic – No. 1 in B Flat major, BWV 825: II. Allemande
  10. The English Concert and Trevor Pinnock – J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No.6 in B flat, BWV 1051 – 2. Adagio ma non tanto
  11. Alexis French – Waterfalls
  12. London Philharmonic Orchestra & David Parry – Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048: Allegro
  13. Lara Downes – Wonderful Town: Story of My Life

Petit Plaisir:

~Mozart in the Jungle, season 4

Sponsors of this week’s episode:

Image: Katowice concert hall, Poland

Sources of research: LiveStrong, USC News, WQXR.org

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20 thoughts on “197: The Many Benefits of Listening to Classical Music

  1. Great post Shannon. I too found classical music several years ago while working in a particularly stressful job. I would listen to it in the car on my drive home to help relax. Now I listen to it everyday at the house, whether I am reading, cooking, cleaning or just plain relaxing. It really grounds me and has a meditative effect on my mind and well being.

    1. Cheryl, that is a apt description – grounding and quite meditative. Thank you for sharing your experience with classical music. It has abeen a lovely new addition to my daily routines.

  2. Good article. Only defect is you forgot the classical station. Wcpe 89.7 is the only completely community funded station. Also they allow other station’s to live stream completely free of charge. They have a education fund. They are in wake forest n.c. since 1978 some serious medical complaints greatly benefit from classical music.

    1. Thank you for sharing. WRTI and many of the channels listed in the post are also publicly funded as well. I am always looking for new radio stations to check out, so I appreciate the recommendation. 🙂

  3. Je suis bien chez Radio Classique. Did you see the NYT article about how popular the Paris Opera is among young people?
    When my mother was dying, I streamed her favorite classical station in the hospital room. I hope it soothed her; I know it helped me.

  4. Oh, gosh! I like classical music once in a blue moon, but generally it has quite the opposite effect on me that it’s supposed to. At age 60+, I prefer Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, the Stones or their brethren: loud, raunchy & dance-worthy! Give me Bobby Plant’s banshee howl & Jimmy Page’s transcendental guitar-work & I’m happy & productive, regardless of what the experts (who sound depressingly like my mother about 40 years ago, I might add) say 🙂 Next thing, someone’s going to be telling me I wear my jeans too tight or my skirts too short! LOL! [Yes, I am pulling everyone’s leg . . . a little, anyway.]

  5. Lovely post Shannon.
    I am a musician by profession and I love when people share their appreciation for music! My grandfather was a musician too and in our family it is something that we have grown up with and that is a huge part of our lives. Even if you do not play an instrument there are so many benefits to listening and enjoying music (not just classical). Listening to such a well thought out and well delivered podcast episode just brightened my day!
    Thank you once again for always bringing inspiration to us, your listeners!

  6. Shannon it’s never to late. Maybe you should have another go at the piano. I had lessons as an adult and have a very basic repertoire but enjoy tinkling when I am on my own
    I cannot imagine a house without a piano! Ours has seen tears and much joy over the years.
    Although I love all types of music but I start my day listening to Classic FM (London) and it sets me up for whatever might come my way?

  7. I am not on Spotify. Would you be able to list the songs out, please, so I can look them up on iTunes? I have recently found your web site and am thoroughly enjoying it. It is refreshing from the other podcast and you tube channels that I have listened to. It is very intelectual and though provoking. Like you, I had taken piano lessons for 12 years from 1st grade to a senior in high school, and I did not appreciate it then. Now after this podcast, I am thinking about picking it up again. Keep up the good work.

    1. Lorrie, I have added the list of songs so you can find them on iTunes. Also, if listeners want them for their Amazon Music playlists, they are linked. Thank you for stopping by and I hope you enjoy your upcoming piano lessons. 🙂

  8. I wanted to be a musician, but I opted not to study music at university. I wanted more stable job prospects, and I did not wish to leave my home country in order to have a career. I have no regrets about my decision. My job and my life are exactly where I want them to be.

    My love of music has not changed. I go to a number of orchestra concerts each year. I listen to classical music most days. My musical training has given me a love that I will never lose. I have experienced all of the benefits listed above. Sometimes, I even play my instrument and I enjoy doing so. Not everyone can be a professional musician, but everyone is able to enjoy the benefits of beautifully played music.

    I agree with Kameela, it is never too late to try picking up an instrument again. I read an anecdote about an older lady whose husband died, so she learned the piano to fill some of her lonely hours. She became awesome at piano and many thought she was a former professional!

    I love your podcast. I have been listening to it for over a year now. It reminds me a little of the book https://www.amazon.com/Live-Alone-Virago-Modern-Classics-ebook/dp/B009S8AUQO/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1519698447&sr=1-1&keywords=living+alone+and+like+it+marjorie, except it is contemporary, and less judgemental in tone. It has taught me lots about life. I have used many of the recipes, and I especially enjoy the emotional intelligence episodes.

  9. Fabulous podcast as always. I love listening to classical music and can’t really remember a time when I didn’t. My colleagues, unfortunately, don’t appreciate it so I often end up listening to Classic FM on my headphones. At 7.5 months pregnant, my husband and I have been playing classical playlists created on Spotify to ‘the bump’ for months, so hopefully our child will love classical music as much as we do.

  10. You are so right about the relaxing qualities of classical music, Shannon. A number of years ago I had an increasingly long commute replete with heavy traffic and discourteous drivers. At the time I listened exclusively to rock and roll while driving. As traffic increased so did my agitation, even turning to anger. Then one day, tired of Top 40, I changed the station. I settled on the classical station. I wasn’t new to classical music — my mother often played it at home and I like it — but I was surprised to find myself beginning to relax. The whole drive was so much more serene. My attitude towards the other drivers changed, and I felt less aggressive, and more tolerant. So, I am a believer. It’s been years now, but I will continue to select my drive time music carefully!

  11. Hi Shannon i mean this in the nicest possible way as I often misprounce words I have read but not heard aloud. Concerto is pronounced “concherto”

    Thanks for a great podcast as usual! I love all types of music including classical. One joy I have found in recent years is a subscription to our local orchestra – it is very affordable and the quality is good.

    I also took piano lessons as a child and always had this unresolved thing in my head that i “should” ho back to it – but 2 yrs ago at the age of 49 i started to learn the Cello! I love it and sort of wisb that I had given up the constraint earlier – maybe there is another instrument out there for you to try 🙂

    1. I appreciate the information immensely, truly. I am a beginner in this world of classical music. I couldn’t agree more about being a subscriber/supporter of the local symphony or orchestra. So much talent right in our neighbors to support and listening to music live is unequivocal to any other form in my opinion. Very moving and emotional.

  12. I know this is a few years later but I wanted to mention all classical Portland. You can listen to them in parts of Oregon on the radio, on a computer internet browser or they have an app. I love that they are in Portland as I’m in Redmond and I’m originally from Corvallis. It just makes me happy and they’re voices are so soothing.

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