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Your Brain on Music: The 5 Best Movie Soundtracks to Elevate Your Productivity & Creativity

You sign up for a gym membership when you want to firm up your body and prepare for the summer months, but how do you exercise your brain to improve your creativity?

In the past, creative minds have only been associated with people who write music, produce films or work in a field in which creativity is essential, not necessarily with the lives of “regular” people. However, in today’s world, creative thinking is absolutely critical to your success regardless of the field you work in, and even plays a massive role in everyday life as well. 

Maybe you’re thinking, “I can’t draw a straight line to save my life. I’ll never be a creative person.” Don’t get caught up thinking that the creative process is reserved for geniuses like Mozart or Shakespeare! Modern science actually suggests that we all possess the ability to think creatively and come up with original ideas. Researchers have called this “divergent thinking” or, to put it simply, cognition that works in various directions. Sure, some people may be more accomplished in this way of thinking than others, but nevertheless, we can all improve our skill at thinking creatively — the only question is how?

Your Brain on Music: The Creative Key

Emerging studies are beginning to examine music as a source of creativity. This isn’t too big of a surprise, considering music has already been proven to improve cognition and enhance learning in previous studies. A logical assumption would be that music also enhances creative thinking, which evidence seems to indicate is factual. 

In an experiment, participants completed creative tasks that assessed divergent or convergent thinking while listening to classical music that elicited one of four different emotional states: happiness, calmness, sadness, or anxiety, as opposed to the control scenario of silence. 

Researchers compared participant performance on divergent and convergent thinking in the five scenarios and discovered that listening to upbeat music increased participants’ scores on divergent thinking more than performing in silence did. In other words, they came up with more total ideas and more creative and inventive ideas. This effect was absent from music of other genres.

Surprisingly, whether or not the participants liked the music was not a factor in how it affected their thinking. This suggests that the benefits don’t simply come from listening to music that you enjoy. It is worth noting that while listening to happy music did have an effect on participants’ divergent thinking, it did not affect their ability to come up with a solution to problems presented to them. 

These results beg the question: What is the perfect music to listen to when trying to elevate your creativity and be more productive? The answer may be subjective because, after all, everyone has wide-ranging tastes and preferences regarding what they like to listen to. Certain types of music may be more distracting to the listener than others. But to help you get started, in this article, we’ve put together our five favorite movie soundtracks to get those creative juices flowing and boost your productivity. 

The 5 Best Movie Soundtracks

We’re not locking ourselves into only movies on this list, so if you’re an avid gamer, there just might be something on this list you recognize. Music is powerful for many different reasons — it can elicit powerful emotions that send your mind to specific places in your memories, and it can bring a sense of calm that may be hard to find elsewhere. Remember, you don’t necessarily have to want to listen to these soundtracks all the time, but consider giving them a try even if they don’t sound like your cup of tea. You never know what’s going to scratch that itch in your brain and get you thinking creatively.

Music is powerful for many different reasons — it can elicit powerful emotions that send your mind to specific places in your memories, and it can bring a sense of calm that may be hard to find elsewhere.

1. The Interstellar Soundtrack — Hans Zimmer

If you’re a fan of movies in any capacity, you’ve probably heard of Hans Zimmer. He is world-renowned for his skill and accomplishment in composing heartfelt, intense soundtracks to movies such as The Dark Knight, Inception, and The Pirates of the Caribbean. His unique use of instrumentation and powerful percussion leave a lasting and impactful impression on all those who listen.

A particular favorite, however, is his composition of the soundtrack for Christopher Nolan’s 2014 space epic, Interstellar. From start to finish, this soundtrack takes you on a journey of self-reflection, loss, and wonder. Zimmer implements the use of the classic organ throughout many of the pieces, and it provides a sense of calm accompanied by an underlying sense of urgency. 

Not only is this entire soundtrack beautiful to listen to, but it absolutely kicks your brain into high gear when you need to think creatively. This option is best for when you need to settle into a deep focus and buckle down on being productive. It is so effective, in fact, you may find yourself working like the fate of humanity itself depends on it!

2. Her Soundtrack — Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire isn’t really a band that you would think of when discussing movie soundtracks. Most of the time, these soundtracks are created by composers who specialize in writing music for the big screen. Some of the most memorable soundtracks of all time were written by composers like John Williams or Howard Shore, but every once in a while, something unexpected happens. 

Arcade Fire found success in the indie music scene in the early 2010s with the release of their critically-acclaimed album The Suburbs before writing the score for the Spike Jonze film Her in 2013. The soundtrack was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Original Score category at the 86th Academy Awards ceremony. The soundtrack features soft, ambient tracks that prompt the listener to quietly contemplate topics like existence and the human condition. 

This soundtrack is a perfect choice for writers who need to tap into more human feelings, such as loneliness, hopefulness, and self-reflection while writing. The Her soundtrack is calm without being boring and emotional without excessive use of instruments or even vocals. There is sometimes beauty in simplicity when it comes to music, and that is certainly something Arcade Fire captured when they scored the soundtrack for this movie.

3. The Lord of the Rings Soundtrack — Howard Shore

Even for people who have never seen the movies, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who did not recognize the classic songs from this trilogy soundtrack. The Lord of the Rings movies are unparalleled in sheer scale alone, taking you on a journey across vast landscapes as you follow the protagonists in their epic quest to put an end to evil. A tale so sprawling and captivating has to have a soundtrack that captures the fantasy and wonder of the story, and that’s exactly what the world got when Howard Shore composed the music for these one-of-a-kind movies. 

Whether it’s the quiet wind instruments accompanied by soft strings in tracks like “Concerning Hobbits” or the deep, resonating chords and percussion on tracks like “A Knife in the Dark,” The Lord of the Rings soundtrack is memorable and enchanting. It’s a perfect choice for letting your mind wander and spark creativity, so consider giving this soundtrack a try for those days when you need to explore all the places your mind can take you. 

Maybe you could put your headphones in while relaxing in the wilderness with a pen and paper in hand, or maybe you just put it on the speakers at home while you journal about your day. Whatever task you decide to tackle while listening to this beautiful, epic soundtrack, try not to let your mind get caught up in the world of Middle Earth!

4. The Last of Us Soundtrack — Gustavo Santaolalla

If you’re familiar with popular video games that have hit the public since the early 2010s, you might be surprised by this selection for this list. The Last of Us is a horror-survival video game that follows the story of a man traveling across the country with a teenage girl on a quest to end the apocalyptic zombie virus that has taken over the world. They form a strong father-daughter connection as the story progresses, and mysteries are uncovered before reaching the heartfelt conclusion to the story. So what is a soundtrack for a scary zombie video game doing on this list?

Well, it’s actually not scary at all. Argentinian musician Gustavo Santaolalla approached the composition of this soundtrack very differently than most people expected. Rather than filling the score with discordant strings that build tension to make the player feel uneasy, Santaolalla took a much more minimalist approach and mainly used soft classical guitar riffs accompanied by ambient sounds. Rather than focusing on the scary, survivalist aspect of the story, Santaolalla wanted to primarily focus on the characters of the story. This is evident as you listen to the soundtrack — each track tells a unique story that feels heartfelt and meaningful without sacrificing the minimalist approach. 

Though this selection is quieter and slower, it is the perfect way to elevate your creativity as you listen to the soft guitar plucking while you study or get work done. Consider this choice if you get distracted by the louder, more robust sounds of epic soundtracks like Interstellar or The Lord of the Rings.

5. Studio Ghibli Collection — Joe Hisaishi

If you grew up in America, there’s a chance you were never exposed to the incredible world of Studio Ghibli films. Studio Ghibli Inc. is a Japanese film studio founded by legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki in the 1980s. Notable films directed and animated by Miyazaki include Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Howl’s Moving Castle — all of which were scored and composed by Hisaishi. 

One word, in particular, comes to mind when listening to the many beautiful soundtracks of the Studio Ghibli films: charm. There is a certain degree of heartfelt charm and wonder that washes over the listener when hearing these soundtracks. It’s a hard thing to describe, and something few musicians or composers accomplish in their whole careers, but Hisaishi’s compositions are truly one-of-a-kind. 

The Ghibli soundtracks are perfect for any occasion, whether it’s responding to your ever-growing list of emails or finishing that chapter in your novel that’s been hanging over your head for weeks. Hisaishi leaves nothing to be desired in these warm, beautiful tracks that are sure to keep you focused — and smiling — as you pursue any creative task. 

Honorable Mentions

Of course, not everything worth listening to while you focus can be featured on a short list of five. Deciding on the final five was actually a bit more challenging than we initially anticipated, so it seemed necessary to add a selection of honorable mentions if none on the list are quite cutting it for you. 

The Social Network Soundtrack — Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Contemplative, ambient chords ring throughout this soundtrack that elevate the senses and give the listener a sense of urgency. This selection is perfect for coding or computer-related tasks that require you to slip into a deep focus. 

Amélie Soundtrack — Yann Tiersen

Soft piano melodies ring throughout this soundtrack composed by French musician Yann Tiersen that engage the listener’s creativity without overbearing the senses. This selection is perfect for writing or reading. 

Joker Soundtrack — Hildur Guðnadóttir

Despite the subject material for the film, the soundtrack for Joker composed by Icelandic cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir consists of moody, dark cello solos accompanied by deep, discordant strings that elevate creativity consistently. 

Elevation Through Composition

It’s important to remember that everyone is different. Something that’s perfect for one person to listen to while focusing may be entirely too distracting for another — and that’s okay! There’s no right or wrong when it comes to what your brain needs to focus. If one of these selections just isn’t right for you, try another! There are many more choices for you to consider than what made the list in this article. If anything, this list should open the door for you to explore the world of soundtracks! Science proves that music can improve overall creative thinking, so elevate yours and find the perfect soundtrack for you!

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Greatness Authors

Greatness Authors is a collection of writers, thinkers, curiosity experts, and students of the world who are committed to bringing you the most up-to-date, impactful, and inspiring information surrounding Greatness topics.

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