The famous British actor and playwright Noel Coward is famous for many things, not least for coining the expression "Strange how potent cheap music is". Rather than looking down on all music that hasn't been composed by a Beethoven or Mahler, it was a comment that struck at the heart of just how powerfully music can move us. 

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There have been many studies conducted into just why we can be affected in very profound ways by the music we hear and why it reaches parts of our consciousness that verbal, and even visual communication can't. There have also been almost as many theories but one that seems to have a sound basis in neurological science is that music is processed by the part of the brain called the cerebellum. This, in turn, has many connections to the limbic system, the most primitive part of our nervous system and the one which controls our most basic instincts and emotions.

Why's this relevant? Well you just have to listen out for the many ways that we're surrounded by music in the world today. From going into shops and, obviously, when we visit bars and restaurant, there's certain to be a soundtrack being played in the background. 

And it's not just in the real world that music is used to create the mood and influence our perception. The worlds of TV advertising and film also rely heavily on it too. It may be using a familiar song which has particular resonance for the target audience or a composition that enhances the mood of the action on screen. In the case of the latter, it's sometimes said that the very best music scores are those that are so in tune with the drama that you hardly notice them at all.

Then, on a distinctly non-subliminal level, you only have to look at the sheer explosion of festivals of every genre over recent years to appreciate that music truly is all around us. The fact that the 2019 Glastonbury festival sold all of its 135,000 tickets in just 30 minutes shows just how popular these events are.

So, given that music has such a very powerful hold over us, how can we use it to enhance our performance and enjoyment of certain activities? Here are five real world examples.

Sports and exercise

There are a wide number of ways that music's used in sport and exercise to both prepare for and optimise performance. For example, the playing of the national anthem or a team song before any contest gets the player in a strong and bonded frame of mind. Perhaps the ultimate expression of this is the driving rhythm and the accompanying dance moves carried out by the New Zealand rugby team in their pre-match haka. In other sports like running or even just going to the gym where establishing a regular rhythm is important then music has a role to play here as it helps to set the pace. There have even been studies that suggest  that it can make exertion feel easier.

Online gaming

Online gaming sites are all about generating the same levels of excitement that you'd hope to experience with the "real thing". So, along with stimulating visual displays and ranges of games designed to appeal to particular demographics and groups of people, many sites feature theme tunes, including some from popular TV programmes, that are intended to appeal to players. If these are particularly up-tempo, so much the better as they enhance the feeling of the enjoyment of play. In particular, many of the best bingo sites use this kind of music within their games as it also helps to foster the sense of community amongst players to replicate the excitement of visiting a bricks and mortar bingo hall to meet up with friends.


It's a well-known psychological phenomenon that when we're in our vehicle we're cocooned in our own little bubble, isolated from the world around us. This makes it the perfect environment to settle back into our seats to enjoy our favourite sounds, especially when we're driving solo. Not only can it make journeys pass by more quickly, it's also the perfect environment to savour every note and really appreciate every lyric. Having said this, it's been shown in studies that listening to the wrong kind of music behind the wheel can affect concentration and lead to reckless driving. So heavy rock with a driving beat is not the right kind of music if you want to drive safely. But calmer, more melodic tunes are going to be the order of the day.


You might imagine that when your head's in a book and you're trying to concentrate and absorb information then silence would be the best soundtrack of all. After all, aren't libraries well known for being places where you can hear a pin drop and you're likely to get "shushed" for the slightest infraction? But in 1993 when a group of students at the University of California were involved in a test to see if listening to a Mozart piano sonata would enhance their performance in an intelligence test it was found that it did. Another study at the University of Wales found that listening to music with lyrics while studying negatively affected powers of recall. So it seems that classical music fans could also come out on top academically speaking.


Of course, one of the main purposes for most people who listen to music is for relaxation. But what one person feels soothing may have completely the opposite effect on someone else. So there are no hard and fast rules for what kind of music makes for the greatest relaxation but it would seem that classical music might also have the edge here. In 2015 the UK medical journal The Lancet reported on a study that had found that patients who listened to classics before an operation experienced less pain and even recovered more quickly. So maybe it's time you made friends with Mozart too!