Brain, Environment, Movement

Build a Playlist to Make You Better at Anything

October 2, 2017, Author: Boomer Anderson

Science and your Spotify playlist are the last fields you think would come together, right? The artist and the scientist invoke different images in our mind. Think about it.

  • Stephen Hawking and Amy Winehouse
  • Stevie Wonder and Albert Einstein
  • Justin Bieber and Nikola Tesla


Music empowers you. It cools you down. Channeling these feelings can have immense effects on performance. Science proves music not only influences you but can impact the consistency of performance in any task. In this article, the effects of music on the brain are outlined and you will learn a science-backed approach to constructing a performance playlist which can make you better in everything from your work to workout.

Music’s Effect on the Brain

Through science, we know the brain grows due to music training. Music can influence the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system influences the speed of your heart. A faster song releases norepinephrine and increases your heart rate. The norepinephrine mobilizes the brain and body for action. By contrast, a slower song will decrease your heart rate. Before exercise, athletes who listened to slower songs released less norepinephrine. While this may seem bad, the athlete who requires focus may want to listen to a song with lower beats per minute to relax. This is the systems approach to health in action.

The Performance Playlist can move you to superhuman
A superhuman playlist can drive you to new levels of performance.

Fun fact: prior to the metronome, the beat of music was determined by your heart beat.

Music and Athletic Performance

Listening to music during exercise prolongs the onset of exhaustion. Background music has a positive influence on your rate of perceived exertion. In laymen’s terms, you will feel better listening to music while exercising.

Associating a positive image along with the song contributes more to performance. Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time” was used for the Seoul Olympics. Several years later, Olympic athletes listen to the music ahead of a competition. While the song has a slower beat (86 beats per minute), it relates to victory which helps athletes.

Post-exercise, music assists in recovery. Scientists discovered that active recovery with music assisted in lactate clearance. In China, a team found that sedative music decreased heart rate following exercise. Cue the Enya for the cooldown!

Synchronous music refers to music whose beats per minute are like the movement you are doing. This leads to an efficiency in movement. Ever wonder why every aerobics class plays songs with the same beat? Jane Fonda was ahead of her time. In one study, synchronous music increases endurance by 14%.

Asynchronous music is background music. Both synchronous and asynchronous music has a positive impact on performance. Music is better than no music at all. To maximize the performance benefit, you need to follow a few guidelines.

Building Your Performance Playlist

Sorry to Justin Bieber fans (Beliebers) out there. There is no one song which provides everyone the highest stimulus for the workout. The recipe for the best performance-enhancing playlist is individual. Here are the four steps for you to create your best performance playlist:

1) Identify your task

  • Training for a marathon requires different stimulus than a one-rep max lift. Training your mind is different from chilling out.
  • Label your playlist for the specific task.

2) Write down one or several songs which would stimulate you to do this task

  • Think of any song that makes you want to do the task faster. For instance, “Break on Through to the Other Side” by The Doors for sprints because of its high energy.
  • The important point is that the song excites you to do the task. In this case, personal preference matters most.

3) Identify the beats per minute of that Song

  • Click here. You will be able to find the beats per minute of any song.
  • For instance, Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” is 140 beats per minute.

4) Select other songs with around the same beats per minute

  • This requires patience. You can either alter the beats of existing music (requiring software) or select music within the same band.
    • 70 to 89 beats per minute (relaxing)
    • 90 to 109 beats per minute
    • 110 to 129 beats per minute
    • 130 to 149 beats per minute
    • 150 to 169 beats per minute
    • >170 beats per minute (watch out Bombs Over Baghdad)


While music alone will not make you superhuman, it helps. A few more tips before closing this article.

  1. If you need an increase in speed during a certain point of the task, program an increase in beats per minute of the music.
  2. Change your playlist from time-to-time. The question, “alone on a desert island, what album would you bring” does not apply here. If you get bored with the music, performance goes down.
  3. Songs with a tempo between 120 and 145 beats per minute show the most scientific promise for athletic performance.

The next time you are soloing in the gym or need to relax on business travel, create your own playlist. Anchor it around a song you love and select other songs with a similar beats per minute range.

Do you have a favorite workout song or playlist? If so, share below!

Free PDF! 6 Steps to Unbound Focus through BDNF

Can I just say, "I love you." The PDF and your path to superhuman focus is on the way.


Karageorghis, Costas. Applying Music in Exercise and Sport. Copyright 2017. Human Kinetics.

Terry, Peter and Karageorghis, Costas. Psychophysical Effects of Music in Sport and Exercise: An Update on Theory, Research and Application. 2006.

Yamamoto T, Ohkuwa T, Itoh H, Kitoh M, Terasawa J, Tsuda T, Kitagawa S, Sato Y. Effects of pre-exercise listening to slow and fast rhythm music on supramaximal cycle performance and selected metabolic variables. July 2003. Archives Physiology Biochemistry.

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