Indiscriminate listening is ruining my brain


Today our lives are invaded by music. We hear music while on the bus, in taxis and trains, in shops and shopping centres, and in restaurants and cafés. We hear other people's music coming out of their earphones and into our ears.

Some cars have their music so loud, the vehicle shakes from the amplification. While you're at home, you have to hear the music of other family members, the neighbours, and at times, even people up the road. Indiscriminate listening is ruining my brain.

You can't escape from music today

Where I live, there's a corner park that has a small brick structure in its centre, and from it, music plays all day. It's meant to add to the ambiance.

What is all this indiscriminate listening doing to our appreciation and love of music?

Unannounced music leaves us without an understanding of what it's about. We hear music where we never get to know the composer's name or even the title of the music.

I believe that unannounced music devalues the composer and the music. But, what's worse is hearing a piece of music that you immediately fall in love with, but only hear it in passing and can never find the composer's name.

I have a vault of memories from my youth, of songs that I would dearly love to hear again. But I can only remember a few words of the lyrics, or just hum a phrase of its melody. Indiscriminate listening is destroying my musical memory.

Almost all music is not background music

Last year I was at a leading Australian contemporary music composer's house for an afternoon get-together. I asked him to turn on some of his music so we could all enjoy it. He told me “My music is not the sort of music that works for this type of gathering.” I realised he was subtly telling me that his compositions are not background music. As a composer myself, I should have known better than to ask another composer this question.

I occasionally play the piano for friends and relatives, if they don't give their full attention to my music, I will either stop or improvise something so that the music does fill the background and they can go on talking.

Does this mean that music appreciation is best suited to the concert or opera hall if you want an intimate musical experience?

Why do shops and cafes have music playing?

The random and pervasive musical sounds that we hear by indiscriminate means, can fill a requirement at times. As we all know, music can be the most powerful emotional manipulator. Many retail shops know this well, and use music to aid the atmosphere of a sales environment.

I have found that I am hearing more and more indiscriminate music and losing my appreciation of all music. As a lover of classical music, I constantly have it on as I write, but as the English announcer's words interfere with my own words, I have taken to listening to classical music stations from countries that do not transmit in English. So a German or Dutch classical music announcer will not inhibit my writing or reading.

But, I am losing my ability to engage with that music, I am losing my appreciation for that music. I have found this flows on to the music that I sit down and purposely listen to.

What is random music doing to us?

Indiscriminate listening promotes poor concentration; music in passing distracts me and interrupts my thoughts. The flow on effects of indiscriminate listening depletes my ability to understand things and retain critical information.

Conversely, I find that when reading, indiscriminate music helps me to maintain a flow to my reading. It helps to pull the full meaning out of each word and phrase, though this may be something individual to me.

Can music help you learn?

Where I feel indiscriminate listening affects me the most is my ability to learn. Studying with music on does not work for me. But in reading for pleasure, I find music helps. Like most things in life, finding that balance is tricky. But can all café and restaurant owners please stop blasting me with indiscriminate music while I'm trying to eat and talk with my loved one. And you, you in the car, turn down that music!

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at