Unpacking Lo-Fi Music and Its Effects on Productivity

If you’ve been on the internet frequently enough, you’ve probably come across an illustration of a girl, writing on a notebook on her study table beside a window. The said girl has headphones on and is most likely listening to Lo-Fi music, as this is the thumbnail of a popular YouTube stream: ‘lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to’.

What is Lo-Fi music?

JSTOR Daily defines Lo-Fi as “hip-hop built on more traditional music styles like jazz and blues, buttressed by elements like drum machines, but all taken down a notch.” Needless to say, lo-fi is not crisp or polished. It features scratches, humming, and background noises. Even voice recordings from call logs are used for this material. This is why “Lo-Fi” is short for “low fidelity.”

The thing with Lo-Fi music is that it’s the kind of sound you play when no one is paying attention to the music. It’s like coffeehouse music or comfort room tunes for fancy hotels. Cheddar describes Lo-Fi music as having a “tactile nostalgic feel, intricate jazz chords, washed-out boom-bap drum loops, and this white vinyl noise that fills everything out.”

Does it work with productivity and focus?

girl walking listening to music

As of now, there is little to no scientific or research-based evidence that lo-fi actually helps productivity and focus. Nevertheless, lo-fi music can still be helpful while reviewing to become an estate planning lawyer or solving the intricacies of quantum physics.

Brain.fm has found data-driven information that unpacks lo-fi music. For instance, music is meant to distract the brain, and this genre of music found a way to minimize that.

The three main features of a song that distract people are vocals, strong melody and rhythm, and salient events. The brain is programmed to understand rhythm as motion. This is why dancing can be easy for trained dancers and walks tend to synchronize with music. Accompany this with salient events which are snares and other musical additions, and you’ve got a distracting song.

To remedy this, lo-fi music tones it down through amplitude modulation. To simply put it, the amplitude is the loudness of sound, and this loudness triggers different functions of the brain. Kevin Woods of Brain.fm put it this way: “You can go into the brain and poke neurons and you can see that they’ll respond to changes in amplitude rate in a very specific way.”

With ‘lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to’, the goal is to take advantage of beta rhythms, the amplitude that caters to problem-solving, decision-making, and focus. Musicians achieve this by using dense chords that contain keys that are next to or near each other. Aside from this, lo-fi music utilizes a low-pass filter and reverb to make the sound more immersive and fading into the background.

Music–like all forms of art–is eternally evolving. What used to be out of normal and idiosyncrasies of experimentational musicians is now a widely followed genre. Like the joke that has been going around the internet, leave meaningful voicemails because it might just end up on a Spotify or SoundCloud track.

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