A Sound Strategy for Focus

Music engineered to shift your mind into a state of flow could keep the ADHD brain in tune.

Music Therapy

Music allowed me to focus deeply on my writing, by giving the part of my brain that interrupted me something to amuse itself with.

I've always known about the ability of music to focus the ADHD brain since I started writing seriously in high school. Whenever I had a paper, essay, or story to write, I'd do it while listening to music. Not just any music: The music couldn't have words, had to have a certain tempo, had to last a while, and couldn't stop and start.

I settled on lots of Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Handel, and any others that fit that mold. I can't define the qualities of the music I need, but I recognize it the minute I hear it, or sort of hear it.

That was the key. I had to "sort of hear it." The music had to engage the part of my mind that would distract and interrupt me while I wrote. That was the "scientific" explanation I invented, because that's what the music did. It allowed me to focus deeply on my writing, by giving the part of my brain that interrupted me something to amuse itself with.

I'm not saying that Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, and Mozart wrote background music. Certain qualities of their music, though, prevent an ADHDer's brain from getting distracted and interrupted. I've written all my books to Bach and company.

Behind the Music

Now I'm discovering what's behind the music. Through the twists and turns of life, I met Will Henshall, who was a successful rock musician in England. But that was then, in the 1990s. Now he is a scientist of sound, and the creator of the company focus@will.

As he explained the science behind what I'd intuitively known since high school, I was amazed. So there is a science to the music?

Working with his team of sound scientists, Henshall put together a vast collection of music engineered to engage the part of your brain that usually distracts you while you work. To do this, he had to remove the most interesting and arresting parts of the music. He said to me, "When I was a rock star, I worked my butt off to make my music so engaging you couldn't not listen to it. Now I do the opposite. Instead, the music casts a spell over you."

Henshall told me such music has between 128 and 132 beats per minute, each beat separated by about 120 milliseconds. The ideal amplitude varies from person to person and from one type of music to another. For example, when listening to an "up tempo" selection, some people focus best at an amplitude of 7.2 Hz. But it's individualized and personal, which is why focus@will offers multiple channels of music at three energy levels.

Stealth Sounds

When a person listens to the music Henshall has engineered, that person enters a focused, or flow, state within 20 minutes or so. At that point, the person will get used to it, which breaks the spell. Henshall makes sure that doesn't happen by engineering the music to switch from 128 to 132 beats per minute. The listener doesn't notice this switch, but the brain does.

You can try out the music for free at focusatwill.com. The site offers different kinds of music, one called "up tempo," another called "classical," a third called "cinematic," and so on. One called "ADHD beta test" is being tested to see if it works for people with the condition.

I've become so excited about focus@will that I've become a consultant to the company. I recommend the music as a tool to help yourself or your child focus while doing brain work. It's worked for me for decades, and now I know the reason why.

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