What are Binaural Beats? and do they really work?

The relationship between music and studying is an effective study aid if you like music. Some people would consider it a distraction but if you are like me you find it a pretty effective tool.  However somedays music just doesn’t help and nothing helps to get you to completely focus.

Mind Control?

During these moments you might be thinking there must be a way to force your brain to get into the groove so you are able to focus on the subject matter, some kind of mind control music like in novels, movies and comic books. A good example of this would be the fifth Harry Potter book.  There is a music box that opens up and basically hypnotizes everyone.  It makes them all sluggish and drowsy or an issue 46 of the Teen Titans there’s a villain called the Fiddler’s that can play music which makes the Titans try to kill each other so, we should be pretty happy this stuff doesn’t exist.

Mind control music aside though, what about music that can simply cause a cognitive change and be intentionally designed so we know that music does affect your brain in certain ways so could you design music for a specific intended effect. Well, if you ask certain people the answer is going to be yes and if you put brain music as a search term into Google you’re going to get tons of videos promising all sorts of benefits like increased focus or better sleep, meditation music all kinds of stuff now.

There are a lot of techniques that people use to create this kind of music.  If you know anything about this topic you have probably heard of one of them which are binaural beats, which I’m going to use as the example here to explain this modality. 

What Binaural beats actually are

So a binaural beat is an illusion, actually it’s just two different tones at two different pitches played in each ear and if you were to put one earphone up while one was playing you would just perceive a steady tone keep with the other earphone to your other ear you would hear our tone at a different pitch but when you listen to them both at the same time your brain creates an illusion of a beat oscillating back and forth between each side of your head and usually this oscillation is really, really fast.

History Lesson on Binaural Beats

So what does this have to do with creating music that can help your brain focus better or achieve some other desired benefit.  Well this has to do with the fact that a lot of neural activity is rhythmic and this activity is called neural oscillation or in more popular terms brain waves. 

Back in 1924 a German psychiatrist named Hans Berger invented a device called an electroencephalogram or EEG device, which enabled the measurement of human brainwaves.  It was discovered that certain frequency ranges of these waves are associated with different types of cognitive activity, for instance super-slow delta waves are measured during the deepest phases of sleep whereas higher frequency beta and gamma waves are associated with wakefulness and mental attentiveness.

Once that was known it was not too long before the idea of influencing these brain waves using external stimuli came up.  In 1934 an English researcher named Edgar Adrian demonstrated how using photic stimulation, which is basically flashing a bunch of lights in front of somebody at a very specific frequency could be used to drive the brains alpha waves below or above its natural frequency band.  What was happening was that the frequency of the external stimulus was causing the brain waves to move toward a similar frequency their syncing up basically

Building off of that, in 1949 a researcher named William Grey Walter published a study showing that this photic stimulation could also cause mental and emotional changes.  These can cause changes in brain activity with regard to those binaural beats I was talking about earlier.  These are only one form of auditory stimulation that has been studied, but they seem to be the most commonly known and the idea is about the same as with Adrian’s experiments designed to beat to oscillate at a certain frequency and hopefully gain a desired cognitive effect this is often known as auditory driving.  So the million-dollar question is: does this auditory driving actually work can, you put your earphones in turn on a binaural beats track or something similar and then focus more effectively. Well from the research I’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks I have to say that scientifically it seems like we don’t really know at this point, I found several studies using binaural beats or other techniques that did seem to have positive results but then I found a lot of other studies that seem to have no results at all

One thing that we do know from those EEG measurements, is that audio and other external stimuli can cause changes in the brain. The question is can you design that audio to cause specific beneficial changes and right now that is unclear.  So from there we get into anecdotal territory and a lot of people do report that this brain enhancing music does help them study better and then some do not and for the people who do we always have to consider that at least part of the effect may be due to the placebo effect basically people being told that this is going to help you and then they see a change because they’re expecting it.

My First Experience

So with that in mind here is my personal experience withbrain music  Back in college I discoveredit because I was basically looking for anything that would help me study betterand they did not work at all and the main reason for that is they just do notsound good to me.  I can hear thatpulsing back and forth and it’s honestly annoying and I think any benefit Iwould have derived from that has been overrated by the fact that I waslistening to something I would rather not listen to so I ditched it went backto my normal study music and that was the rest of college.

My Return to Binaural Beats

Near the end of last year though my interest was renewed in this topic when I was scrolling through some website I came across a tool called brain FM.  This tool creates algorithmically generated music that’s designed to help you focus and being curious I tried it out and I actually found myself focusing better.  One of the main differences is that the oscillations they build into the music use more natural sounding instruments so it’s blended into the music a little bit better and because they are doing so many new things there hasn’t been time to do a whole lot of research around what is being built these days.

But I have been using it myself for several years now and it’s still effective and it’s actually generally more effective than normal study music for helping me focus so I usually use it when I’m writing


So to conclude yes I do believe they do work and according to research it does appear to work as well. Like me at first some people may not like it however after finding that app I did find it being a really effect tool to help me study during those exam days

If you do end up trying it please leave a comment and a link of some sounds that have worked for you.

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