Compose new music? In your dreams

The source of professional musicians’ creativity could lie in their dreams, report Piero Salzarulo and colleagues at the University of Florence.

They asked 35 professional musicians and 30 non-musical students to complete a record of their dreams and musical activity for 30 days. Over that period, the musicians, who either played an instrument or sang for a living, experienced twice as many dreams featuring music compared with the students (40 vs. 18 per cent of nights).

And 28 per cent of the time, the music that featured in the musicians’ dreams was an original piece. “The occurrence of unknown musical pieces shows that new musical productions could be created in dreams”, the researchers said.

You might say it’s obvious for musicians to dream about music because we often expect the content of our dreams to reflect our waking activities. But actually, past research has shown more complex activities like reading, writing or calculating seldom occur in dreams. The researchers surmised: “This could be an additional argument for the difference between music and the other cognitive skills”.

And moreover, in this study, the likelihood of dreaming of music was not linked to hours of musical activity on the previous day. Instead, frequency of musical dreams was associated with the age at which the musician began their musical instruction. “This finding is in agreement with the notion that the early years of childhood are crucial for establishing the lifelong development of musical skills”, the researchers said.

Uga, V., Lemut, M.C., Zampi, C., Zilli, I. & Salzarulo, P. (2006). Music in dreams. Consciousness and Cognition, 15, 351-357.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.