Top 5 music apps for mindful focus

There are a lot of apps that try to leverage mindfulness, music and nature sounds so as to improve focus, productivity, help with healthy sleep as well as alleviate anxiety and help to overcome depression. Here are my picks:

1. brain.fm

Brain.fm is music designed for the brain to enhance focus, relaxation, meditation, naps and sleep within 10 – 15 minutes of use.

I am a big fan of house music. Brain.fm is kind of like house music without the bass drops.

In my experience, brain.fm does help to focus.

I wouldn’t call it pleasant – and it has given me a headache once or twice. The music isn’t composed by a human, instead an AI engine does the creative work. An interesting and scary thought.

Artificial intelligence is an expectedly dystopian composer. Listening to it, I get visions of abandoned Soviet steel factories at twilight – potentially infested with zombies. It does help with focus though!

Perhaps this sort of music makes the thing you’re meant to be focusing on more attractive – and that’s the real reason it helps to focus! I am sure the guys at brain.fm will figure out how to cheer that algorithm up with time.

Their research isn’t very useful at present as there is conflict of interest. All the same, they were able to show  some promising results:

best music for mindfulness meditation

In short, brain.fm claims that brains like rhythmic things, attention is rhythmic and they try to align this so as to increase focus.

Here is some background neuroscience.

The dynamic attending theory is the idea is that attention is modulated dynamically to optimise sensory processing at expected intervals set by a rhythm.

Many natural stimuli and actions are rhythmically organised, such as speech, walking – and music. The brain is able to predict the occurrence of subsequent events of interest and optimise their processing. When a rhythm is present in the environment, neuronal oscillations can synchronise to this external rhythmic stream. Again, no real conclusive research is currently available to back up their findings, but here is what they’ve been able to show:

best music for mindfulness and focus

The science part is a work in progress, but it looks good at the moment. Brain.fm is available as an app or you can try it for free on the website, however, you do have to give your email address.

2. Pause

Pause claims to pause the active mind and lower the mental workload, release stress and regain focus. It is inspired by the practice of Tai Chi, and it is all about the here and now.

You need keep moving your finger on the screen following a little circle in a lava lamp-like environment – and it provides feedback. If you’re good at following the circle, it tells you “Good”, “Continue at a slow pace”, etc. There are different difficulty levels. It also plays soothing sounds. The sounds aren’t dystopian, rather they are futuristic.

If you’ve seen the film Her, about a guy who fell love with an operating system (a very fancy Siri), it’s kind of like that – pleasant, full of light, but also a bit eery.

There are birds singing in the background. It is relaxing for sure, but it’s also kind of.. lonely or something. If you enjoy futuristic things, it’s for you. It’s 1.99 to get on the AppStore.

best mindfulness music apps

3. White Noise

White Noise is free and a pretty unassuming useful app. It’s recordings of things like the Amazon jungle, a fireplace, rain, thunder… It does exactly what it says on the tin and does it well. I know it’s not technically music, but it serves a similar purpose.

Pro tip: there are few things as calming as the sound of a fireplace. We’ve been conditioned for millennia to feel safe and connected while hearing that sound.

Another pro tip: the sound of barking induces anxiety. Again, conditioning plays its role.

Having said that, Calm does it all too and much much more. You may want to read about the best guided meditations for beginners to find out more.

4. Get work done music

Get work done music is a little indie gem of a page (you have to open it in a browser, it’s not an app per se). Again, it is missing the veneer of the apps listed at the top. It is basically a set of curated electronic dance music tracks from Soundcloud. I thought Spotify was great, but whoever chooses these tracks really knows what it takes to focus – or get into a full on trance. I would especially recommend this to anyone who likes mindful exercise.

Running, spinning or HIIT to this is a completely different experience to your normal playlist. This little app will fill you with energy better than any amount of caffeine. Unadulterated bass drops ahead.

5. Focus.fm

Focus.fm tells us it is beats for work, productivity, flow. In reality, it is sweet old house, gentle EDM with mellow bass and generally pleasant vibes.

Some tracks are painfully 1990s. I can just see a girl in a glittery tank top and platforms.

best music apps for mindfulness

It is beautifully simple, it doesn’t make any scientific claims. It didn’t really help me focus as such, but it’s a nice blast from the past.

6. The piano

OK, I know this is cheating, but really, none of these beat Frederick Chopin.

Have a mindful Monday all 😉

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14 Comments Add yours

  1. Jim says:

    I like my Accuradio app.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the tip off, looks great! Do they have anything specific for productivity? I found workplace moods, which is nice. It feels more like a real radio with popular tracks tho 🙂

      Like

  2. Are you familiar with teslasoftware’s AmbiScience? Ohhh, if not, I bet you’d like it! So many options to explore, and a mix of rhythms for every body organ and system in the mix! I never tire of this when I think to use it 😉 Aloha, Martina!

    Like

    1. I am having a look at it. It is definitely better than brain.fm – as in it is more pleasant, but the low pitched repetitive sounds are kind of dystopian to me. Must just be a matter of taste 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. These are sounds you can modify – I know what you’re referring to. Try messing with the knobs on the home screen – the center knob will give you options for Entrainment Effects and the far right knob will give you Presets. The big white menu (square) below the knobs on the home screen allows for many choices – then you go to the Entraiment and manipulate that. It takes some getting used to, for sure – but there are SO many options – you’re bound to find a few you really like! Anyhow, I hope so! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I definitely will, thanks for more bright ideas Bela! You know I recently rediscovered Tara Brach, I don’t know if you’re familiar with her – so so good for guided meditation and just general advice!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Glad you like her. Aloha!

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  3. GM Wallace says:

    Thankyou again Martina. Always interesting to read what you are thinking about.

    Johann Sebastian Bach is my main source of musical meditation. The arias from the Goldberg Variations are *perfect and Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor has been a close personal companion for many years. I have yet to find any software which could capture the simultaneous sense of relaxation and intrigue or joy that this music induces in me.

    The (surely) most effective way to “cheer up” an app where the music has been assembled by an AI is to pass it through a participatory selection process – pattern recognition and data tech being what it is I wouldn’t imagine it would take too long for the boffins to develop appropriate audio-software production axioms and neuropsychological principles to work from.

    The mathematical nature of music, of harmony and dissonance has a part to play. A major chord relationship is one in which the harmonic over-series of the combined notes is more structurally complete. Minor harmonies tend to break up this structure and this cascades up the harmonic patterning – which is perhaps where the mysterious or melancholy mood of minor keys comes from. The interplay between the relative structural completeness of major and the hint of entropy and cascading patterned chaos provided by minor is important. Resolving music in appropriate ways tends to add to the sense of completion and satisfaction at the end of a sequence. Curiously, the generically “feel-good” music of rock ‘n’ roll developed (from Blues) with a characteristic “roll” from the minor 3rd to the major 3rd. The “Blue Note” is the dissonant flat 5th but it is it’s context and place in rhythmic and tonal sequences which determines its emotional effect. There is an entire Universe of fascination, study and revelation in music and the mind…
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Didn’t know you were such an expert on music! I am very much clueless about the mechanics of it. I assume the algorithm will learn what people find pleasant. AmbiScience is a lot like this too. It’s all a work in progress.

      And I love Bach too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great list, I’m definitely going have a look at some of these. I often listen to youtube videos of meditation music or white noise to help me focus whilst working, so I’m grateful for a wider range of options! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Maya says:

    Interesting and very useful! After reading this, I went and test out Brain.fm app… It’s so easy to use and I feel more focused listening to it!

    Like

    1. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it!

      Like

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