Music in dreams

From a footnote on p282 of Oliver Sacks Musicophilia:

There have been very few systematic studies of music in dreams, though one such [pdf], by Valeria Uga and her colleagues at the University of Florence in 2006, compared the dream logs of thirty-five professional musicians and thirty non-musicians. The researchers concluded that “musicians dreams of music more than twice as much as non-musicians [and] musical dream frequency is related to the age of commencement of musical instruction, but not to the daily load of musical activity. Nearly half of all recalled music was non-standard, suggesting that original music can be created in dreams.” While there have been many anecdotal stories of composers creating original compositions in dreams, this is the first study to lend support to the idea.

The finding has an interesting parallel with findings on the ‘age-of-acquisition effect’ in language research.

It was known for years that things like the ability to name objects or remember words was influenced by the how common the word is, and how ‘concrete’ it is. For example, concrete words like tree, apple and house tend to be more robust than abstract words like hope, love or like.

Largely due to the work Andy Ellis it’s been found that many of these effects are actually a function of at what age the word was first learnt, with earlier words being more robust in terms of being more easily processed or accessed during cognitive processing.

The Uga study hints that a similar process may be at work with music.

Link to PubMed entry for study on music and dreams.
pdf of full-text of music and dreams study.
Link to Google Scholar search for age-of-acquisition effect.

7 Comments

  1. Posted November 15, 2007 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    Not necessarily. There is also evidence that musicians tend to process music as a left-brain (rational, mathematical) activity, while non-musicians process music as a right-brain (intuitive) activity.

    • Lisa Keller
      Posted July 8, 2013 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      Dear Mr. McKay,

      could you tell me where this information is from: “Not necessarily. There is also evidence that musicians tend to process music as a left-brain (rational, mathematical) activity, while non-musicians process music as a right-brain (intuitive) activity.”
      I am going to write a work about this topic.

      Best regards,
      Lisa Keller

  2. h.h.
    Posted June 6, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    I’m a musician and for years I’ve been wanting to write good songs but to no avail. I’m just not good at it. Twice now in the past couple months (with one occurrence last night) I’ve found myself creating music in dreams that I like. One song I remembered and took it down, but the one last night I couldn’t remember. I wonder if there is a way to take the songwriting skills I have in my dreams and bring them to reality.

  3. danielle
    Posted July 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    if i could remember the songs i created in my dreams man i would be so famous. i think its weird because i cant seem to write music when im awake but the songs in my dreams are so amazing

  4. Chris
    Posted November 2, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    The true fact of the matter is:- very many of us could be musicians if we really wanted to. I earlier on today had a dream where I was listening to a song I really liked. I’ve now completely forgotten how it went and don’t even know if it was a song I’d heard before or not. All I can remember is my girlfriend standing next to me saying ”oh thing is boring!!” (and I felt like saying ”shut up, no it’s not!!!”)

    I’ve been going through all the music I’ve heard recently on BBC 6music which is the station I always listen to and by all accounts it simply just doesn’t exist. Maybe it really was made up by me in my sleep!!

    We hear different music every day and it’s incredible to think that the human brain can make up so much music when asleep, but that’s when it’s actually more likely to. This is because we are in a certain state when we are asleep that puts our brain into productivity rather than our bodies. Our mind finds it hard to suddenly create music when we are awake because there’s so much other ‘normal’ stuff we are thinking about and there’s other things going on.

    When dreaming, all different sounds from various music compositions come together and can sometimes form new sounds in a different order with often different lyrics. Just think, we see new faces practically every day of our lives and if we think hard enough, we could create a face of a person who doesn’t even exist. It’s the same thing with making music.

    The talent with musicians is that they can actually think of new ideas out of the building blocks of music when they are awake so that they remember them. They might also remember the song from their dream, and write it down or sing it into a microphone and record it from the moment they wake.

    Another good point is:- it’s ok to make up a new composition of music, but who’s going to sing it for you? Who’s going to play the instruments, or who has the computer software they can utilize in the case of electronic music? That’s the main problem.

    Food for thought…

  5. Mike Brody
    Posted March 23, 2014 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    I’ve been writing music for thirty years but lately hVe had lucid dreams with music in them.i just recorded one on guitar and captured enough to make it work at band practice next week. I had to learn these chords from remembering the dream album they were on! I hope these keep coming.Better than my awake songs. Sort of TRIPPY 70,s glam feel to them.

  6. Thor
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    I know for myself that it is certainly possible. I have had the experience many times, and its simply incredible. The whole song with all its pieces is completed at one very instant and its always much better than anything I can think up when awake. It doesn’t appear to me as the song is planned, it just develops instantly. If there was only a way to record my brain while its doing this, or some way to learn to do it while awake. Because the songs in my dream is created totally effortlessly but they still sound amazing, and its not an effect the dreamish quality of the music. I have been on the verge of waking up when dreaming new original music, and was able to remember last parts or main chorus of the song when waking up, and they are still very original and good sounding. Once I dreamed music that didn’t sound anything like anything I have heard before, a new genre one might say, it was crazy. Definitely trying to access these abilities in my awake state!


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