A study by Simone Ritter at Radboud University in the Netherlands and Sam Ferguson, at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, looked at how listening to various types of music affected different types of thinking compared to working in silence.
Their study found that happy music enhanced participants’ creative “divergent thinking.” However they found it had no impact on “convergent thinking,” which is problem-solving.
In their study, Ritter and Ferguson split 155 volunteers into five groups, which were then given tasks to complete. Four of the groups did so while listening to classical music aimed at stimulating different moods, such as Holst’s Mars and Vivaldi’s Spring. The fifth group worked in silence.
They found that the groups working to music they considered positive generally came up with more original ideas.
Ritter and Ferguson said: “The current project aimed to shed light on the potential association of music listening for optimizing divergent and convergent creativity, and demonstrated that listening to “happy music” (i.e., classical music that elicits positive mood and is high on arousal) is associated with an increase in divergent thinking, but not convergent thinking.”
The upshot being, if you need to be creative with your work, then you should stick some uplifing music to help get the cognitive juices flowing. But if you're trying to solve an problem, you're better off opting for quiet solitude.