What Makes The Ultimate Driving Music?

[A post by Jess Walter on how to make the best of your next road trip. – AC]

The best music to listen to while driving is very much a personal preference, but a lot of work has gone in to studying what gives some songs an edge over others. One study showed that songs that have intense rhythms and provocative lyrics increased the chance drivers would change lanes and drive aggressively. Popular, non-challenging genres like pop are still the most listened to on the other hand. And songs with harmonic surprise can improve mood and, indirectly, driving.

What They’re Saying Matters

The first thing you may think when we mention violent music and driving is that it makes for poor driving music. But studies found that metal and other intense genres have a much more complicated relationship with driving. Songs with intense rhythms that challenged or threatened the driver, for example, actually caused safer driving as it made drivers more mindful. It was songs that dared users to take risks and be aggressive that caused more reckless driving.

The Popular Genres Might Be On To Something

If we’re talking genres, studies say that as of 2017, pop music was still the king of car radios. Part of this is attributed to the nature of the lyrics. Because pop and rock tend to address various topics and address the listener directly less often, it interferes with active attention less. These genres also address common topics that pertain to more people, which can create a sense of community that causes drivers to relax. And being relaxed can improve driver reaction speeds.

Shifts In Tone And Satisfying Cords Can Make Drivers More Attentive

So, enjoyment often makes drivers of larger vehicles more clear-minded, and safety focused, while distress or aggravation can cause risky behavior. This is why studies have focused on the role of harmonic surprise in driving music. Harmonic surprise focuses on pauses or bouts of erratic music, which are paid off by strong or smooth cords afterward. This creates a sense of joy similar to completing a difficult task. Songs that pull this tension off well can be excellent driving music.

Summing it Up

What makes the ultimate driving music? The best genre may come down to the listener, but popular genres such as pop and rock have the edge. Their use of beats and rhythm make harmonic surprise easier, which can improve mood and cause a subconscious sense of fulfillment. Music that employs threatening or intense beats can cause a driver to focus on their own safety. But songs that dare the user to act recklessly can increase the chance of wrecks.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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