If music be the food of love (& coaching!), play on...

Reflecting recently on a wonderful evening shared with a few thousand other people and a very dear friend, at the Hammersmith Apollo, it got me thinking more deeply about the emotions which music stirs in us, and how this could be harnessed to add other depths & angles of richness to our coaching practice.

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So, there we were with Gabrielle and her distinctive, soulful voice from the ‘80s and ‘90s stirring emotion and memories I’d long packed away, followed by Rick Astley who as well as being a very authentic, natural, fun and entertaining presence on stage, had managed to reinvent himself and even his tone of voice was different, deeper & more meaningful, whilst retaining a core truth to his ‘80s musical roots.

Both artists evoked different feelings, images, thoughts and behaviours in the audience that evening… and it occurred to me to consider further the impact of music in unlocking our Coaching Clients, or in supporting them to make a shift or a leap in their mind-set, attitude, beliefs and behaviours.

Unpacking & unlocking emotion

In coaching, our clients may sometimes find it difficult to unpack or unlock what is really going on for them and/or may often be seeking a way to reinvent their lives, their careers, their relationships; or if not “reinvent”, then to view things differently.  As we already know, introducing creativity into coaching can be a way to shine an alternative light and enable our clients to become more at ease and less restricted.

So, what is it about music which stirs our body and soul?


Outside of music affecting the brain as an emotional experience, it is also a physical experience... Listening to music can create peak emotions, which increase the amount of dopamine, a specific neurotransmitter that is produced in the brain and helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centres.

How many of us have our “happy” playlist and our deeper more self-reflective (sometimes mournful) playlist?  What do you listen to in the car or on the tube before a coaching session or important meeting – what effect does this have on you?

Exploring further, the physiological and neurological impact of music, Barry Goldstein who wrote ‘The Secret Language of the Heart’ says “It’s like getting directions to a location. If a road is closed, or you are stuck in traffic, there is sometimes an alternate route to get to the same place. Music can help map that alternate route in your brain”

Music affects the brain and mood by engaging emotion, memory, learning & neuroplasticity, and attention.  These aspects in themselves deserve a separate, more extensive investigation, more detailed than we can explore in this article, where music therapy and the link between the auditory and motor system in the brain are examined more thoroughly.  Some interesting research covers areas including the laying down of music memories in our early years, and using music therapy with Alzheimer’s, Stroke patients and Autism for example.   

Breakthrough moments

I’ve reflected on some of the coaching I have done in prisons, and how music or rapping has often been the point of real breakthrough and opportunity for expression with clients in this environment.  It has been a “light up moment’ and often where the connection and relationship of Coach and Client has been strengthened and understood, and where communication flowed more readily; something significant shifted in the relationship at this point and going forward.

I guess this is where poetry, lyrics, sound, rhythm and music become intertwined to create a combined impact of emotion and chemical changes in our body.

Mixing up the corporate environment to stimulate thinking & creativity

In the Corporate environment we know that creativity, playfulness or introducing things like childhood sweets into a meeting or group coaching session, can change the energy, atmosphere, mindset and attitude of those present and often enable a lighter approach, stimulating different parts of our brain to produce “feel-good hormones” – so I’d be curious to explore how music may evoke this too, stimulating emotion, and subsequently different ways of thinking & behaving?

Music in our coaching toolbox

So how can music be used as another tool in coaching and be added to our creative coaching toolbox.

  • How would you introduce music into coaching? 

  • Would it work better with one type of client than another? 

  • What might characterise these clients?

  • What influences you to think this?

  • What unconscious bias might be present in your thinking?

  • Have you used music in your coaching practice already?

What do you think?

This topic has gripped me & I’d love to hear other thoughts and opinions from both Coaches and non-Coaches alike.

Finally, a little self-indulgence.  Many song lyrics are about journeying through times of adversity and personal challenge, learning & creating a stronger sense of self and understanding; I particularly love the lyrics from ‘Rise’ by Gabrielle, and share some of them below.

Rise (Gabrielle)

"Look at my life,  look at my heart,  I have seen them fall apart,  now I'm ready to rise again.  Just look at my hopes, look at my dreams,  I'm building bridges from these scenes,  now I'm ready to rise again"




Carolyn (Caz) Hawley

Coach, Coach Supervisor, Director, Hawley HR & Coaching Ltd


Go to the profile of Evelyn Kaluza
about 3 years ago

Hi Caz. This is really interesting as I have been thinking about the benefits I get from singing in a rock choir and how I could bring this into a workshop or coaching session with clients. So your idea about music is along the same lines. I often get inspired by turning on the radio and just noticing the lyrics in a song and thinking about what they mean to me. It is funny how sometimes a song pops on the radio and you are instantly reminded of a happy time that is associated with the song. So I totally agree there is an opportunity to bring music and songs into coaching. I use coaching cards as a visual prompt and some people respond better than others to those and may respond better to audio cues. So it is something I will be experimenting with. 

Go to the profile of Carolyn (Caz) Hawley
about 3 years ago

Hi Evelyn, thanks for your comments and insights - it's great to hear your thoughts on this subject.  It's also interesting to explore how music can relate to & associate us with past, present and future feelings & experiences - and I wonder whether this could offer an additional lever in coaching - when looking back through the rear view mirror to explore where something like a belief or behaviour may originate from, or in describing & perhaps anchoring feelings in the here & now, or looking forwards through the front windscreen, with imagination & visualisation into the future. For example, what does your singing in a rock choir elicit for you in terms of being in the moment, compared with songs on the radio taking you back to a happy time associated with the song, and how are the benefits the same or different?  As you mention, coaching cards will work for some clients and not others, so I'd love to hear how your audio experimentation goes... Look forward to staying in touch.  Best wishes, Caz.