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Music: Productive Melody

3 minute read

Some 500 U.S. factories, arsenals and shipyards now treat their workers to music to increase production. But what kind of music, and in what doses, gets maximum results?

Last week one expert offered an answer. Professor Harold Burris-Meyer, director of research in sound at Stevens Institute of Technology, released results of elaborate tests with factory music from Bach to boogie-woogie. Once, in a big Philadelphia laundry, his experiments were so shattering that one worker burst into tears and ran home. But his overall findings show that scientifically planned music increases factory production by 1.3 to 11.1% (in factories already employing music, up to 6.8%).*

Early in his studies Soundman Burris-Meyer discovered a few essential don’ts. For example: 1) hymns slow production almost to the stopping point; 2) Deep in the Heart of Texas prompts workers to clap their hands and let production go hang; 3) vocal refrains tend to distract rather than to stimulate; 4) music during the last 20 minutes of the working day is likely to be taken as a signal to pack up and go home. Burris-Meyer did not even attempt to play Strip Polka, for fear of provoking a complete breakdown of production.

Ideal factory formula, according to Burris-Meyer, must take into accomvt such factors as nationality, age, character of work, time of day. Foreign-born workers respond best to opera. Oldsters are best stimulated by such old standbys as Bicycle Built for Two, East Side, West Side. Youth prefers juke-box favorites. Most effective dose was found to be ten to 15 minutes of music each half hour, administered softly. To eliminate brassy passages, change of key, too ornate orchestrations, about 75% of the music on a “planned” factory program is specially arranged.

Sample Burris-Meyer programs:

> First hour (when workers need strong-rhythm to get them into the groove): One Dozen Roses, Radio City March.

> Second hour (in order to maintain peak production): Embraceable You, I’ve Got A Gal in Kalamazoo.

Toward lunch hour and quitting time, when the need is to combat fatigue, hunger and boredom, the programs call for such soothing numbers as When the Lights Go On Again, A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody, Artists’ Life, I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.

Such programs have been found to produce speed and contentment in such diverse establishments as the Lockheed plane plant and Manhattan’s National City Bank. In the editorial rooms of the Reader’s Digest editors are treated with twelve to 20 minutes of planned harmony every hour.

With correct musical treatment, claims Burris-Meyer, slumps in the normal production curve can be straightened so that work goes on at an almost uniform speed (see cut). But his findings go much further than that. He asserts that in a number of experiments his music reduced tardiness on Monday morning from 22.75 to 2.75%—presumably because it makes workers enjoy their work more.

*U.S. chicken farmers have reported experiments in which hens, subjected to symphonic music, laid 18.9% more eggs.

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