Studying & Music: Is It Sound?


While students study in a variety of places- libraries, rooms, kitchens, classrooms- one of the most common denominators is the use of a desk. With papers, textbooks, pens and pencils scattered around, often a phone or laptop can also be seen playing music. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Trey Williams, Staff Writer

People have numerous methods to help them study, such as studying with friends, caffeine kicks, and tutoring. In recent times, a new method has become easier than ever: listening to music. With services such as Spotify and YouTube Music, it’s easier than ever to listen to whatever music whenever you want. With this increased accessibility, some students have decided to incorporate music into their studying.

“I kind of use the instrumental music to keep me focused,” sophomore Christine Chen said. “It really does help focus, at least for me.”

Some studies have suggested listening to music may be helpful for studying. For instance, listening to music you like has the effect of putting you in a better mood. This attitude change may have an impact when you study. One study observed kids solving math problems, a third listening to pleasant music, like calming instrumentals, and third listening to aggressive music, like hard rock. The students that listened to the calm music performed the best, and the students listening to the aggressive music performed the worst. This suggests that listening to less obtrusive music may have slight benefits for subjects without language like math.

“If I’m doing math I listen to classical,” senior Jadin Taylor said. “If I’m doing anything else, I listen to instrumentals. I don’t want other words in my mind.”

Unfortunately, benefit from music has only been found with math. Subjects dealing with language, especially when listening to music with words, do not receive benefits from music, according to current scientific consensus. A study conducted by Cardiff Metropolitan University had students revise a paper in four groups: one group listened to music without words, one group listened to music they liked, one group listened to music they didn’t like, and one group listened to music in silence. This study found that students that listened to music with lyrics did considerably worse at a follow up exam than those that worked in silence.

“Rock makes me kind of hyped and excited. If I’m doing homework I want to be calm and relaxed. Rock is the exact opposite,” Taylor said.

For years there have been numerous myths about the effects music has on the brain. There are many misconceptions about the effects of classical music, namely that it will permanently make you smarter. It has only been found that listening to Mozart will increase your spatial reasoning for only 10-15 minutes afterwards. This effect, named The Mozart Effect, has been misleading people for decades.

Sophomore Charlie Rosenzweig isn’t a fan of listening to music while studying. “I’ve tried it and it has been very unsuccessful cause I just get distracted and don’t do anything,” Rosenzweig said. “It distracts me, I’ll be like ‘I don’t like this song, skip’. Usually I just have a plan like ‘I’m gonna finish this’. I don’t need music to help me study.”

Another unintended consequence of listening to music is multitasking. According to the American Psychological Association, you tend to get about 60% done when doing two things at once. Our brains have difficulty ignoring lyrics or abrasive instrumentals while working on other tasks. While listening to music while washing the dishes or shoveling snow won’t matter, listening to music while trying to read or write does, because the same part of your brain is being used. Listening to music, according to your brain, is another activity. This is another reason listening to music can be distracting.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t listen to any music while you study. Certain music won’t hinder your ability to do your work as much as others. If you hate Beethoven, don’t listen to Beethoven; it will only make your mood worse and therefore will make productivity worse. Another important detail is the tempo. Listening to songs generally between 60 and 70 beats per minute is ideal. Keeping your music at a low volume will also help you keep your focus.

Genres such as classical, ambient, and post-rock generally meet these criteria. Famous composers such as Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart will do the trick. However, if Bach isn’t your cup of tea, I would recommend classical artists E.S. Posthumus. The duo takes classical music and puts a modern spin on it, combining symphonic arrangements with more up-to-date drums and guitar. These guys are sure to keep you energized.

Unearthed by E.S. Posthumus, released November 29, 2001. Their debut album featured many songs used in movie trailers due to their combination of classical and modern music. The song “Nara” has been used for trailers for The Hunger Games and National Treasure. This is a great album to listen to if you need to stay awake. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

If you are looking for something entirely different from classical, I would recommend post-rock, an experimental form of rock often with symphonic song structures. Sigur Ros, an Icelandic post-rock band, is one of my favorite groups like this. While there are vocals, they are either in Icelandic or a made up language they call “hopelandic”, so it is not as distracting. The lead singer uses his voice like an instrument, which contributes beautifully to the band’s monumental, yet dreamy sound.

Takk by Sigur Ros, released September 12, 2005. Their fourth studio album features one of my favorite songs by them, called “Glósóli”. This album is packed with beautiful songs. Their other albums such as Valtari and Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do are just as great. This is a good album to listen to if you want a calmer listen. Photo courtesy of Genius

There are some genres that are especially bad study music. Rap music is arguably one of the worst genres to listen to while studying due to the genre’s heavy focus on lyrical content. Even if you think you can ignore it, your brain will subconsciously listen to what your favorite rapper is saying, which hurts productivity.

Whether or not you listen to music while studying, studying can be challenging. While science may say listening to music can hinder your studies, some think it’s worth it. Ultimately, it depends on personal choice what kind of music you listen to while you study, from instrumentals, to rap, to no music at all. It also depends what you are trying to get from listening to music. While it has been shown that listening to music can hinder productivity, finding the right kind of music has the potential to help, either academically or emotionally. So when deciding on what playlist to shuffle, just keep in mind what is best for you.