By Dan Anderson: Something that has always been quite fascinating is the fact that music is a universal language.
No matter where we are from or what we speak, music is something we can all understand at its core.
Many people use music when they are trying to focus, and similarly, it is often used by students that are looking for a way to study effectively.
Personally, I always like to have background noise while I am working, and it was the same when I studied at university.
Sometimes it was the TV, other times my playlist, but it worked well for me. For those that enjoy listening to tunes while they work, there are quite a few benefits to the process. However, it should also be remembered that it is not a process that will work for everyone.
Interestingly, there are some types of music that will work better than others when boosting productivity, and so it might be worth adjusting your playlist accordingly – something that we will explore in more detail later on. So, what is the best music for studying?
Does Studying with Music Work or Boost Productivity?
Whether a student or a professional, you are likely to be studying something – either for upcoming exams or an important meeting at work. In many ways, we never stop studying or learning, and if anything, this makes the concept of whether listening to music while studying working an even more important one.
For years, the Mozart Effect and music while studying went hand in hand (a theory that we explore in detail in the next section), and over time it has broadened to feature new genres of music as the studies become more popular and widespread. In this section, we look at music as a whole to determine if the process really works.
The University of Wales undertook a study in 2011 to see how well students were able to complete homework while there was background sound or music. The students were given one of five different environments to work in – a silent one, steady state speech one (a single word/number being repeated), a changing state speech one (changing words/numbers), a liked music one, and a disliked music one.
The results found that the students in the silent and steady speech environments performed better on the test that came after their homework, while those that were in the other three environments (changing state speech, liked music, and disliked music) all performed worse. However, between the latter three, there were no differences in the test results – just that they performed worse than the former two.
What is interesting, however, is the fact that those who were listening to the music they liked did not find the process to be any more distracting than if they were to work in quiet conditions. They also enjoyed the experience a lot more. The test results were also found to vary in the last three environments, which shows that results can depend on individual people and their preferences as opposed to solely on the environment they study in.
There is also a difference between background music and background noise. If you are studying somewhere like a library, you are going to be disturbed by people coughing, sneezing, or just chatting quietly with each other. There are studies that have actually shown those who listen to background music instead of background noise actually got better results in tests, so there are definitely benefits to listening to music while you are trying to revise.
You do have to be careful about what kind of music you are listening to, as if you are playing the wrong kind it could have a negative impact on your productivity and performance. Music can influence our mood and the way we think, so you should ensure that you listen to tunes that leave you feeling good about yourself and have good vibes.
It should also contain a moderate amount of syncopation, which means that you don’t want your music to be too upbeat, but you also don’t want it to be monotone – the latter will leave you feeling drowsy and entirely unmotivated. What this moderate level will also do is appeal to the pleasure receptors in your brain, linking back to the previous point made about the way in which music can improve your mood and happiness.
Funk music is an excellent middle-ground that you should consider exploring. Something that we will explore later on in this article is the ways in which music can hinder your ability to study, and before you move onto that it is important to note one key fact; your productivity will ultimately be based on your personality and habits.
For many, listening to music is an excellent option, and the studies on it show that it really can work to increase productivity and memory retention. So, if you haven’t tried listening to music while studying, now might be a great time to consider it.
What is the Mozart Effect?
When the original study was published in Nature in 1993, people immediately took the Mozart Effect as a child becoming smarter when they listened to Mozart. It became the next bog craze, with everything from CDs and videos to toys being made in order to get kids listening to the famous composer.
However, the study actually had different results. Rauscher, Shaw, and Ky were the three researches behind the concept, and they used young adults in their study on the impact of Mozart on spatial-temporal reasoning. There were three groups, and each of them had a different pre-test experience. One group listened to Mozart, one silence, and the other relaxation music that was designed to lower blood pressure.
After 10 minutes, they were given tests that asked them to visualise spatial patterns and then manipulate them over time. The students that listened to Mozart ended up performing better on the spatial reasoning test than those that were subjected to the other two pre-test conditions. However, the effect only lasted for 15 minutes before it wore off.
It was the media that claimed that Mozart would make your child smarter, and it became popular to the point where some hospitals in the USA started giving the parents of newborn babies a Mozart CD when they were discharged.
It is interesting because the researchers never claimed that it increased intelligence, only spatial reasoning, and since then there have been numerous follow-up studies on whether or not the Mozart Effect is real – and it has since been proved that Mozart does not increase your intelligence, and the boost to spatial reasoning is only temporary.
Similarly, there has been evidence to show that any kind of music that a person enjoys can improve spatial resonating abilities.
Can Classical Music Improve IQ?
This links in with the Mozart Effect that we mentioned previously, and studies have shown that while listening to classical music does not have any effect on your IQ, playing it might. Learning how to play an instrument can be incredibly beneficial for the mind, and according to cognitive scientist Jessica Grahn, a year of lessons and regular practice can increase IQ by three points.
It doesn’t matter what kind of music you learn to play on your instrument, although many of us do start out being taught classical tunes. There have been numerous studies over the past 25 years to see whether or not classical music is able to increase IQ and general intelligence.
The results were that there was no difference in intelligence when the groups were exposed to classical music, other genres of music, or things like silence and rain sounds. Interestingly, however, there have been very few studies on the long-term effects of classical music on IQ, and only the short-term effects have really been examined.
Is Studying with Music Bad?
As we have said a number of times in this article, listening to music while studying is not going to work for everyone, and for those people, it is not the wisest choice to make. There have been a few studies to demonstrate the potentially negative effects of listening to music while you are working or revising.
One such study was carried out by Perham and Currie, who assigned students into one of four groups that would listen to silence, music with lyrics they liked, music with lyrics they didn’t like, or music without lyrics while they were revising. Afterwards, they were then given a test on the subject, while also noting if the environment had been distracting, and predicting how well they had done.
The results found that the students in the silent environment performed 60% better than those in the three musical ones. The students that listened to music without lyrics also benefitted from an improved performance when compared to those listening to music with lyrics. For those listening to songs they liked or disliked, there was no difference, and both had poor results when compared with the silent and non-lyrical environments.
It can also depend on the kind of person you are, as someone who is easily distracted or has a hard time multitasking may find that music is more of a hindrance than a benefit to their study process. In addition to this, there have also been cases where music that is very loud or agitating can make focus and comprehension a more difficult task.
There can also be negative results if you listen to the wrong kind of music when you study. Music and emotion have a deep connection, to the point that it can alleviate things like depression and anxiety. As a result, there are many forms of music (and songs) that can be incredibly distracting – especially those with lyrics. This is why classical music or acoustic tracks with no lyrics are often recommended.
Interestingly, there can be some difficulties when it comes to recalling facts that have been memorised while listening to music. This is because the student cannot listen to anything while they are taking the exam, and this can cause a delay in recall as well as confusion and possible inability to remember any of the memorised information.
If anything, these studies show that listening to music while studying is not going to be an option for everyone, and there will be those that find it more distracting or making no difference to their results. However, even if you feel that music might not work for you after reading this section, it is still worth trying out at least once while you are studying.
What is the Best Music Genre for Study?
We’ve taken a look at a lot of information and studies, but the question of which music genre is best is one that still remains. There are a number of music types that are beneficial for study, and in this section, we take a look at each of them, and the supporting evidence.
Songs of Nature
Looking at research undertaken at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, it would appear that the sounds of nature are able to boost both mood and focus. It works by covering up intelligible speech in the same way that white noise does while also giving cognitive function a good boost, enhancing concentration levels and productivity. The sound of water is particularly effective in this situation.
Songs You Enjoy or Don’t Care About
Studies have shown that listening to music you enjoy is able to make you feel happier and lessen feelings of anxiety or dread. In a test carried out by the University of Miami, it was discovered that those who listened to music they enjoyed and were given a personal choice were able to complete tasks more efficiently, and also came up with more ideas than those who opted out of music.
The Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan ran a study to determine the effect of listening to music that you don’t really care about while studying. This is different from music that you don’t like, as the songs played are ones that you are indifferent to – so neither like nor dislike.
The study found that the groups listening to music that they really like or disliked actually led to higher levels of distraction than music that they had no feelings towards. Their concentration was not affected by it, and they were able to remain productive as well as retain the information they had learned.
Song Without Lyrics
Lyrics can be quite distracting, and there have been studies to show this. However, this is only the case if the words are intelligible. Research from Cambridge Sound Management has shown that it isn’t the general noise that causes distraction, but the lyrics if we understand or can pick out the words.
The 2008 study discovered that intelligible speech causes 48% of office workers to be distracted, and the same could easily be applied to students. Lyric-less music is the best bet, but it doesn’t have to be classical – it can range from acoustic guitars to video game soundtracks.
Songs with a Specific Tempo and Volume
The tempo of the music that you are listening to can have varying effects on the way your mind works and its overall arousal. Canadian researchersdiscovered that the participants performed better on IQ tests while listening to upbeat tempo music. Further studies in the USA have backed this, claiming that Baroque music was one of the best to use for this exercise.
Similarly, the noise level is also an important factor to consider, and one that you may not have before. It is true that studies in the past have found both medium and high levels of volume to be very beneficial and open the mind to abstract ways of thinking, the high volumes can lead to distraction when trying to work or study. As a result, it is important to keep the sound levels moderate so as to keep your creative thoughts flowing without hindering your brain’s ability to process information.
Concentration Music for Studying
Much like when studying in general, if you are looking to concentrate you should consider music without lyrics as your first choice. This is so that the words in the song don’t redirect your train of thought or take your mind off the task at hand. It doesn’t have to be classical music either if that’s not your thing, movie or video game soundtracks actually work just as well.
Similarly, music that captures the sound of nature can help you to reach that point in your mind where you are entirely tranquil and able to concentrate fully on your work. In many ways, it is the same as using it for studying in general, and the sounds encourage a boost of dopamine to be released, the neurotransmitter that makes us feel pleasure – improving your mood and willingness to work.
Again, this is down to personal preference and ability. Not everyone is able to concentrate while listening to music, and some prefer white noise or total silence. However, for those that are able to perform both tasks at once, these are the best tips to take for music and concentration.
Our Top Tracks for Studying
While we are sure you have plenty of tracks already loaded up and ready to go, we have a few suggestions that you may want to add. Here are the top 10 songs that you should consider putting on your playlist for your next study session – you might just find that you’re more focused than ever.
1. The xx: Intro
2 .Sigur Ross: Takk
3. Deadmau5: Snowcone
4. Mozart: Moonlight Sonata
5. Boards of Canada: Reach for the Dead
6. M83: Midnight City
7. Moods: Love is Real
8. Kygo: ID
9. Jerry Folk: Money
10. A Tribe Called Quest: Electric Relaxation
Looking for film and video game songs to help you get into the flow instead? You’re in luck, as we have collected ten of those for you to try out as well. See if these top picks help you reach your peak when studying.
1. The Lord of the Rings: Sound of the Shire
2. Skyrim: Dragonborn Theme
3. Grand Budapest Hotel: (all of it)
4. Darksiders II: The Maker’s Theme
5. Pokemon: Pallet Town
6. World of Warcraft: Stormwind Theme
7. Halo 2: Unforgotten
8. World of Warcraft: Seasons of War
9. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
10. How to Train Your Dragon: Test Drive
There are pros and cons to listening to music while you study, although much of it is down to the kind of person you are and how easily distracted you can become. For those that are able to multitask, listening to music can have a massively positive effect on spatial reasoning, information retention, and general productivity – it really can boost the studying process.
The best kind of music for studying also varies, and while this can partly depend on your own preferences and personality, a lot of it is backed by science. Classical music and songs without lyrics are the top choices, because they don’t have intelligible words that may cause distraction. Similarly, choose tracks with upbeat tempos could kick your creativity into gear.
It is amazing to see how much of an impact music can have on us and the way in which we learn, and the fact that it can work differently for everyone makes it that much more interesting. So, take our advice, put it into practice, and make sure you add our recommended tracks to your study playlist.
What did you think of our guide to the powers of music and study? Did you find the information here interesting, or are there points you feel we missed and would like to see included? We love hearing from you, so make sure to leave a message in the comments below.