Listening to Music While Studying: Is It Doing More Harm Than Good?
Trying to maintain focus as you study or complete an assignment is not easy.
We’ve all been there. Spending countless hours flicking back and forth through the textbook. Writing down the relevant notes, reading them aloud to yourself, and memorising as much as you possibly can. And when exams get close, you need something to keep you going during those long study sessions.
In times like this, many students resort to music as a means to stay focused, motivated, and inspired to study for longer. However, whether or not listening to music can improve your study habits is a hotly debated topic among doctors, psychologists and researchers.
Does music help you study? Let’s find out.
The Effects of Music and Performance
Studies have been conducted to better understand the link between music and concentration. In a study conducted in 2009, students were split into 3 groups including: those who listened to music before a test, listened to music during a test, and didn’t listen to any music at all.
Based on the results, those who listened to music before the test achieved the highest overall average scores. And those who listened to music during the test showed a wide level of variation in their test scores. Similar studies have also concluded that listening to music while doing a task can negatively impact performance, but listening to music before doing a task can boost your overall mood and ability to concentrate, memorise information and solve complex problems.
Is all hope lost for students clutching their headphones right now? Not quite.
There are other factors that can influence a person’s concentration such as the room environment, type of music, and why the person is listening to music in the first place.
The Room Environment
People against the idea of listening to music while studying claim it’s too distracting. But what if you’re already in a distracting environment?
If you cannot help but be in a busy space, the consistency of a song may help ‘blanket’ the sporadic sounds of the environment. But if you’re already in a quiet space, listening to music might not actually help you study.
Assess your current study environment. If you’re struggling to concentrate – move to a quieter spot, or listen to something light to help you relax.
What is the Best Music for Studying?
If you insist on listening to music, avoid tracks with vocals or have sporadic changes in tempo, volume or overall style.
Instead, listen to instrumental music that has a consistent rhythm, mood, style or atmosphere. For example, ambient and chill out music is a popular choice for those who need to ‘zone out’, particularly if the music has sparse instrumentals and long, sustained sections with very few changes. Classical music can fit this space quite well. You can try examples like Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach or Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel.
But these aren’t the only styles of music that students can listen to. Other popular genres like Jazz, film & video game soundtracks can provide the perfect backdrop for a long study session. The best way to know if a certain tune worked for you is to see how well you recall what you studied when that music was playing. If the recollection isn’t good, then you’ll need to change the music or have no music.
So should you listen to your favourite music? That depends. If you can’t help but sing or tap along to your favourite tunes… then it’s probably too distracting.
Helpful or Hindrance?
There’s a difference between listening to music to concentrate and looking for a distraction from your studies.
The right study music should keep you focused, energised, and ready to push on. But if you find yourself scrolling through playlists, constantly changing songs mid-track, or getting lost in the music – you’re only slowing yourself down.
Either switch the music off, or if possible, move to a quiet space that makes you feel comfortable and relaxed.
Silence is Golden
Sometimes, the only way to truly focus is to embrace the silence.
If you’re in the right environment and need to focus on a particularly complex task, working in silence will allow you to direct 100% of your attention to the process. What if you find yourself getting bored, frustrated or losing focus?
Take a break. Watch a few clips on YouTube, listen to your favourite music or grab a snack. When you come back, you’ll hopefully feel more relaxed, energised and ready to push on with the task.
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