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Are you team “music” or “no music” when studying? For many years, learning experts, parents and students have had the discussion of whether music is helpful not. Does it help a person concentrate, but It can also distract? The jury’s still out.

Ideal study music

A person has to be in a good place mentally in order to focus on the tasks and studying that needs to be done and music helps with this.

Music has the power to put people in a mood, to ease the mind, and to boost our energy. Music is a powerful tool but it can be a double-edged sword.

The perfect study music can facilitate the learning experience, but it can also put you in such a good mood (perhaps evoke memories of a great vacation) to the extent that it distracts therefore defeating the purpose of listening to music while studying.

Experts single out classical music as the ideal genre to play when studying. Classical music helps keep the mind alert. There’s even a pseudo phenomenon called the “Mozart Effect”, which says that listening to Mozart is good for the brain—that is makes you smarter.

It’s said that when listening to Mozart, it activates parts of the brain that have to do with memorizing and understanding mathematical concepts and formulas.

Other studies may have criticized and debunked these statements for its lack of scientific proof. However, you’ll still find a lot of moms of young children playing classical music in their child’s room!

Math is notoriously one of the most difficult subjects to study, so whether these claims are based on evidence, it wouldn’t hurt to try.

Those who have spoken against the Mozart Effect claim that it’s not so much that you have to listen to only classical music. Any type of music that puts the mind at ease works, no matter what genre.

Influence of background music: a case for lo-fi music

If you look at study playlists on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and other platforms, lo-fi music might turn up in the search results. There’s a lot of them. There’s a lo-fi playlist for studying, working, meditation, and even sleeping.

Unlike the mainstream music that you hear on these platforms, lo-fi music has distortions and imperfections that is said to stimulate the brain, enabling it to focus. It’s a lot like white noise (TV static, whirring fan), but just more ear-friendly.

It contains beats and rhythm. Lo-fi music is not intrusive, nor does it contain catchy beats and/or lyrics. It creates the perfect background music for those who become restless with total silence.

Lo-fi music is perfect for people who want to focus and get to work. Because it doesn’t have lyrics, a dramatic beat drop or strong melodies, it fades into the background seamlessly, but the beats still holds the listener’s attention.

Mainstream music is an artistic output of your favorite singer or artist. So when you’re listening to Taylor Swift sing about her heartbreak, it might remind you of your own experiences therefore taking you to that moment of your life when you had that same experience of heartbreak.

It might be emotionally satisfying, but won’t help if you’re trying to have a productive study session.

Silence is golden but it’s not for everyone

Of course, there are those who prefer to study without music. These people are able to focus best in silence. You’ll likely find them in study cubicles in libraries, away from crowds, or they could be in a quiet corner in a café wearing noise cancelling headphones.

Other people are able to focus without music, but with ambient sounds (café background noise, library background noise). It might surprise you, but there are playlists that copy the background noise of cafes and libraries. These playlists are helpful to those who are able to focus best in public-yet-quiet places.

Benefits of music when studying

• Improve focus. Music can help create the best ambiance for studying. Choose music that soothes your mind. Lo-fi and classical music are popular options, but boss nova and jazz beats might be helpful as well.

• Mitigate distractions. When you’re listening to music, you can block off any other external distractions like other people, loud announcements, the noisy coffee machines. Soothing music can help train the brain to focus on the task at hand.

It can be a treat. Not all types of music are ideal for studying, and sometimes our favorite playlists and artists produce those types of music.

You can reward yourself to a jamming or a quick dancing session after studying as a way to reward yourself. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and stress, you can take a quick break to listen to your favorite tunes.

• Puts the mind at ease. Classical music and lo-fi music can help calm down an anxious mind because of the calmer beats and instrumentation. It can even help increase memory capacity.

On the flip side, upbeat music like pop and EDM can produce the opposite effect. This type of music can give you a boost of energy, but if you play it for a prolonged period, it can distract and totally derail you from achieving your study goals.

Related reading: How to Improve Memory for Studying – 8 Proven Strategies

Music and the working memory

The working memory is one of the brain functions at work when studying. It helps with memorization, comprehension, and information storage. A good working memory facilitates learning. The capacity of the working memory increases when you use it well.

If you’re listening to music that has a lot of words, fast and loud beats while studying, it can negatively affect the working memory. It prevents the working memory from retaining information from the study session.

The brain gets overwhelmed processing the onslaught of sensory information, that not much capacity is left to process the information you read from the textbooks.

The ideal background music for studying

It’s hard to pinpoint a specific genre of music as the one that is most effective for studying. While a lot of experts tout the effectivity of classical music, many young students will find it too relaxing—to the point that it will make them fall asleep.

Any sort of music that is soothing to the ears can help boost cognitive performance. Look into the many lo-fi, instrumental, bossa nova, and jazz playlists that are available on various online platforms.

Curate your playlist well

It’s important to choose music well because playing the right one while studying can help you perform cognitive tasks well. Music choice is important because it will influence a person’s ability to focus.

As mentioned earlier, classical music helps. You can also create a playlist of lo-fi music, usually used as background music to create a mood and vibe, but without being intrusive.

There are some types of songs that can actually negatively affect a person’s ability to focus. For example, a Korean boy group called SHINee released a song called Ring Ding Dong in 2009. It was banned by schools because it’s addictive beats and lyrics can completely distract students from studying. It’s not just K-pop, but also most pop music can seriously distract students.

These songs are designed to be catchy and highly addictive. With just one listen, you’re already humming to the beats and repeating the catchiest lines. This can be detrimental if your goal is to focus and have a solid study session.

It’s a complicated discussion

As it turns out, our parents’ and teachers’ warnings against listening to music while studying are not totally unwarranted. Music that is loud and catchy is not ideal. However, studies have pointed to different kinds of music can be helpful with studying.

Soothing music like classical, lo-fi and ambient music are a great choice. Avoid loud music and music with lyrics. Save those for when you’re already done with your exams and other tasks, and are on a break.

The effect of music is unique to each individual. For one person, pop music might be a distraction, while others might claim that it helps them focus. Experts may have their recommendations based on current studies, but at the end of the day, preference is still an important factor.

Final Thoughts

Be wary of the positive and negative effects of listening to music when studying. There are those who prefer total silence while other swear by the necessity of having music playing in the background. There is no right or wrong when it comes to music and studying.

As mentioned before, music can be a blessing and a curse when it comes to studying—it can help a person focus, but it can also distract a person. Having the right frame of mind and the appropriate study environment are the most crucial factors to creating the ideal study setup.

Each person has a unique learning style and music preferences, so it’s best to know what works in order to make the most out of the limited time a person has to study.

While preferences have play an important role, it’s also about choosing the right type of music to play in the background. You’ll only figure out what works after trying different types of music.

 

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Patricia Alfonso

Patricia Alfonso is an educator and researcher who earned her master's degree in guidance and counseling from Ateneo de Manila. She specializes in developing school counseling programs for schools.

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