While some argue that listening to music while studying for that one Chemistry test will do nothing but impair your focus, studies from institutes such as Stanford University have shown that listening to music “engages areas of the brain that are involved with paying attention.” Listening to certain types of music while studying can help lower stress levels, sharpen focus, and improve memory.
However, not all types of music are equal, especially when it comes to studying. Music with lyrics distracts you from reading because your brain struggles to process the work in front of you and the lyrics of the music at the same time. A study conducted by the University of Wales found that when given the task of memorizing an ordered list, students who were listening to music with words performed worse than students who were not listening to anything. How are you expected to memorize anything when you are simultaneously hearing the lyrics to your favorite song?
Because music with lyrics has already been deemed ineffective when it comes to studying, here is a list of wordless music suggestions that you can find on Spotify and Youtube to help you make your study sessions more enjoyable, and most importantly, more efficient:
Classical music has been proven the most helpful when studying. A study in the academic journal Learning and Individual Differences compared two groups of students listening to lectures: one group listening with classical music playing in the background and the other listening with no music in the background. The students in the first group scored significantly higher in a quiz following the lecture than the students in the latter group. This is because classical music relaxes you, lowering your blood pressure, thereby improving your ability to concentrate and focus more on the content you’re trying to learn. Michael Schneck, a neurologist at Loyola University Medical Center, said that, “It is the emphasis of listening to the harmonies and rhythms of classical music that may provide a calming effect for people.” When choosing what pieces to listen to, Classical KUSC radio host and producer Alan Chapman recommends solo piano pieces, string quartets, and guitar and lute music. He also suggests to “skip over large orchestral pieces, particularly those with [large dynamic ranges].”
Gaining popularity with those wanting to focus but don’t necessarily like classical music, Lo-Fi music, which is short for low-fidelity, is a term for music that purposely includes “imperfections,” usually regarded as low-quality “errors,” to boost concentration. These idiosyncrasies can come in the form of anything from environmental sounds, such as rustling leaves and passing vehicles, to harmonic distortions like a slight change in frequency. Aside from these deliberate “mistakes” that characterize the genre, Lo-Fi music is ambient; it does not emphasize a specific melody, rather relying on the mixing of tone and atmosphere to bring listeners an overall feeling of calm. Consequently, the brain does not have to interpret a melody while also trying to learn, read, or write, and instead is aided by neutral, rhythmic tones.
Another alternative, if classical and Lo-fi music are too distracting for you, is nature sounds. Spas often use them to assist people in relaxing and unwinding. This can also be applied to studying. Dr. Jonas Braasch of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute told Huffpost.com that, “nature sounds can have a restorative effect on our cognitive abilities.” This allows us to not only get more work done but also enables us to feel good while doing the work. Popular nature sounds for studying include flowing water, light birdsong, and crashing waves, all of which can be found on calm.com.
Whether you prefer listening to Mozart sonatas, subtle Lo-Fi beats, or soothing nature sounds, you are guaranteed to have a more enjoyable and possibly more productive study session. Then again, if not listening to music at all is more your style, then by all means stick to it as only you can decide what’s truly best for you, though it wouldn’t hurt to give some of these music genres a try.
Baker, Mitzi. “Music Moves Brain to Pay Attention, Stanford Study Finds.” News Center, 1 Aug. 2007, med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2007/07/music-moves-brain-to-pay-attention-stanford-study-finds.html.
Engel, Allison. “Studying for Finals? Let Classical Music Help.” USC News, 23 Oct. 2017, news.usc.edu/71969/studying-for-finals-let-classical-music-help/.
Greenfield, John. “[Music Discovery] An Exploration of the Lo-Fi Aesthetic.” Medium, Medium, 1 Oct. 2018, medium.com/@johngreenfield/music-discovery-an-exploration-of-the-lo-fi-aesthetic-487c4dbfc3fc.
Gregoire, Carolyn. “Why You Should Listen To Nature Sounds At The Office.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 26 May 2015, http://www.huffpost.com/entry/productivity-tips-nature-_n_7314216.
Hernberg, Emily M. “SiOWfa15: Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy.” Penn State University , 4 Dec. 2015, sites.psu.edu/siowfa15/2015/12/04/listening-to-classical-music-vs-music-with-lyrics-vs-complete-silence-while-studying/.
“Lo-Fi Music.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Sept. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lo-fi_music. Nelson, Brooke, et al. “10 Wondrous Things That Happen to Your Body When You Listen to Classical Music.” The Healthy, The Healthy, 18 Oct. 2019, http://www.thehealthy.com/mental-health/classical-music-effects/.