Are you one of those students who picks a playlist before even reaching for a book? Or do you find any kind of background noise – even your favorite band – distracting when trying to get down to studies?
The question of whether or not listening to music while studying can boost your performance remains hotly debated. However, the bad news for those in the headphones-keep-my-brain-alive camp is that most of the recent research suggests silence is actually the best study setting. You may be unsurprised to hear that researchers have also found that presenting these findings seems to have pretty much no effect on the behavior of students convinced of the benefits of music for studying!
Music and the brain: What does the research say?
Sadly, it now seems pretty clear that the widely proclaimed “Mozart effect” was a myth almost entirely concocted by the media; listening to one particular composer or genre is highly unlikely to transform your intellectual powers. So if you’ve been force-feeding your ears sonatas in the hope of improving your exam scores, cease and desist! This kind of connection between music and the brain is a tabloid-created fable.
However, psychologist Francis Rauscher, whose research on music and the brain inadvertently prompted the whole “play classical music to your unborn child” craze, says she still believes that the right connection between music and the brain can improve certain cognitive skills (like spatial intelligence) for a short time period (about 10 minutes). She also says the most effective music will vary depending on the person. In short: “If you hate Mozart you're not going to find a Mozart Effect. If you love Pearl Jam, you're going to find a Pearl Jam effect.”
On the other hand, the research of Dr Nick Perham, based at the University of Wales, suggests that listening to music while studying – regardless of how much you love or hate the sound – is likely to impede “serial-recall” skills, required for tasks ranging from mental arithmetic to language learning. He’s also found that music containing lyrics is especially disruptive during any task involving reading – a point also argued by Stanford University professor Clifford Nass.
However, both Perham and Nass acknowledge the potential of music to help create the perfect state of mind for studying, somewhere in between relaxation and excitement. So it seems that listening to some favorite music before commencing studies could help, even if silence is golden during the actual brainwork.
Best music for studying: What do our bloggers say?
Despite the efforts of academia to persuade us that switching off the tunes will really help switch on our intellects, many students remain convinced that their headphones are an essential study tool. Here’s what three of our TopUniversities student bloggers had to say about the best music for studying…
Aliya: Match the tempo to the task
"Studying has different appearances. Sometimes it requires active approach. Sometimes there is a need to concentrate, to be patient and diligent in order to revise material or learn something by heart; in this case nothing else but classical music is a helpful companion for me. Though there are some occasions when I like studying in complete silence, I can remember several bright moments which involved formulas to be used for problem-solving, textbooks to be read or notes to be typed up, when my brain was stimulated by rock ‘n’ roll beats."
Zain: Save the music for study breaks
"As far as music is concerned, I am generally more inclined towards listening to soothing and soft songs. However, when I am studying I strictly refrain from listening to any melodies as I am easily distracted. That said, I do enjoy some short study breaks with snacks and a song or two just to refresh my mind. I also like to listen to some motivational songs and those that have really strong lyrics; Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing being one of them…"
Felix: Give yourself the right vibe
"Listening to music while studying is a lot like self-administering a chill pill; you have to know what type of music you need to work best in your current state of mind. Because emotions are varied, you may (like me) have many studying playlists. Over the past eight years, I have built six playlists for different scenarios, from “you got this bro” to “I would murder the physical manifestation of this subject” (actual title of playlist invented especially for organic chemistry, which is quite ironic if you think about it) and everything in between.
But the playlist I use the most is “chill/relax”. The overall description would be atmospheric music without vocals. The most vocal song in the list is an Enya song… where the words blend harmoniously with the background. From my experience, if you can sing along with the song, then it makes for a terrible chill/relax studying song. A genre which is a good source of music for studying to is chill step (please don’t write me off as a musical degenerate), which creates an upbeat trance sort of vibe. There are lots of great and not so great playlists on YouTube to sample.
But the single best genre I have found for providing good music for studying is traditional Spanish guitar, specifically flamenco music. It has worked wonders (and unbelievable miracles) on some of my test scores. A good place to start is with Paco de Lucia, or just search for 'amazing Spanish guitar'."
What do you think is the best music for studying? Do you prefer complete silence, or do your favorite tunes help you get into your mental study zone? Share your own anecdotal findings about music and the brain in the comments below.
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If you’re anything like me, you listen to music pretty much all day long. I always listen to music when I’m doing homework, especially if it’s somewhere on campus so that I can drown out all other noises. The problem is that a lot of music can be distracting when you’re already struggling to stay focused. That’s why I’ve made this list. These are the songs that I’ve found that are least intrusive. Many of them have no lyrics at all. A lot of them also possess a motivational tone that will help keep you from passing out at your computer. Enjoy!
Best 15 Songs: To do homework to
- Jelly 292 –Jimi Hendrix
- Ocean –John Butler Trio
- Lenny –Stevie Ray Vaughan
- Ad Astra Per Aspera –Acceptance
- Out of My Mind- John Mayer
- For Martha –Smashing Pumpkins
- The Birth and Death of the Day –Explosions in the Sky
- Waltz Into the Moonlight –Tryad
- Catfish Blues –Jimi Hendrix
- Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX) –Pink Floyd
- Guilty Cubicles –Broken Social Scene
- Canon. –Zox
- Svefn-G-Englar –Sigur Rós
- Red-Eye –The Album Leaf
- Myke Ptsyon –Starfucker
Acacia DiCiaccio can be reached at .