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 like to listen to music while you study, choosing the right type can be vital to your overall productivity level.
Listening to music can calm you down, leading to more conscientious studying, elevating your mood, motivating you to stay focused and studying for longer periods of time.
While it can be a challenge to stay away from the hottest hits, selecting the wrong type of music can distract you from your studies and become counterproductive.
So, what type of music is considered “music for the mind?”
The following types of music are recommended for studying, along with tips to help you choose which genre will keep you most focused on your objective – studying.
Below each genre there’s a recommendation so that you can test out the genre and discover which type of music works best for you.
1. Never underestimate the power of classical.
Classical music is known for being both peaceful and harmonious, creating a calm and serene study environment for the listen.
It’s recommended as one of the best studying genres for students, because listeners report side effects like better mood and increased productivity. As far as side effects go, those aren’t too shabby!
Recommendation: Brandenburg Concerto #3 – Bach
2. Timed Tempos
Studies have shown that music timed at 60 beats-per-minute can help put people’s minds into ease; putting brains into a more productive mode where thinking are creativity are easier.
Recommendation: Concertos for Recorder – Telemann & Vivaldi
3. Instrumental Ambient Sounds
If you prefer a more modern flair, this may be the perfect option for you. Relaxing sounds of instruments can be paired with modern tunes to get the best of both worlds – so you don’t have to sacrifice a thing.
Recommendation: VSQ Performs the Hits of 2013, Volume 2 – Vitamin String Quartet
4. Nature Sounds
This type of “music” is perfect for those not so into classical music. It’s known for increasing concentration levels and keeps the listener’s mind engaged at a more subconscious level.
It also can be very calming, which is why many use it to help with meditations and to fall asleep.
What falls into this category are soundtracks of nature like waterfalls, rain or the sounds of the seashore rolling in.
5. Modern Electronic
Modern electronic is also commonly referred to as “chill out” music. The genres include Ambient House, Ambient Trance, New Age and Trip Hop.
They are known to relax the mind, encouraging it to roam. Be careful not to let it roam too much, however – you want to stay focused on the task at hand!
Recommendation: Music for Airports – Eno
6. Volume control.
Make sure that your background music is, indeed, in the background and is not distracting you or any of the students around you.
Think about it: it’s nearly impossible for you to be completely focused if your head is about to, um, explode. Keep the noise level to a minimum so that the study level is at a maximum.
7. Plan out your playlist.
Don’t wait until the time you’ve set aside for studying to create a playlist. Create it on your downtime so that, when it’s time to study, studying is the only task at hand and all you need to do as far as music is concerned is press play.
That way, you’ll be able to stay focused and won’t take any time away from what you should be accomplishing.
If you forget to plan ahead or don’t want to create your own playlist, don’t sweat it! There are some great resources that will do it for you, like the Study Music Project, which gives you a playlist of free study music each time you press play for more than an hour.
8. Break it up.
Plan your playlist so that, when it ends, it will be an indication that it’s your break time.
It’s helpful for you to not have to shift modes and have to worry about changing your music and you have the added benefit of never having to look at the clock because your playlist will function as a built in timer.
9. Studying is more important than music.
Avoid spending hours creating your playlist. After all, it should essentially just become background noise. What you should ultimately focus on is your studies.
You can spend hours on playlists for your road trips in the summertime when school is out!
10. The bottom line.
Whether you listen to any of these recommendations, Miley Cyrus, Tupac, or whatever else, it really doesn’t make a difference – as long as it works.
Remember: what’s most important – what actually matters is that whatever you’re listening to doesn’t distract you, calms you and truly puts your mind into study mode so that you can be productive and retain as much information as possible.
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