How many times do you happen to enter the library and see kids absorbed in the study with their headphones? People listen to music to study in the library or at home, listen to music while working out and while working in co-working or office.
But does listening to music while studying really help us focus more or is it a “fashion of the moment”?
Meanwhile, as a musician, I wanted to make a small premise on music in general: it was born as an instrument of social utility, to unite people and promote fun and well-being. Having said that, everyone benefits from music in the way they prefer and certainly studying with music has become a positive habit.
Science will explain it to us later in the article:
Second premise, more for general culture than for the real usefulness of this article: difference between the verb to listen and the verb to feel. Listening requires active and concentrated listening.
Probably while we study, the music plays in the background with respect to the task we are carrying out. We can therefore say that we hear music in the sense that our ears hear sounds that correspond to the music. This “feeling” is not 100% aware because our focus is directed on the task we are performing.
Starting from this premise, I want to tell you right away that active listening is a source of distraction: humming the song of the moment while we study will make our brains focus on music and not on books.
Are you ready to find out what science says about music and study? Let’s go!
Music to study: what science tells us:
The line of scientific research on music for studying and music for concentration is very rich and dense with research, especially from the 90s to today. Despite this, many studies, if observed superficially, contradict each other: some speak of miraculous effects on the study, others instead tell us that music does not really change the way we study.
I have selected some studies to describe different effects. But remember the human brain and the influences that come from outside are too variable and the level of current studies is still far from being able to fully understand it.
For this, try all the advice you will find in the article on yourself, it is a very subject matter.
Music to focus: does music really make us focus more?
The first result I would like to tell you about came from the study by Rong-Hwa of the Business Administration Department of the Taiwan College dedicated to investigating whether music can affect concentration while working.
In the hypothesis we tried to understand first of all if music can influence behavior and concentration and, secondly, if the music we love or hate has different influences from the music that we find to be “neutral”.
Well, the 89 participants of the research were subjected to some attention tests and, after being divided into 4 groups (one without music and 3 with different musical genres) it was observed that those who work in total silence obtained the best results test; the other groups performed slightly worse, but without substantial differences between genders.
If the musical genres have not changed the level of attention, scholars have realized that there was another variable to negatively affect the results.
The researchers asked people to indicate their degree of satisfaction with the songs heard on a scale of 1 to 5.
Those who liked or “disgusted” the songs the most were those who had the worst results.
What does this study show us?
That studying and working in complete silence brings greater benefits, but if there is background music, the one that gives the best results is the one that appears to be “neutral”, beyond the genre heard.
And I find myself confirming this indication because, as a Jazz lover, if I listen to Jazz music by authors I know, I am fascinated by the notes of their improvisations and I get more distracted from the task I am performing.
This is not the only study to have shown that silence is better than any type of noise.
Studying with music: worse than silence, better than background noise
In a 2002 research carried out in a school with 10-12 year old children, it was shown that comprehension and memorization tasks reach their highest level in completely silent environments instead of noisy ones (whether it is background noise or music).
Conversely, environments such as university classrooms, libraries, one’s home and bars with many people inside generally have a high level of background noise.
In the 2011 study by Stacey Dobbs, Adrian Furnham and Alastair McClelland, published in the prestigious scientific journal “Applied Cognitive Psychology”, it was shown that this background noise is what leads to being less concentrated and consequently less productive.
This is why music is used to study or background sounds such as wind, rain or classic white noises to isolate oneself and increase concentration.
A curiosity: the same study highlights that music has different effects on introverted and extroverted subjects.
Introverted people: although introverted subjects tend to withdraw into themselves, to isolate themselves and have less social relationships, research shows that music, and other environmental noises, worsen their study and learning performance on them;
Extroverted people: on the contrary, extroverted people are better able to “tolerate” external noise, especially when it comes to music and, precisely for this reason, music would help them to concentrate better. Playing an instrument can help you in focus for long time.
Music genres, what is the best music to focus on
If, as we have seen, some studies do not underline particular differences on the genre, but focus on the “taste” of the listener, others have highlighted how some types of music manage to make us concentrate more during our study sessions.
In this regard, the “Mozart effect” is famous, according to which people who listen to Mozart’s works every day would be smarter. In particular, there are some studies that show how listening to classical music while studying improves concentration and performance.
But what classical music to listen to to study?
In my opinion, and not only that, we must narrow the circle because the classical music label is really very wide (so much so that before blues and pop there was only classical music and its myriad facets).
The best music to study is that composed of a few instruments such as sonatas for 1 or 2 pianos or string quartets.
But that’s not just me saying, some scientists explain, including Frances Rauscher, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin. According to him, the best piece for concentration and study would be Mozart’s Sonata in D major for two pianos.
This, in accordance with what is written above, is especially true for people who love classical music (as I love jazz and with that I lose focus).
As already said the rule is: test on yourself to understand if this genre of music can bring benefits to your studio or not.
Relaxing songs to study: chill out, lounge music, soft electronics
A genre of music that I prefer when studying or working is chill out or light electronics.