Mindful about music

Does listening to music while studying help or hurt your concentration? Here’s why I think it helps.


Courtesy of Northern Virginia Magazine

A girl takes notes while listening to music, effectively remaining focused on her current task. This use of audio stimuli for concentration is a typical depiction of the modern student.

Neeha Valanki, Staff Writer

What do Mozart, Led Zeppelin, and Riddle have in common? They’ve all been recommended to listen to while studying, according to this top 10 list by The Independent. 

We’ve all seen the stock images and real-life examples of teens wearing headphones, typing away at laptops or staring at phone screens. Maybe you’ve been that teen. People may have mentioned that listening to music might help productivity, or it might impair your focus, or that you should listen to classical music, or that you shouldn’t listen to music at all, and all these conflicting opinions raise the question: does listening to music actually help you focus? Based on the research I’ve found, I’ve come to the conclusion that music can, in fact, help you be  productive-as long as you follow certain rules and are mindful of what you are listening to. 

Listening to music does, in fact, have a lot of study benefits. Research shows that music activates both the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which helps with memory. This kind of mild external stimulation can be enough to keep the brain from wandering or getting distracted by external noise. According to Florida National University, listening to music stimulates the part of the brain that is responsible for attention, making predictions, and memory. Additionally, the same team found that it improves people’s performances under pressure, which is useful for things like tests. Listening to music before an assessment or stressful task (since not everyone is allowed to listen to music during a test) has been proven to consistently and positively improve performance. This has been referred to as the “arousal and mood effect,” which states that music that has a positive influence (music that you like) can help improve cognitive function. 

However, there are definitely some side effects to having a beat in the background while you’re scribbling solutions down. A study by Dr. Nick Perham shows that participants who listened to music while completing a task, regardless of liking or disliking the song, had a greater impairment of concentration compared to those who completed the work in silence. The University of Wollongong Australia notes that introverts tend to be more distracted by music than extroverts, suggesting that this is due to the typically greater reaction to stimuli that introverts tend to exhibit. The “working memory”— that is, when the brain that is processing multiple tidbits of new information-has been shown to be impaired when participants listened to music. The article does mention, however, that any detrimental effects on concentration as a result of listening to music are limited and dependent on the kind of music the participant was listening to. 

So, what is the right way to study? Turns out, listening to music is helpful, but it is dependent on a couple factors. Songs with lyrics can distract the brain from whatever task is at hand, so instrumental songs are optimal. Tempo has also been proven to have an effect on concentration. According to North Central University, music that is between 60 and 70 beats per minute can boost memory and help in retaining information. Choosing songs that are too slow and too fast can either make you sleepy or too focused on the music, so the goal is to hit that sweet spot that keeps you engaged, but not overly so. Classical and meditation music are the best choices for staying focused, but EDM is also fine. General audio, such as white noise, pink noise(which is white noise, but with a deeper sound), and repetitive ASMR can also be great alternatives. 

As I write this article, I’m listening to some instrumental music myself, and in my humble opinion, I think that listening to music is a great way to block out the world and let yourself focus on what’s in front of you.