Sterling Effort

Does listening to music while studying help you?

October 18, 2012 by Guest Post in Education with 10 Comments

Studying requires great focus in order for the study material to be absorbed into memory. However, it is very common for the mind to drift after a while and then before you know it, several minutes have gone by without productive learning.

This happens to most people and is not necessarily a sign of Attention Deficit Disorder, although having ADD can exacerbate the problem. Since studying is a very important (if not always appreciated) part of life for students and is necessary for learning, students must find ways to improve concentration while studying.

One way to combat the tendency for the mind to wander is through sound. Although it may seem at first glance that music would only be a distraction, in truth listening to music while studying is helpful for many people.

There are many reasons music can aid studying, and researchers are still analyzing this phenomenon to find out more information. In order to understand how music can aid concentration, it is most helpful to understand a little about how the brain works.

Brain waves, which result from electrical activity in the brain, have a tremendous effect on concentration and learning. The main types of brain waves consist of beta, alpha, theta, and delta. In very general terms, beta is associated with a lot of physical alertness and activity. Alpha is a calmer wave and lends more focus.

Theta is a deeper, meditative state and delta is a sleep state. These brain waves combine and shift frequently throughout the day in response to internal and external factors.

Combinations of alpha and theta brain waves are believed to be the best for concentration and absorbing information. Since brain waves easily change in response to music, listening to music while studying can be very helpful. For reasons that may now be obvious to you, it cannot be just any music, however. Music that is too distracting and keeps the brain producing beta waves can have a negative impact on studying.

Some of the best music to use as a study aid is classical pieces by Mozart, Chopin and Bach. Modern instrumental pieces and movie scores can also be helpful. You should avoid hyperactive pieces and pop or rock as these tend to draw attention away from studying and towards the music. As each individual is unique, some experimentation may be necessary, however, to find the most appropriate kind of music for prime concentration.

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  1. chris_rplanOctober 18, 2012 at 10:34 amReply

    Great guest post, guys. I do believe that listening to appropriate music actually improves our work/learning effectiveness.

    If you’re not into classical music, try listening to some proper jazz instead. Try to avoid bebop/hardbop & some heavy free-jazz, though.

    My personal work favourites are:

    Bohren & Der Club of Gore – Sunset Mission (German dark jazz/ambient – amazing album)
    Miles Davis – In a Silent Way,Kind of Blue, Birth of the Cool (three ultimate classics)
    John Coltrane – Coltrane Plays the Blues
    Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage
    Manu Katche – Neighbourhood (exquisite european jazz)
    Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil (cover of this album is my twitter background:) listening to this one now)


    • AshOctober 18, 2012 at 10:03 pmReply

      Cheers Chris, totally agree! Appropriate being the operative word. I can really focus if I’m listening to anything instrumental, either electronic, rock or orchestral but I find it immensely difficult to think if I hear any music with vocals or if anyone around me is talking. That seems to be pretty common among nerds :)

  2. DomOctober 18, 2012 at 10:58 amReply

    I always found I had to have complete silence when studying. I did only ever try listening to my favourite music though and found it way too distracting.

    The silence seemed to work for me, the biggest trouble was finding a place that was silent!

    The biggest thing I found was taking frequent breaks, as you mentioned after a while the mind seems to wander anyway. So why not take a quick breather then get back to it.

    Also setting goals helped me. When the exams were almost upon me I would do 3-4 hours study a night broken up with 15 min breaks every hour.

    I don’t know about anyone else but I passed all my exams so it’s a formula I stuck with :D

    • AshOctober 18, 2012 at 11:24 pmReply

      I’m the same, Dom. An interesting question to ask people is “through which sense do you perceive your thoughts?”
      I ‘hear’ my thoughts so I absolutely cannot have any auditory distractions while I’m trying to concentrate on work. People who are comfortable watching TV, listening to music or having conversations while working, in my experience, tend to ‘see’ or otherwise internalise their thoughts.

      • DomOctober 19, 2012 at 12:52 pmReply

        Wow! I didn’t realise did anything but “hear” their thoughts, extra reading is definitely required! Any pointers?

        • AshOctober 19, 2012 at 6:22 pmReply

          Nope, sorry! Yeah, it’s weird. I think everyone just assumes the way they experience cognition is the same way that everyone else does. Assumptions are dangerous things. I’m sure this is one of the reasons people think nerds are anti-social when they use earphones. They’re not hiding from people, rather they’re just drowning out the noise so they can focus.

  3. Drew @ ObjectiveWealthOctober 18, 2012 at 7:16 pmReply

    Nice info. I’ve been interested in accelerated learning for many years. I used to listen to classical music when revising for university exams, as I read somewhere back then that they could be useful for getting the brain into alpha state. Ambient techno can create a similar effect, usually the ‘chillout’ marketed albums.

    • AshOctober 18, 2012 at 11:29 pmReply

      Yeah, ambient techno works quite well. The repetition and predictability of it all really helps, I think. I’m loving me some chillstep right now. It relaxes and entertains me while allowing me to remain focused. Check out the following mix if you’re interested :)

      Also, have you ever had any luck with brainwave entrainment tracks or software? For meditation, I find they work well, but the ones intended to create focus typically don’t work well on me. I spend too much time focusing on the weird sounds I’m experiencing rather than the work at hand!

  4. Drew @ ObjectiveWealthOctober 19, 2012 at 4:47 pmReply

    Awesome video there Ash, that is excellent music for getting into the ‘zone’. I’ve not tried any of the entrainment tracks or software you mention, although I did try and learn some Spanish a few years ago used that ‘ear-worms learning’ brand, Rapid Spanish or something, where vocabulary and phrases were put over repetitive beats and chilled music. I don’t recall it working brilliantly but was an interesting idea nevertheless.

    • AshOctober 19, 2012 at 6:27 pmReply

      It IS excellent for getting into the zone! I first saw it at my friend’s house when I was just dossing in the middle of the day after finishing work early. It’s been a long time since I felt so free and creative! I’ve never heard of that method of learning languages I do love studying languages though. Great for the brain! Did you keep up your Spanish studies?

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