Is It a Good Idea to Listen to Music While Studying?

Updated: Mar 16, 2017

It's a well-known fact that keeping your daily study session free of any distractions is an important key to exam success, whether you're cramming for a gruelling mid-term test or a less intimidating pop quiz. Resisting temptations such as television and the urge to post another status on Facebook is difficult but undeniably the only way to maintain focus and honour your routine - however, most students would agree that feeling of isolation when sitting alone in silence becomes a little intolerable after a certain length of time, and can even serve to reduce a person's ability to concentrate rather than improve it. Boredom is one of the worst culprits when it comes to strain and tiredness and can render hours of revision fruitless in the long run, so it's essential that you find a way to keep your brain stimulated while trying to learn.

At one point or another, many of us may have found ourselves wondering, "Is it a good idea to listen to music while studying?" While it may seem somewhat counter-intuitive to a lot of people, some experts in the fields of both education and music theory now speculate that letting the record spin while you revise may be an unconventional study skill that's worth trying out. The majority of us would certainly welcome such news, but before you start creating your ultimate study session playlist, there are first a few factors to take into account.

Should You Listen to Your Most Loved or Most Hated Artists?

The time you take to prepare yourself for an exam is precious and therefore shouldn't be seen as an opportunity to rock out to your favourite band's new album - that said, there is no point in forcing yourself to endure your baby sister's cassette tapes or venture into the depths of the "never played" list on your iPod. Listen to what you enjoy but don't distract yourself from your work by playing the discography of artists that you've only recently discovered and are trying to fully explore. Instead, pick an album you've heard a dozen times before, whether it's the soundtrack from your favourite movie or an LP that your dad used to blast around the house when you were small. Rhythms and melodies that you are familiar with and a climax that you can expect will transform the song into pleasant background noise, which will accelerate your mind while still allowing you to stay centred and sharp.

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Genres to Consider

It might sound like a cliché to say that classical music is the best genre to listen to while trying to get into a scholarly state of mind, but in truth it's irrefutable that the calming and refined tone of pieces by pre-20th century composers like Mozart and Debussy encourage students to relax and assist them in better-retaining information, and may even act as a source of inspiration during a creative block. Nevertheless, "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" definitely isn't everyone's cup of tea, so if you feel such orchestral works would only wear you down, there are plenty of other alternatives to consider. Instrumental compositions like soundtracks and some world music can be helpful in a similar way to classical but have a much wider range of instrumentation which will appeal to an ear that appreciates the variety. Remixes and electronica will also work well as they embrace repetition and melodic ostinatos, making it easier to avoid being diverted from your studies. Genres to steer clear of are ones that depend heavily on vocals and lyricism, for example, country music and hip hop. These can be particularly distracting if you are revising a subject that involves linguistics like public speaking or a foreign language. Refrain from listening to pieces that are driven by emotions like anger and great sadness, such as heavy metal or power ballads, as they can influence your mood and quell your desire to continue studying.

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Tempo and Volume

As the music we listen to can greatly affect our mood and temperament, it's also important to consider variables like the tempo of a song and how it might overcome our ability to concentrate. Music with a noticeably quick and aggressive tempo (of over 100 beats per minute) may give us a sense of hurriedness or emergency, which is not appropriate for a learning environment. Opt for a slower, more easy-going style of music with a tempo closer to 60 or even 50 beats per minute, in order to achieve a feeling of being able to take your time while studying. In the same vein, the volume at which the music plays should never be high enough to fill the whole room, especially if the piece features a lot of rattling percussion. Listening to music through speakers instead of headphones will also help you to think of it as refreshing background noise as opposed to something that requires your full attention - just make sure it's okay with neighbours and people living with you, and that goes double if you're pulling an all-nighter!

It is not necessary to dread going over your notes every evening - you'll be surprised by how much something as simple as pressing "play" on your CD player can improve your attitude towards studying. Exams can be stressful, but you can tackle them in the proper manner without feeling as if the preparation process is boring or a waste of time. So now you know where to begin, it's time to start compiling a playlist and make studying overall a much less maddening experience.

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