Research has established that there is a positive link between music and effective studying. For positive outcomes, however, the music that you listen to while studying should be something that puts you in a good mood and is not too loud or too fast. Moreover, music, to reinforce learning, should contain fewer words. This is perhaps the reason why the best music for studying has been mostly the instrumental type without any vocals.
This article discusses several studies that support the positive correlation between music and effective studying. This guide also takes a look at the best genre for the task, and which musical pieces are ideal for your next study session.
It was in 1993 that the Mozart effect came to light. An experiment conducted by Rauscher et al. (1993) showed that normal subjects displayed enhanced spatial reasoning skills after listening to Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D major, K. 448. The mean spatial IQ scores of the participants in the study went up by 8 to 9 points. However, the effects only lasted from 10 to 15 minutes.
Before that, Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis, a French researcher, wrote about the concept in his 1991 book Pourquoi Mozart? (Why Mozart?). But the aim of Dr. Tomatis was different, as he used the music of the Salzburg native for therapy sessions with patients with dyslexia, autism, and similar learning disorders. In so doing, the patients were cured of their depression, the researcher claimed.
These findings spurred a worldwide trend of listening to Mozart while studying. It culminated in a market for pregnant mothers to whom companies sold CDs of Mozart for the women to play to the child/children in their wombs. Driving it is the belief that the music by the Austrian composer could aid in the cognitive development of unborn babies.
But because the study by Rauscher and colleagues proved to be non-replicable, the Mozart effect effectively turned into a myth. Nevertheless, listening to music and other audio is still the second most popular media activity of youth aged 8 to 18 years old. On a regular day, students spend 2 hours and 19 minutes listening to music on average. Then, they spend another 12 minutes listening to the news or talk shows. Moreover, 31% of students multitask—when they are doing their homework, they are also listening to music, texting, or watching TV (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010).
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010
While the survey did not look further into the effects of music on studying, there are more studies that do so, which are discussed in the next section.
There are numerous studies that explore the link between music and studying. In a literature review by Lessard and Bolduc (2011), it has been found that 17 separate research showed that there is an evident connection between music and learning. However, the results of those studies varied greatly, thus the link between the two could not be established distinctly.
Moreover, Perham and Vizard (2011) cited studies that point out that music, aside from being a pastime or a leisure activity, has psychological and cognitive benefits. Among those are better language acquisition for children with difficulties in learning, better performance in studies for students, as well as relief of anxiety and depression.
Also, it has been demonstrated by the study of Das et al. (2019) that music has a great significance in today’s setting. That is because it facilitates “emotional adjustments.” As a result, people’s efficiency improved. On top of that, it is therapeutic—it relaxes the mind to relieve exhaustion.
Despite those pieces of evidence, there are studies that point out the contrary. For example, Črnčec et al. (2006) pointed out that there is no indication of the Mozart effect in children. This means that even after listening to the music of Mozart or something similar, there are no “pedagogical benefits for children.” That is because after an experiment where 136 Grade 5 students listened to Mozart, popular music, and then silence, these young learners did not show an improvement in their performance on tasks.
Still, studies persist in exploring the relationship between music and studying with different conditions, variables, results, and conclusions. There are even investigations like that of Bernardi et al. (2005), which demonstrated that the tempo of the music can have varying cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and respiratory effects on individuals. The tempo itself can then affect how focused or attentive an individual is toward their task.
Therefore, the tie between studying and music still warrants further study.
What the studies cited above show is that music has varying effects on students. On top of that, the type of music they listen to can have great variations on their effects as well. Nevertheless, it does not stop learners from playing music in the background as they read their lessons or do exercises related to their classes. As such, it is worth exploring the advantages and disadvantages of listening to music while studying.
The study by Perham and Vizard (2011) showed that listening to preferred and disliked music can both hamper the recall of students. However, there are studies by other scientists that show different music genres can have positive effects on learners.
Das et al., (2019) cite Hallm et al., (2002) in saying that calming music helps children with special needs better their arithmetic performance. Similarly, Bernardi et al. (2005) demonstrated that alternating between fast and slow tempo music and pauses can help in relaxation and, therefore, in aroused attention.
Furthermore, the American Roentgen Ray Society (2009) suggests that playing Baroque classical music while reading can improve the mood and productivity of listeners. The three-year study by Ruvinshteyn and Parrino (2005) displayed similar results: students who listened to Baroque background music in the class enjoyed the class more and found maths less challenging.
But why Baroque music? That is because it has a 60-beat rhythm that calms the mind and results in better attentiveness (Rodríguez, 2017).
Additionally, meditative music has been shown to assist students in focusing. That is because this type of music has alpha beats, which trigger the alpha waves in the brain, thus putting the grey matter in a state of alert relaxation (Vijayalakshmi et al., 2010).
With that, here are some of the best music that can aid students in studying:
Meanwhile, if students or learners prefer to study with music with alpha waves on, they can search for binaural beats.
Music preference can affect the kind of music students listen to while studying or engaging in other activities. Hence, while the studies mentioned above show that certain genres of music are more effective in increasing student motivation and engagement, it may be counterproductive if the listener dislikes the music. To that end, here are general tips for learners who want to have background music as they go about their academic activities:
The latter is essential, as choosing what to listen to in the midst of studying can take away the attention of the student. Therefore, for maximum productivity, they should have a playlist for studying always ready. In addition, it would also be wise to add to their toolbox free productivity apps for effective and optimized learning.