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Struggling to study? Here’s how music can help you.

By Fi Darby

Imagine the scene. You are sitting at your desk, your laptop is in front of you, your cup of tea is steaming, and you’re ready to study. All the ingredients are there for a successful study session, but it doesn’t happen. Instead you drink some tea, stare out of the window, check social media and then sit there just staring at your screen. Your mind is blank and so is your assignment.

We’ve all been there, and we all know how frustrating it is, but do you know that music can have a powerful impact on your ability to study? Read on if you want to find out more.

Over the years there has been much research on the impact of music on study. The results have been conflicting, but we have summarised a few theories for you here:

Music can get you into the studying mood
If you find it difficult to study whilst playing music, try playing it before you start. Music has been found to improve your memory and attention span. It has also been found to be helpful with symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Music can help you to memorise information
Do you remember singing the alphabet along with your teacher? You can probably recall the tune now. Our brains are good at hitching information to music. If you have a list or sequence you need to remember, try putting it to music.

Music can help you to pay attention
The rhythms (beat) and tempo (speed) of music can help us to focus on a specific task. If you do find yourself staring at a blank screen, try playing a piece of upbeat music to get yourself going. You might even want to try dancing, but not for too long, you have an assignment to write!

Music can promote inner reflection
If you are writing a piece of work that involves giving your opinion or discussing your feelings on a topic, try playing a quieter, more thoughtful piece of music that will stimulate your inner processing and facilitate your inner creativity.

What the Experts Say

Despite it being generally recognised that music does help us to study, research on the impact of music have failed to find conclusive results. However, here are a few general pointers:

Research has suggested that playing background music may increase the number of questions answered and improve scores in cognitive (thinking) tests.

During tasks that required memory recall and concentration however, studies have suggested that silence rather than music leads to better results.

Music by Mozart has long been held up as the best music to play whilst studying, because of its positive impact on cognitive powers. If classical music isn’t quite your thing, you might be relieved to find out that more recent research has suggested ‘The Mozart Effect’ to be unsupported.

Will Music Help Me Study?

Unfortunately, the only correct answer to this can be, ‘it depends’. For some people music has a positive impact on study, for others silence is the only effective state. We recommend that you experiment; here are some things that you could try:

Before you Study
You can prepare for studying in the same way that you can prepare or warm up for exercise. Music can help you to do this. If you are feeling sluggish or sleepy, try playing a piece of lively music, preferably one that makes you want to move around a bit before you settle down to work. If you have had a stressful day, try something soothing to calm your thoughts and help you focus.

Types of Music
We have differing musical tastes for leisure. When considering music for study, it pays to be flexible if you want to optimise the effects.

You might want to experiment with lyrics and instrumental songs. Some people find that lyrics can be distracting, especially if you know them and start singing along in your head. Instrumental music can help you to avoid this problem. You might not have any in your collection, but try an internet search for your favourite titles and ‘instrumental’, you will be surprised what you can find.

When choosing study music try to be flexible, it might pay to have a go at studying to tracks or pieces that you wouldn’t usually enjoy. Classical music might be a good place to start, or try asking a friend what they play when studying.

You could also try studying to music that has been specifically written for that purpose. There is plenty of this available on the Internet. It isn’t always the most entertaining or original of music, but it has been specifically written to stimulate without distracting and is definitely worth a go.

Don’t be afraid to be radical. We tend to think that quiet, contemplative music is best for study, but this is not necessarily true. Try something loud with a strong beat next time you are writing an essay and see what impact it has on your productivity.

As you experiment, add music that has led to study success to a playlist. You will find that certain songs become linked in your head with studying. These may well become your ‘go to’ songs when you sit down at your desk.

How to Play Study Music
Once you have your selection of study music sorted out, you should consider how you play it. This fine-tuning can make a big difference. Think about how near you are to your speakers, consider your neighbours and make sure that your study isn’t going to be interrupted by the music suddenly ending. One important thing to do is experiment with volume levels. There will be an optimum volume at which the music has an impact on your level of study but doesn’t interrupt your concentration. Work this out but be aware that it may differ from track to track.

From time to time you should still try working in silence. You might find that certain tasks suit silence better than others. Complete silence can be tricky to achieve, there are always little noises around and this is why many of us resort to music. However, we recommend that you give silence a go. If it works for you then maybe you don’t need music to help you study.

Music Pitfalls

We hope that you’re successful in your quest to find the right kind of music to help you study. In the meantime, here are a few music-related strategies that we definitely don’t recommend:

Singing might help you to learn, but don’t attempt it during exams. You will annoy your friends and almost certainly be asked to leave. Likewise, never learn important information to lyrics that include bad language. If you have to recall a point in front of someone, this could lead to embarrassment.

If you are in a public area and listening through headphones, be aware that you might be disturbing those around you. Look up from your books once in a while; you will be able to tell from annoyed glances if you are causing a nuisance. If you suspect that your study music is causing problems, you could maybe turn the volume down or select music with less of a beat.

And finally, although dancing while you study is to be recommended in the privacy of your own room, it might prove embarrassing across the lawn or down the street.

We would love to hear about your experiences of studying to music. Does a particular piece of music always get your creative juices flowing? Have you found a way to obtain that perfect silence for study?

Are you still struggling to get going with your study? Try these ten easy desk exercises.

How did you start today? Find out how to boost your day with the right breakfast.

View all Study online articles

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Start your next course with Upskilled. Enter your details in the form below.

*By providing your information, you agree to our Privacy Policy and to receiving email and other forms of communication from Upskilled. You are able to opt-out at any time.