For many people, listening to music is key for studying but does it really help?
Does music help you study? Well, there are actually lots of benefits to studying while listening to music, as well as some drawbacks too.
For many people, putting in headphones can help them to get in the right mood for studying as opposed to sitting in silence, but for others the idea of listening to music while trying to learn something new sounds like a nightmare.
There is no straightforward answer to whether music can help you study or not, it comes down to the individual person and your learning style, however, here are some of the pros and cons to listening to music while studying and how to make it work for you.
How can music help?
It can motivate you
For people that enjoy music, listening to your favourite songs can be really motivational for two reasons. First of all, research suggests that music can be as rewarding as treating yourself to a film or a takeaway. You could listen to music on your study breaks as a way of rewarding yourself for doing well so far, and this could motivate you to get back to your work.
Listening to music while you’re actually studying can also motivate you based on what you’re listening to. Just like how in the gym everyone wants to listen to an upbeat and motivational playsuit to encourage you to really pull through with your workout, listening to songs that make you feel good can also encourage you to get your work done if you’re trying to write an essay or complete a presentation for uni.
It can improve your mood
Music can help to reduce stress and put you into a positive mindset. Research suggests that listening to your favourite songs can help to boost your mood and make you feel more positive about the challenges you’re facing, especially if you’re finding your studying hard.
By being in a good mood while you’re studying, you’re far more likely to actually succeed and have a successful study session than if you were feeling down or unmotivated. Unfortunately, like most things, studying and revising is a mindset that you have to get into.
If you arrive at the library feeling negative and telling yourself how much you don’t want to be there, you’re probably not going to achieve great results. But, if you go in with a positive mindset and good mood while listening to music that you love, you’re far more likely to smash your study session (just try not to sing out loud in the library).
It can increase focus
Listening to music while you’re studying can actually help to increase your focus and concentration levels as it can help your brain to absorb new information more easily.
Research suggests that by listening to music while you’re studying, it can engage your brain in a way that trains it to pay better attention to events and make predictions about what might happen. This means that while you’re studying if you struggle to process new information, listening to music can actually help you to understand what you’re trying to learn better.
It can also be really helpful if you’re trying to study in a busy or crowded space. Although libraries are typically quiet zones, there are general breakout areas with no rules meaning that there could be a lot of background noise and coffee shops can also be very loud too.
Not to mention that living in student accommodation rarely comes with ultimate silence, whether it’s your flatmate’s noisy hairdryer, the people upstairs watching TV too loudly, or people shouting outside; you might find it hard to find anywhere that’s totally silent to study.
Putting in headphones and listening to a dedicated study playlist can help you to block out the outside world and any distractions and focus solely on the work you’re trying to do, rather than what’s going on outside.
It can help you memorise new information
Sometimes revising can feel pretty useless when you’re staring at your textbooks and nothing seems to be going in. If you struggle with this, research suggests that listening to classical music can stimulate your brain to boost your ability to memorise things.
Much like going to the gym helps to train your body, exercising your brain can help train you to become sharper and learn new things.
While your favourite songs and artists can help you to block out the world and motivate you while you’re studying, listening to classical music, or sounds you wouldn’t normally opt for can be relaxing and can promote better memory.
Listening to music doesn’t necessarily have to mean the music you listen to every day and you can find study playlists on Spotify or Apple Music that are specifically designed to help you concentrate and focus, with classical music being a popular choice for many based on the research suggesting it can help train your brain.
Can it make studying harder?
On the flip side, there are a few negatives to listening to music while studying too, which some people may find more harmful than helpful.
It can distract you
Ok, so while listening to something relaxing can help you to focus, relying on listening to your favourite songs to study can actually distract you more than it can help.
If you’re listening to music that’s too fast or loud it can cause more of a distraction in your mind, and you can find it hard to focus on both the music and your studies. You may also find you’re getting carried away by trying to get the words right to your favourite song as you sing along in your head.
Not to mention, if you’re going into your study session knowing you’re going to be listening to music you can easily get distracted by trying to make the perfect study session playlist. Yep, the playlist can help but you don’t want to be spending hours procrastinating and trying to perfect your playlists, instead of studying like you’re supposed to.
If you’re playing your music too loudly through your headphones it can also result in giving you a headache, meaning you’re probably not going to be focused on your studying and will probably want to call it a day, so maybe be careful with what you choose to listen to and the frequency of your listening while you’re studying.
It can lower reading comprehension
A lot of people can’t read while in a moving car, bus or train because they can’t focus on what’s going on. Similarly, listening to music while trying to read can also impact your focus.
Certain types of music can make it harder to focus on reading, especially if the pace you read in your head is different to the pace of the music that you’re listening to.
If you’re skim-reading something and are busy typing up an essay, listening to a fast and upbeat song will probably work fine for you, but if you’re trying to really focus on reading something that you don’t understand, you will be reading it pretty slowly in your head. This means it’s probably best to be listening to something slower that is more calm and relaxing, to help you absorb what you’re reading easier.
It can have a negative impact on working memory
Working memory is what you use for problem-solving and learning and can include trying to remember items on a list, a sequence of events or mathematical problems. If you have a high working memory you’ll be able to handle processing more of this type of information at once, but research suggests that listening to music can actually reduce your working memory capacity.
If you find it hard to process new information and can get easily distracted, listening to music could make this even more challenging for you. If your best working style is typically when you’re on your own, with your phone away and in total focus, listening to music while studying might not be the best thing for you.
However, if you enjoy studying with friends and in loud and crowded places and don’t find that it impacts your focus, then you’ll probably be fine with listening to music while you study.
What kind of music works best?
This is really down to the individual person and your studying style. You’ll know if you’re able to work fine with background noise or whether you need to be isolated from the world and your phone in order to really learn new things.
As a rule, try and stick to music that isn’t too loud or fast and doesn’t have lyrics as this can confuse you and be more distracting than helpful. It’s also best to avoid music you have strong feelings about and while listening to artists that you love is probably ok to do every now and again while you’re studying, if you’re listening to a playlist purely of your favourite songs that you associate certain memories with it can be really distracting.
Let’s say you’re deep in a study session and suddenly a song comes on that reminds you of a bad breakup, or a song that you love screaming the lyrics to on a night out; chances are you’re now going to be super distracted and you would’ve broken that focus.
Slow and instrumental music is proven to help you to study, as it’s relaxing and can help you stay in full focus. If this isn’t your thing, try and make a study playlist of your favourite artists, but include songs that are a bit slower and maybe not as loud and energetic.
Other sounds you can try
Lots of people like to listen to background noise while they’re studying to help them focus, rather than just music. This can include white noise or nature sounds like rain and waterfalls. If you have an Amazon Echo you can ask Alexa to play relaxing sounds to help you study, or you can find videos on YouTube of white noise or nature sounds that are over 1 hour long on a loop to help you to focus.
Remember that everyone has their own way of studying and things that work for you might not work for other people, but generally listening to music or musical sounds while studying can be really helpful to boost your mood, focus, concentration and memory.
So, if you’ve never tried it before why not try making a study playlist and listening to music next time you’re studying and see if it helps your concentration or focus!