Should you listen to music when you study?

A teenager once came up to me and asked rather desperately –

“Can you please convince my mum that it’s OK for me to listen to music when I study? Please?!”

Whilst I felt for this 17 year old who clearly loved music and had been banned from listening to his iPod whilst he studied, I couldn’t help but ask myself “How distracting is music?” and “What is the best kind of music to study to (if any)?”

A conversation with a cognitive scientist a dinner party helped clarify my thinking in this area. She laid out the facts for me in a simple manner-

• Listen to music whilst engaging in a task = multitasking
• Multitasking = slower mental processes

I was intrigued and had to find out more about multitasking. As it turns out research has found that people drop an average of 10 points off their IQ when they multitask.

So based on this, it would seem that listening to music when you study is a bad idea, right? Well, not always. It really depends on a few things.

At Macquarie University Professor William Forde Thompson and his team conducted an experiment in which they asked students to read a passage of text while listening to a Mozart piano sonata. The music was altered to be either soft or loud and fast or slow.

Did the music affect the students’ comprehension? Well, yes and no. Comprehension decreased only for the fast and loud music condition.

Professor Thompson concluded –

“The big take home message is that music is so very benign”.

He argued that perhaps the reason why music doesn’t impact our thinking as much as it should is because music has the ability to put us in a better mood, which therefore increases our IQ.

But before you start blasting music into your ears, ask yourself this –
How often do you listen to a Mozart piano sonata on your iPod when you study? Would a slow classical piece of music even get you in the mood to do some solid work?

If Mozart does not make your playlist, that’s Ok. It doesn’t mean you must suffer in silence.

Here’s my recommendation: If you find music motivating, if it helps you to study and sustains your attention on a task for that little bit longer, then you shouldn’t deprive yourself. Listen to music but choose your music carefully.

But if not Mozart, then what?

It’s best to choose music that you like and are familiar with. The reason for this is that it will be less distracting. Similarly, avoid music that goes loud and then soft, loud and then soft. The change in volume will be distracting and pull your attention away from what you’re doing. Instrumental music (with no lyrics) is generally always the best way to go.

Let’s face it, studying has become such a painful chore for many students. To lessen that pain, music may be the perfect antidote. So why not use it to your advantage? Just make sure you choose it carefully.

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7 Responses to Should you listen to music when you study?

  1. Derek Morgan February 6, 2013 at 6:34 am #

    Thanks for this, I’m 16 years old and have always done homework without music because I thought it didn’t help me learn. I decided to search this topic up and turns out that it’s not always too bad. I listen to instrumentals anyways. Thanks a lot, helped.

  2. Leena March 12, 2013 at 7:59 pm #

    Hi, I am a 16 year old teenager who is in love with music. I always listen to music while studying, although not instrumental but the familiar ones. It has helped me as it makes me stick to the time i have allotted otherwise i am likely to dose off after an hour of studying.

  3. Cuthbert October 4, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    If your classical music has no huge dynamic changes then you must listen to some poor orchestras! I like to listen to Schubert: Die Zauberharfe or classical era pieces when I play. A nice romantic one is good too, like the Schubert I mentioned.

  4. ave November 6, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    I think that the beat in music helps you add,subtract,etc.

  5. man March 17, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

    very good.

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  2. Listening to music while studying – yay or nay? | High Score Learning - December 20, 2013

    […] person has to multitask, which is a slower mental process, which in turn means less productivity. Research has shown that people drop an average of 10 IQ points when they […]

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