By Lamis Abdelaziz
Do you ever find yourself drifting away on a melody while hitting the books, or feeling the raindrops create a rhythmic symphony against your window pane as you attempt to conquer that challenging assignment? Well, fear not fellow knowledge-seeker, for you might just be onto something! In the enchanting world of studying, where textbooks and notes reign, an often underestimated player quietly takes center stage—sound. From the soothing lullabies of raindrops to the electrifying beats of your favourite tunes, the auditory backdrop to your study sessions might be influencing your cognitive function more than you think.
So, how does music help you study? Music helps with endurance by turning tedious study sessions into a captivating auditory experience, especially for dull subjects, so that you won’t throw in the towel prematurely (Hope 2019). Less isn’t more when it comes to learning, and increasing your time spent revising becomes more achievable with the right musical accompaniment. The best way to use music is to seek out sustained sounds with longer repetitive tracks to avoid the detrimental effects of rapidly changing music (Hope 2019). This is why people are more focused when they listen to a song on repeat as they study because it ensures that the auditory magic enhances, not hinders, your study focus (Hope 2019).
However, music’s influence extends beyond endurance; it also catalyzes concentration. Brain imaging scans reveal that music simultaneously activates the left and right sides of your brain, intensifying learning abilities (Hope 2019). And there’s more: rather than distracting college students, a Stanford study found that “music moves [the] brain to pay attention.” (old_admin_content 2019) Utilizing musical compositions from the 1800s, the research revealed that music engages areas involved in attention, prediction, and memory update (old_admin_content 2019). Compositions by Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven were particularly effective, helping the brain organize incoming information, making them influential assets for studying (old_admin_content 2019). In essence, music serves as a cognitive workout, stimulating the brain similarly to how exercise strengthens the body. This harmonious activation keeps your cognitive faculties in top shape.
It’s important to recognize the different types of music and explore how each one can affect concentration and productivity. Classical music, proven to enhance memory recall and amplify focus, and celebrated for its soothing and lyric-free compositions, takes the lead as a timeless companion (Pzizz 2022). It has also been shown to enhance the brain’s absorption and interpretation of new information, according to a 2007 study which indicates that music engages the brain and trains it to pay better attention to events and make predictions which ultimately makes understanding new material easier (Raypole 2020). Meanwhile, ambient music provides a tranquil alternative, while jazz and instrumental genres offer mellow tones that foster cognitive function and undistracted focus (Pzizz 2022). Finally, meditation music, as a serene option, calms the mind and creates an ideal environment for focused study (Pzizz 2022). Much like the after-effects of meditation or a massage, the right kind of musical exposure leaves your brain free to concentrate on the task at hand unhindered by worries or emotional clutter.
Nevertheless, opinions on whether music improves a study session varies. Its impact varies for everyone so it is a nuanced consideration rather than a straightforward “yes” or “no” answer.
While music can be uplifting in times of sadness or stress, its impact specifically on concentration varies. Music, particularly when too loud or fast, can distract and interrupt thoughts, adversely affecting processes like argumentative writing or complex problem-solving. Moreover, research suggests that music may reduce working memory capacity, crucial for tasks involving problem-solving and learning. Listening to certain types of music, including those with lyrics or fast and loud instrumental compositions, also impede reading comprehension, making softer classical music with a slow tempo a more suitable choice for those engaging in literary or academic endeavors. (Raypole 2020)
Thus, when selecting music for study or work, consider the following tips for optimal productivity. Opt for music without lyrics, as understanding the language may prove more distracting. Choose slow, instrumental genres such as classical, soft electronic, space, or ambient, resembling spa or massage music. Avoid surprising or experimental compositions that lack a fixed rhythm to maintain focus. Keep the volume low to prevent disruption of the thinking process, and select songs that don’t evoke strong emotional reactions. If possible, stream commercial-free music to avoid interruptions that can derail concentration. (Raypole 2020)
Beyond music, other sounds can aid in studying. Studies have explored the effects of nature sounds, such as rain, on mood and cognitive abilities, as well as the benefits of white noise in improving memory performance (Pzizz 2022). Rain and thunder sounds, long used as ambient noise, have been found to stimulate the brain for improved learning and focus. A 2018 study demonstrated that incorporating rain sounds as a background auditory stimulus enhanced performance and hastened response times on arithmetic tasks (Pluviophile 2023). These sounds contribute to a distraction-free environment, facilitating concentration and reducing stress levels (Pluviophile 2023). The calming effect of rain sounds has been associated with an increase in alpha waves, further promoting relaxation of both body and mind (Pluviophile 2023). Additionally, rain sounds serve to mask other environmental noises, particularly beneficial for individuals easily distracted by factors like traffic or conversations, ultimately fostering an environment conducive to studying (Pluviophile 2023).
There are three main types of sounds for concentration recommended by experts: background noise, nature sounds, and music. Among background noise options, white noise stands out for its ability to help people focus as it masks distracting noises in environments such as coffee shops. Pink noise, resembling rain or waves, and brown noise, with even more low-frequency sounds, offer variations that may suit individual preferences. Grey noise, a mix of white and pink noise, provides a balanced combination of frequencies, presenting a range of options for individuals seeking the best background noise for studying. (Pzizz 2022)
So as we navigate the diverse landscape of sounds influencing our study sessions, from the soothing rhythms of rain to the dynamic beats of music, we uncover a complex interplay between auditory experiences and cognitive functions. The nuanced impact of these sounds on individual study experiences underscores the need for personalized approaches. As we think about the sounds that accompany us during our studies, consider how these sounds affect our focus and productivity in different ways. Everyone reacts differently to these sounds, so finding what works best for you is key, serving as a reminder that the journey to better focus is unique for each person.