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Does Music Help or Hinder Studying Success?

Margot Englander

Centerspread Editor


Wouldn’t it be awesome if simply listening to your favorite song would help you memorize those Hebrew words or solve that difficult math problem? Unfortunately, even your favorite album is not that powerful. Research shows that music can have several positive effects, such as reducing stress and improving performance. However, given that music (and different types of music) does not affect everyone in the same way, there is not a definitive yes or no answer. 

Music has great potential to aid in student’s studying success, as it is found to reduce stress and improve moods. In a 2021 study, ICU patients said that they experienced less pain and anxiety after listening to music for half an hour than they did before listening. Studying can be stressful, so if you feel overwhelmed or upset, listening to music can potentially help reduce stress. Music has also been proven to have motivational effects; research from 2019 suggests that music can activate the same reward centers in your brain as do other things you enjoy, so rewarding yourself with music can provide the motivation to learn new information, or study for a test. If you prefer music that doesn’t pair well with your studying, you can opt to listen to music during study breaks. Furthermore, based on a 2007 study, music – specifically classical music – can help your brain absorb and understand information better, as it increases focus. In fact, in a study a couple of years later, 41 boys diagnosed with ADHD found that background music helped most of them focus more. Finally, music can help with the often daunting task of memorizing information. In a 2014 research study, listening to classical music seemed to help older adults perform better based on memory and processing tasks. Music helps stimulate your brain, similar to the way exercise helps stimulate your body, and it can be used to help students study habits. 

However, there is also a good amount of research that suggests that music is unhelpful to, and even capable of hurting effective studying strategies. An important part of music’s power is its ability to distract you; while this can be a positive when you feel sad or stressed, this can also distract you from studying, which we try to avoid. In some cases, listening to music has been found to reduce one's working memory capacity, which is used to memorize lists, steps for an equation, or a sequence of events – all of which are found in traditional school settings. Lastly, certain types of music – including music with lyrics and instrumental music that is fast and loud – can hinder your ability to understand and comprehend reading material.  

So, what kind of music works best? We should avoid music with lyrics, as they can be distracting when trying to study, and instead can choose slow, instrumental music. Surprising or experimental music that changes abruptly or lacks a fixed rhythm can leave you guessing about what to expect and can be distracting when trying to focus. Keep your volume low, as it should stay at background volume. Also, stick to songs that you don’t have strong feelings about (either positive or negative) because this could affect your ability to concentrate. 

Music activates both the left and right side of the brain at the same time, which can maximize learning ability and improve brain function. Music based activities in early childhood education have proven to support self-regulation, cognitive and intellectual development, and literacy and language abilities. No matter their age, students can benefit from music to help their academic performance. 

In my opinion, music has the ability to help me when studying, but I often find myself getting distracted by catchy lyrics instead of focusing on my homework. Also, music is only helpful to me when I’m working on certain subjects. A background playlist is great for when I’m knocking out some history note cards or working through a complicated math problem, but when I’m trying to write an English essay or review Hebrew vocabulary, it proves to be more of a distraction. Therefore, I think that music is optimal for more passive forms of learning, instead of active types. 

Everyone should test out their individual relationship with music while studying, because it could prove to be extremely beneficial to you! Who knows?

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