Can Music Help You Study and Focus?

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Wouldn’t it be great if simply tuning into your favorite playlist or listening to a popular song helped you to knock out that algebra problem or memorize all those dates for your American history exam? Unfortunately, tuning into iTunes isn’t quite that powerful. But research does show that music produces several positive effects on your body, including reducing stress, easing test anxiety, and improving your performance in high-pressure situations like final exams.

Better yet, if you’re struggling to concentrate as you do your homework, a Stanford study has found that music helps you focus. So can music help you study and focus?

The potential of music

“Music activates both the left and right brain at the same time, and the activation of both hemispheres can maximize learning and improve memory,” says Dr. Masha Godkin, a professor in the Department of Marriage and Family Sciences at National University.

Music has a profound effect on our mood, blood pressure, and heart rate. “Music has the potential to take a person from the Beta brainwave state to deeper Alpha, and then Theta brainwave states, depending on the music,” she says.

For the best music to focus and study, choose tunes that keep you awake but won’t cause you to start shimmying and tapping to the beat.

Instead of relying on the radio or a random mix on Pandora or Spotify, it can help to create a playlist of the best study music for concentration. You can plan a set amount of uninterrupted music, which serves as a built-in timer for studying. When the music is up, you’ve earned a break.

Top music genres for studying

Everyone’s taste in music is different, but when it comes to creating the best study music playlist, here are some genres and tips to consider:

Go Classical: You may not want to go to a symphony concert, but the soothing sounds of classical orchestra music seem to increase mood and productivity, which makes it great for studying.

Spa Music: Ambient sounds that you would expect to hear on a soundtrack during a spa treatment can help you relax

Nature Sounds: Like ambient music, the sounds of babbling brooks, birds, wind, and rain are very calming and make great background noise. You can even create your own mix with websites like Noisli

Electronic Music: New Age and ambient EDM music are a good choice for those who don’t like classical. Any music with little to no lyrics is best. 

Lofi hip hop: This low-key, unobtrusive type of music is perfect for studying because it incorporates a low BPM, natural sounds, and often doesn’t have lyrics.

Jazz: Listening to jazz can boost creativity and reduce stress, the arch enemy of memory ability. Try searching for mellow or chill jazz for optimal concentration

Ambiance playlists: There’s been an explosion of videos and playlists designed to bring the right ambiance into your space. From a “fall coffee shop bookstore” with mellow jazz to a “cozy cabin ambiance” with rain and fireplace sounds, there’s bound to be something to match your study session mood.

Film or game soundtracks: Choose your favorite video game or movie soundtrack for your next study session. Or look for a compilation of soundtrack scores online.

Can Music Help You Study and Focus? A man sitting on couch taking notes as he flips through textbook

Tips for listening to music while studying

  • Consider the tempo: Music with 60-70 beats per minute, like Beethoven’s Fur Elise, appears to help students study longer and retain more information.
  • Sound control: The volume of your study music is key. Don’t drown out your own thoughts. Remember, it’s supposed to be in the background.
  • Avoid music with lyrics: Songs that tempt us to sing along or ponder the meaning of the lyrics tend to distract more than help.
  • Find commercial-free music: Avoid music with commercials and incessant DJ chatter, which are added distractions that pull your attention away from the task at hand.
  • Choose something you like: For the most benefits, listen to music you enjoy, and that makes you feel good. A recent study suggests memory is improved by the mood boost from listening, not the background music itself.

We would love to know what’s on your study playlist. Follow National University on Facebook or Twitter and let us know what music helps you get through school!

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