New York public library inside view. People studying.
image: Oscar Ovalle / Unsplash

The perfect recipe for studying: is music in the mix?

Imagine yourself walking into the library, what do you see? Clearly not a single free seat but besides that, you would probably notice the numbers of students wearing headphones while studying. If you stay long enough, you might even observe someone moving their feet to a beat. From time to time, a student will blast their music so loudly that you will be left wondering how they can study like this. So, one thing is clear, a high number of students listen to music while studying, but how productive is it to do so?

It has been decades since the Mozart Effect had had almost everyone believe that listening to music, particularly classical music, is closely related to intelligence. Soon after the theory became more of a myth than a proper scientific explanation, research has concluded that while listening to music might not make one more intelligent, it does improve our moods. So, according to several studies, this causes dopamine releases in our brains which, naturally, bolster feelings of happiness.

Similarly, it has also been proven that your cortisol levels drop when listening to music and therefore, you should feel more relaxed. On the other hand, research has shown that this activity can impede learning. Listeners concentrate on the music and it leaves them with lower levels of efficiency when reading and writing. I asked some students about their relationship with music while studying:

While listening to music might not make one more intelligent, it does improve our moods

Mo Taher, Classics finalist, knows how much it matters to be in a great mood while studying: “I prefer instrumental pieces while revising. Bands like Explosions in the Sky or Godspeed You Black Emperor help me to focus, as I often find lyrics distracting me from whatever I’m reading, especially if I’m taking notes. The triumphant nature of these specific styles of music also helps to uplift me during a long day.”

Similarly, Maria Teja, PPE finalist, acknowledges how distracting lyrics can be: “I generally avoid listening to music while revising since I find it quite disruptive. I always get carried away singing along in my mind instead of focusing on work. I might listen to music when working on something that doesn’t require that much concentration, but I choose something that’s not very upbeat, like indie.”

Tomina Vodarici, International Management finalist, has been taking this dilemma very seriously and has spent years to find the perfect recipe for listening to music while revising: “It took me a while to bring my study routine to perfection. I enjoy creating an environment for myself which helps me focus and this requires a relaxing ambient. I mostly listen to experimental electronic music from various subgenres such as indie and minimal. This type of music brings me a sort of peaceful mindset through which I completely disconnect from exterior distractions.”

Music acts as a safety net, reminding you to work

Personally, I prefer experimenting with different types of music when I study while also periodically taking silence breaks. As a social sciences student, quite a lot of my workload involves active reading which requires my full attention. Hence, depending on the difficulty of the task, I choose to listen to music or read in complete silence. My go-to subgenres are minimal techno and microhouse. They have exciting beats which are enough to keep me engaged in my work and there are no lyrics involved to distract me.

If you listen to music while studying, you might be familiar with the lo-fi trend. The popularity of these mixes is not uncanny as the listener doesn’t have to worry about skipping songs or changing playlists which definitely is a plus when you are trying to stay focused on your revision. The combination of ambient beats and bass lines is perfect for disconnecting yourself from various distractions. All of it without getting bored since there are many musical variations of lo-fi. Chillhop Music and ChillCo are some of the most popular lo-fi YouTube accounts which have more than two million subscribers.

The average attention span is lower than it has ever been before, and it is mostly because of how much we rely on technology. Notifications, e-mails, and even the simple thought that your friends might have posted an Instagram story all impede on concentration. The way I see it, music acts as a safety net – in case your mind starts to wonder, it can remind you to work. So, even if you allow yourself to enjoy the beats for a short while, your mind is aware of the reasons why you’re playing your Spotify revision playlist in the first place.


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