Can Music Help You Study? I Oxford Open Learning

Can Music Help You Study?

Many of us listen to music whilst we study. It helps us to relax and we often feel that it aids our concentration. But is this really true? And if so, what type of music is best to listen to whilst we work?

Music As Mental Exercise

There have been numerous scientific studies on the effects of listening to music whilst studying which have highlighted a number of benefits. Research has shown it can boost our motivation and improve our mood by lowering stress levels. But, perhaps more importantly, they have shown that listening to certain genres can increase our focus and help to improve our memory. Music helps to stimulate our brain in the same kind of way that exercise stimulates our bodies. We are, effectively, giving our brains a workout when we do so, making them stronger and more efficient.

Efficiency Variables

However, listening to the wrong type of music whilst studying can have a negative impact on our learning as it can be a distraction. This is especially true when a track is particularly fast or the volume is too loud. Research has also shown that music can impair our working memory – that’s the type of memory we use for problem-solving and learning. So some, particularly that with lyrics, can also lessen our ability to read, making it harder to absorb and understand material.

Classical Music May Be Best

What’s the best kind of music to listen to whilst we study, then? Well, as previously noted, it may not be lyrical, though songs in a foreign language can actually prove to be good study aids. And keeping the volume low and choosing music with a slower tempo will be preferable. It is for these reasons that many people opt to listen to classical music when studying and again, there have been a number of studies which have proven the benefits of this.

One such study at a French university showed that when students attended a lecture with classical music playing in the background they remembered more information than students who listened to the lecture without anything at all. Another, carried out in 2014, concluded that playing classical in the background helped improve memory performance in older adults more than other genres, and increased processing speed when listening to work by Mozart in particular.

More recently, a 2020 study at a university in Texas concluded that students who listened to classical music whilst studying, during lectures, and whilst sleeping, performed better in exams. As well as proving that the students’ quality of sleep was enhanced, it showed that  it activated a process known as Targeted Memory Reactivation. This stimulates the brain to consolidate memories and is the same type of process that causes memories and emotions to be triggered by scent.

The advantages of listening to music whilst studying are clear and it seems that classical can be particularly beneficial. So, even if you’re somebody who usually likes to study in silence, why not give it a try and see if it improves your academic performance?

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