Music while studying – Does it help?


It’s exam week for the faculty of Social Sciences! So for us at Credo too… I was trying my best to focus on boring lecture notes in a quiet part of the library, but realized I needed some background noise while studying. So I put some music on. And I think I am not the only one here listening to music, because most students around me here have their ear buds in. All of them actually.

But while it does seem to work for me, I have no clue why it works. Is it the music in itself that helps concentrating? Or is it the rhythm that helps encoding the endless theories in my brain? (Yikes, I realize that being a psychology student for two years actually makes me sound like a nerd.) And if music works at all, perhaps some kinds of music work better than others. Could there be a perfect genre to listen to while studying?


As you can guess, I put my summaries and notes aside and started a small research to find out what is known about music and studying. What I found – well, it is actually kind of disappointing. All studies performed on music contradict each other. Some claim listening to music is detrimental for processing what you’ve learned. Cognitive theories warn about overloading your working memory. A few studies claim they have found the perfect genre of music to listen to while studying, but they are highly criticized.


After an hour of scrolling through databanks, I come to the conclusion that I can not trust scientific research. Too much contradictions. But I have summed up some of the fun results for you below:


When you are working on a complex task that requires memory and concentration, it is better to work in a silent environment. But, if you are working somewhere with lots of background noise – typing, coughing, talking – having your headphones on with music does improve learning.

And if you are wondering what kind of music you should listen to, try music that has a constant pulse and that is not too loud. So lay low on dubstep, and try some calm classical music instead.

Also, don’t put on your favorite music, but listen to neutral music. I get where that’s coming from. I too get distracted from those dull psychological theories when lip-syncing my favorite hits.


Perhaps the scientific research has convinced you enough to stop or start listening to music while studying. My advice: Try both with and without music and see what works best in what situation.

All that’s left to say is: Good luck with your exams this week!


By Jarinne de Jong


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