When Doing Work: Music or No Music?


| 14 Comments

I am sure many of us have tried studying while listening to music, and I am sure some loved it and some haven't tried it again. Mostly, the idea around listening to music while studying seems to be one of personal preference, as individuals have their own study habits. For those who prefer silence, they claim music is distracting, and for those who enjoy headphones, they claim music is stimulating. I fall into the prior category, although a very close friend of mine falls into the latter. Granted, I have always felt there must be an explanation for both.

StudyingMusic.jpg

            While browsing online, I came across an article published by CNN that was both enlightening and unbiased. Essentially, there seems to be two types of tasks that students would engage in when doing work. The first would be studying, committing formulas, history dates, or artist names to memory before exams. The other work would be more of homework type tasks, repetitive assignments that simply require completion. The distinction, according to what I read, seems to be crucial in determining weather or not to listen to music.

            According to a study at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff, United Kingdom, researchers looked at participant's capacity to memorize information while listening to an array of sounds. Told to memorize a list of letters in order, the students were tested after studying in complete silence, music they liked, and music they didn't like, among other sounds. As stated in the CNN article, "The study found that participants performed worst while listening to music, regardless of whether they liked that music" and "they did the best in the quiet" or completely silent environment.

            The authors of the study, Nick Perham and Joanne Vizard, believe that the music impairs the cognitive abilities in these scenarios because when individuals are trying to memorize data they are thrown off by the changing words and notes within the music. Accordingly, it would seem harmful to listen to music while committing information to memory before an exam.

Although, the authors of the study also noted that, as stated in the article, "when you hear something you like, it heightens your arousal and mood, which improves performance", which may be the reason that many individuals find benefits of listening to music when doing tasks that don't require memorization. The engagement of the changing notes may keep the brain stimulated and allow individuals to continue a task for longer periods of time. Weather it's cleaning ones room, or repeating the same math problem tediously, the music can provide added pleasure to seemingly mundane events.

So next time you have an exam coming up, perhaps only listen to music before you start studying to increase your cognitive abilities; but to listen to music during studying, well, seems ill advised. As for those tedious homework assignments, music could prove to be beneficial, helping to pass time and maintain engagement into the task.

Except, these findings do not discredit anyone's personal experiences, which are ultimately the best evidence in forming ones own study habits.  I am curious, what methods seem to work for you? What are your experiences with listening to music while performing such tasks?

14 Comments

I don't remember where I heard it, nor do I have a source, but I've been under the impression that when studying, it's helpful to have classical music on, and unhelpful to have music with words or really familiar songs on. I think it's because generalized classical music can serve as background noise, and you won't concentrate on it, so it will put you in your own little bubble and keep you from being distracted be sounds around you, or by the music itself. I know that if I'm trying to study, and I'm listening to songs I know, I end up being unable to focus and struggle a lot more than if I were studying in a quiet area. I think to each their own, though. If someone finds that their performance on a test is higher when they studied with music on, than go for it- every person learns a little differently.

Interestingly, this point about classical music was actually brought up in the article I referenced from CNN. The author wrote, "In the 1990s, listening to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was thought to increase spatial abilities, but subsequent research failed to find the same effect." However, I have also heard something similar to what you described.

I've found that I can only listen to music while doing homework if, like you said, it does not require memorization. Whether the words are familiar to me or not, I can't concentrate on anything that I have to remember if there is noise. I'm also the kind of person to turn the music down when I'm looking for a street sign; I find silence is best for concentration. I like to listen to classical music while I do math, however, though I'm not really sure if it helps or hurts.

For some reason, I find it easier to listen to music while doing math than any other subject. Math is laid out for us, with formulas and whatnot. I've always felt that it takes less concentration because I don't have to actually read anything. When it comes to reading for English or history, I can't focus at all with music.
Maybe it's another issue of left brain/right brain activity, but I couldn't find any real studies on the subject.

I used to listen to music while completing homework for French classes in high school. I found that the music wasn't really distracting in any way since what I was doing was really straightforward. Now I tend to keep music and my studies separate, aside from this past Tuesday when I had to fill out a worksheet for a French class. However, normally I have a time for music and another for my studies.

I always listen to music when studying and doing work but the music is always of a similar vein, and all of it is considered "post rock" which is a type of atmospheric music that is typically instrumental, and when there are vocals it usually me listening to the band Sigur Ros who's singer either sings in Icelandic or a language he made up. Either way, I can't understand it so I hear it as an extension of the music, as if it were another instrument. Since there are no actual words to focus on, the music is nice background noise which I like better than silence, or when my apartment has people in it who aren't studying, a needed gateway into solitude. I've tried listening to music with vocals but I always end up concentrating more on the lyrics than my work.

Like most people I too listen to music while studying. Listening to my music while studying allows me to relax my mind before and during the time in which I study. I find that I get more distracted when it is silent. In the link I have posted below you should read the section titles "The Power of Music on Memory and Learning."

http://www.cerebromente.org.br/n15/mente/musica.html

Similarly to your entry, I have found myself more capable of memorizing course material in complete silence while other times, when it comes to mindless and simple homework problems, I am able to listen to some music mostly at a modest volume, without disrupting my concentration.

What Sabrina Herbst said about classical music and whether it is capable of helping students and learners of all ages to focus on memorizing or understanding difficult concepts it actually a very interesting topic to research? So I did some "googling."

Classical music, especially Mozart and Bach, is carefully structured. You may not even be aware of them, but there are rhythmic patterns underlying most classical pieces. These patterns help your brain waves to compact knowledge, and you concentrate better.

However, classical music is not the only music that can help you concentrate. Any music that is instrumental and relaxing, with an underlying structure, can do the same thing. Much new age music has these underlying structures, laid over with melodies that are musically pleasing.

Now, looking towards a different age group, newborns, and classical music is also praised as improving brain development.

Here’s an article that explores the negative and positive effects of classical music for newborns.


Classical Music affects Newborns development?

I can only listen to music while doing busy work. I need complete silence when writing an essay or paper. Those who have their music blasting and I can hear the music coming from their headphones while they are working well, I just don't understand.

I can only listen to music while doing busy work. I need complete silence when writing an essay or paper. Those who have their music blasting and I can hear the music coming from their headphones while they are working well, I just don't understand.

I absolutely cannot listen to music while I am studying. I get way too distracted. However on occasion, I have to listen to music while i study to try to drown out the sounds around me if I am in a noisy place or have noisy neighbors in the library. If I do that I can only listen to instrumental music.

While we are on the topic we should explore the health risks for long term use of headphones! Read this article to find out more!
http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/210487/health_risks_associated_with_headphones.html

I found myself pretty similar to the article, I used to listen to music while during work almost everyday. I started to think about why I was not able to study the right way and cannot memorize anything. I sat and thought about everything that i have going on around me while I am studying. I changed and few things and music was the first to go. Once I took the music away I was able to concentrate much more and I also started to have much more improvement on exam scores, papers, and readings for class.

http://ithp.org/articles/music.html

I absolutely cannot listen to music while I am studying. I get way too distracted. However on occasion, I have to listen to music while i study to try to drown out the sounds around me if I am in a noisy place or have noisy neighbors in the library. If I do that I can only listen to instrumental music.

While we are on the topic we should explore the health risks for long term use of headphones! Read this article to find out more!
http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/210487/health_risks_associated_with_headphones.html

Personally, it's not the silence that's distracting, it's the little noises /in/ the silence- your roommate typing, the rope kids playing outside, the people living above you making those questionable banging sounds again- it's impossible to have a completely silent environment outside a lab (talk about an unrealistic study there, U of Wales). I find that listening to a single classical piece on a loop helps. (Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 is currently playing, haha.) It's both soothing and repetitive, and drowns out all the inconsistent background noises that would typically distract you. Plus you're not tempted to sing along since you, well, can't. Music with lyrics is definitely a distraction though, I wouldn't recommend that.

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