Can I Study Better by Listening to Music?
“Can we listen to music while working?” If I had a dollar for every time a student asked this question, I wouldn’t need to work on this blog right now. Kids asked all.the.time. When my students picked their own music, I noticed a LOT of distractions. They would sing along to the music, constantly adjust their playlists, and get distracted by other notifications on their phones.
In other words, it wasn’t really working. To compromise, I picked the music and played it softly over my classroom speakers. While sometimes the song lyrics caught my students’ attention, there were a lot fewer distractions overall.
As I’ve worked with tutoring students, the question has come up many times as well. So many students claim that listening to music helps them study. Given my own classroom observations, I was skeptical, so I did some research to find out.
Does Listening to Music Improve My Studying?
Can I listen to music?
In a word, yes. But’s it’s a bit more complicated than that. Naturally.
Music often makes us feel happier, which leads to more effective studying. For some, music can help relieve anxiety and allow you to focus more on the content. Some studies show that music may help with memorization, as well. Listening to music can also cover up noise from roommates, siblings, and others.Music that makes you happy - whatever types that is - will let you study better.Click To Tweet
It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, though. Listening to music with plenty of words (especially if you sing along) can make it harder to read and fully comprehend what you’re reading. The words in the song interfere with the words we are reading in the text.
And remember, just because you *can* listen to music while studying, doesn’t mean you have to. I never have music on when I’m reading, writing, or doing anything that requires a big mental load. I personally find it way too distracting. You could listen to music that makes you happy right before you study – those happy feelings will still be around when you study.
You definitely want to create your own playlists as opposed to leaving it up to Spotify’s algorithm. (Psst – Spotify does have an entire genre of study music.) You want music that you are familiar with – new music can wait until your next car ride or jog. And stick to music that makes you happy, not angry or sad.Stick with music you know well. New music will distract you too much.Click To Tweet
Keep your playlist to 25-30 minutes. That way it aligns with your Pomodoro session. It might mean that you listen to the same playlist multiple times a day – that’s ok. As you use the playlist more, the songs near the end will signal your brain that your work session is almost over.
Also, consider different types of music for different types of work. Busywork might allow for more words or newer music. Studying for exams may require instrumental music or songs you’re super familiar with. Never underestimate a power playlist to encourage you to finish something tough.
Listening to Music While Studying
Prepare to listen to music while you’re collecting all your studying supplies. Pick out your playlist and find your headphones before you start working. That might mean bookmarking the site and having earbuds or headphones in your homework caddy. Don’t waste time looking for your earbuds when you’re supposed to be working!
If possible, access your playlists from your computer, not your phone. Your phone (and it’s billion notifications) is just a giant distraction. Once you start the music, do.not.mess with your playlist. Don’t fast forward to the next song or skip a song. You’re losing focus and wasting time!
Keep the volume reasonable. If other people can hear your music, it’s too loud. Research has shown that music that is both loud and fast can interfere with studying. If you can’t hear your own thinking over the music, turn it down.
Whether you wanted to listen to the music or not, please take note of the limitations I placed on that music. Enjoy some background music, but don’t let it take center stage when you’re studying. Your work should be front and center!