Did you know that scientific studies could explain your opinion about the value of listening to songs while you learn? Like many students, you might have already decided that music either helps or hinders studying. Researchers have found that certain music may offer benefits in some situations and not in others. For instance, you wouldn't expect to hear music of the same type, volume, or beat at a dance club, a serious movie, or a holiday party.

Just as you choose kinds of music to help set the mood for each situation, it's possible that different types of songs can either contribute to or detract from learning. In addition, the value of background music can vary because of the nature of the tasks you need to complete. With that in mind, consider some scientific research that will help you select the best studying music for yourself and your situation.

What's the Best Music for Studying? 

The U.S. National Institute of Health published a psychological study on the ways that music impacted learning for college students. The researchers tested their own subjects and relied upon previous studies to make conclusions. The goal of this research was to test these existing theories about the association between music and learning:

The Mozart Effect

This theory says that listening to music by Mozart can improve some kinds of cognition. In particular, one older study showed that people did better at spatial tasks after they listened to a Mozart sonata.

Arousal-Mood Hypothesis

Scientists developed the arousal-mood hypothesis to dispute or clarify the Mozart effect. The idea here is that music can't actually make you smarter but may impact learning through its impact upon mood. In other words, music that helps improve your mood and get you in the right frame of mind might also enhance your ability to study.

Seductive effect

This theory brings up concerns that music or other background noises can distract attention and hinder learning. In this case, distracting music may reduce your ability to learn new things and retain information. You must balance the positive effect of music against its potential to distract.

Is Music Always Helpful During Studying?

One surprising conclusion from the study included an observation that the students who were least challenged by the material tended to benefit the most from background music. This idea seems to support the seductive effect. Processing background music will use up some mental bandwidth, so it's sometimes best to attack new or difficult material in silence.

Of course, some students still did better when they studied to music than when they studied in silence. The researchers believed this was because the positive impact of the music still outweighed any potential distractions. You might keep this in mind if you find yourself distracted by a tune or other background noises. Even the same kind of music that might help you study under some circumstances may distract you too much in other situations. Sometimes, no music at all is the best choice.

Which Type of Music is Best for Studying? 

If you have concerns about getting distracted by background music, the study authors had some suggestions based on their research:

No Lyrics or Speech

It's typically best to play music without lyrics or with only very simple lyrics. This also means that any sound that includes speech, like the TV or a spoken podcast, will prove more distracting than music alone.

Soft Volume and Quick Tempo

In addition, they found that only soft and fast music tended to enhance learning in their own tests. The soft volume may help reduce distraction and prove easier to filter out when you need to concentrate.

The researchers believed that the quick tempo tended to help students do better which may support the arousal-mood hypothesis. This is because fast music can have a more positive impact on mood—and a positive mood can promote learning. In contrast, a more negative mood will make it tougher to muscle through a tough study session.

What About the Mozart Effect?

Does this Mozart’s music actually improve cognition? According to the research, the answer may have more to do with the volume and tempo of the particular piece, as described above. Also, you might learn better by listening to Mozart if you enjoy this music and the topic you're studying.

The researchers cited an older study that had subjects listen to either a short story or a Mozart piece and then complete a task. Note that the subjects completed the task after listening. The subject's success rate on the task correlated with how much they subjectively enjoyed either the music or the story. They concluded that the success of the Mozart effect had the most to do with an improvement of mood and focus. Bottom line: If you enjoy Mozart, listen to Mozart.

Which Music Will Help YOU Study Smarter?

In general, you're most likely to benefit from upbeat music played softly and that does not include lyrics. Soft music provides fewer distractions; a quick tempo helps improve your mood and concentration. You should also choose pieces that you enjoy. Certainly, the kind of music you like will have a better chance to make you feel better than music you only tolerate.

Simply listening to music may not have the power to make you smarter. However, the right kind of music can help improve your mood in a way that will enhance your confidence and focus.

Study Music and Psychology at the University of the Cumberlands

Are you searching for the perfect place to pursue an undergraduate degree in psychology or a bachelor's degree in music? If so, you can find exactly what you're looking for at University of the Cumberlands. Top professors have years of experience in their fields. Plus, University of the Cumberlands offers competitive tuition and a commitment to the highest ethical standards. Students thrive because of small class sizes and plenty of personal attention. Learn how to begin your education by contacting an admissions counselor today.