True or False – Does Listening to Music Help You Stay Awake and Study
These days, if you walk into a public library, there’s a good chance you’ll find students congregating in crowded silence, buried in their work while earphones and air pods keep their ears company. The digital music revolution has placed an infinite catalogue of music in our pockets, making it much easier to plug into our own little worlds. But prevalence does not equal improvement. While technological advances have radically changed the way we listen to music, the education model has remained pretty well unchanged for decades. This begs the question then: “does listening to music help you stay awake and study?”
The short answer is it depends. Unlike the so-called ‘Mozart effect’ which emerged in the 1990s – a theory that argued that listening to Mozart made you smarter (and has since been dismissed) – the fact of the matter is that there is simply no hard-and-fast rule about music and study. The effectiveness of music on study is dependent on the type of music being listened to, and the type of study being done.
Is There a Type of Music to Help You Stay Awake and Study?
The theory of the ‘Mozart effect’ alleged that classical music’s technical composition had a relationship with parts of the brain involved in information processing. When listened to, the theory claimed, these parts of the brain would be stimulated, and thus study would be more productive. More recent research, however, has dismissed the neuroscience of this assertion in favour of a simpler explanation. Listening to classical music can aid study for no reason other than that it is relaxing to listen to, and puts us in a better frame of mind.
So, if you want to enhance your study, you should opt for music that relaxes you and puts you in a better mood. This might be a classical piece; it could be an ‘alpha wave’ composition (now very popular for studying and readily available on YouTube and other platforms); or it might just be your favourite song. Ultimately, if our mood is improved, our stress and anxiety levels go down, and we are better placed to commit ourselves to potentially unpleasant and challenging tasks.
That being said, as a general rule, it is best to avoid music that is too loud, too lyrical, or too fast. Too loud is self-explanatory (protect your ears!). Too lyrical and you will run the risk of being distracted by the music. Too fast? Think about trying to waltz to a disco track. You’d be so out of time it’s not funny. And this out-of-sync feeling would also crop up if you were trying to study to up-tempo music. Unless you’re writing a thousand words a minute, or solving a question a second, it’s best to select something that matches your work speed. This will help your body and mind work in unison, priming you to enter your study zone, and therefore enabling you to work for extended periods.
What Type of Study Are You Doing?
Listening to music is not compatible with all types of study. Researchers in Australia and the UK have found that music decreases people’s capacity to carry out reading comprehension and writing exercises. This is especially the case with music containing vocals. In this instance, you’re asking your brain to process two sets of words at once. Obvious to say, then, that your capacity to comprehend and process study material is going to be impacted if part of your brain is attending to the lyrics.
Evidence suggests that listening to music may help memory retention, but it also advises that people are better able to recall information when they are in a similar environment in which it was learned. So, unless schools start allowing students to listen to music during tests and exams, it may actually be counter-productive to study with music, particularly if you’re completing practice test and exam questions.
So does listening to music help you stay awake and study? Well, the current science suggests that music can be beneficial to study provided that it is something relaxing, and not too fast, loud or word-heavy. With that being said, research suggests that it is best avoided for test- and exam-condition study. To help your recall ability in these situations, it is best to try and mirror these environments as closely as possible.