best music for studying
British-American sitar player and film composer Anoushka Shankar. Source: AFP

The best music for studying can help you relax, focus and get in flow mode. Not in school or university anymore? The best music for studying may just work for you too, for reasons we’ve explained below.

Whether at work or at uni, things can get overwhelming at times — in the US, about one in four employees experience burnout either “very often” or “always.”

Over 80% of university students feel stressed during the academic year. There are exams, assignments and constant demand to excel.

At times, you’ll need to hole yourself up for hours or even days to complete a task — with your body, mind and soul in harmony with one goal in mind.

Discover the best music for studying and it might just be the secret weapon you’ve been looking for all this time.

best music for studying

The reason why we find it hard to focus. Source: AFP

Why it’s so hard to find focus

The problem with our minds is that they like to wander. In fact, they do it nearly half the time — or 47% according to a 2010 Harvard study.

Thirteen years later, and we only have better smartphones and more addictive social media to distract us even more.

So much so that people working from home say that they spend up to two hours a day on social media.

But the chief executive distractor of our times is the smartphone. It’s always on and always enticing us with more TikToks, more emails and more online shops.

Thanks to these, our attention span is fast dwindling.

“Our attention spans while on our computers and smartphones have become short — crazily short — as we now spend about 47 seconds on any screen on average,” Dr. Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, wrote in her new book, “Attention Span: A Groundbreaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness and Productivity.”

Consider also the experiment Mark did in 2004. Knowledge workers — those whose work typically involves a lot of “thinking” like engineers, designers, and architects — then could focus two and a half minutes on a task before switching.

By 2012, that figure had dropped to 75 seconds.

The good news is you have more control over your mind than you think — and there’s no need to throw away your smartphone at all.

Instead, it’s all about using the smartphone smartly — starting with using it to find the best music for studying and working for you.

best music for studying

A perfomer dressed up as Austrian composer Mozart kisses a tourist’s hand in front of Schoenbrunn palace on a sunny spring day in Vienna, Austria on May 22, 2023. Source: AFP

The power of the best music for studying

Music can have powerful effects on your brain when it comes to studying or focusing.

When you listen to music Stanford University researchers found that it activates areas of the brain responsible for releasing the “feel-good” hormone dopamine.

Imagine those moments when you’re huddled over your textbooks, drowning in a sea of equations or trying to complete a task you’ve no idea how to do.

Now imagine if you could take that stress away with just one click. That’s what dopamine can do.

It is like a mental break, a chance to escape the relentless grind for a moment. Music becomes your study partner, enhancing your focus and memory retention.

Classical music like Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, has been touted to enhance spatial-temporal reasoning temporarily. That’s the part of your brain responsible for solving puzzles and math problems. 

This is called the “the Mozart effect.”

Although widely recommended, that doesn’t mean classical music is the only type of music to help you study and focus better. If you hate it, it can even be counterproductive. 

Instead, what matters when selecting the best music for studying is our emotions and how different tunes evoke different feelings in us.

Which motivates us? What songs have helped you destress?

To answer this question, we need to turn to our childhood.

best music for studying

Listening to BLACKPINK’s upbeat and cheerful music can help elevate your mood and promote happiness. Source: AFP

Studying better with Asian beats and tunes

If you grew up in an Asian household, the beats and tunes of your best moments would likely stick with you, indirectly if not directly, for the rest of your life. 

This could explain why many students find classical Indian music, such as Ravi Shankar’s sitar melodies, and traditional Chinese guqin music, like “Flowing Water,” to be incredibly helpful.

They can bring a sense of calm and focus to your study sessions. These soothing sounds can reduce stress and anxiety; research indicates that they may even boost your memory and creativity.

In fact, it was found that listening to Indian classical music can help reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality.

The harmonious notes of Japanese koto music have also been found to reduce cortisol levels, the stress hormone.

Yet, you’ll hardly find these recommended in other best music for studying lists.

You’ll hardly find Asian pop or rock music too — though they may have billions of plays on Spotify. 

When it comes to energising our minds, any genre works so long as you enjoy it and know it best.

This is a view held by musician and Harvard neuroscientist Srini Pillay.

“When I need to focus, familiar music helps me both relieve stress and connect with the emotions I need in order to be fully present,” he wrote in CNBC.

“Another group of researchers found that the type of music that most positively influences learning is ‘soft-fast,’ songs like Jason Mraz’s ‘I’m Yours’ or ‘Love on Top’ by Beyoncé.”

It’s all about what you like — but if you’re up to discover something new or don’t have time to curate your own playlist, below we’ve picked the perfect soundtracks for this special edition of the best music for studying.

7 best music for studying: Asian edition

best music for studying

Upbeat Bollywood songs can be a distraction from stress, allowing students to focus on the music rather than their worries. Source: AFP

1. Bollywood music

The heart of every Bollywood movie is the cinematic songs, complete with energetic dance moves and longing looks from the main characters. 

In this wide genre, there is something for everyone — from slow, easy tunes like “Kabira” from the film “Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani” to the fast-paced “Malhari” from the epic “Bajirao Mastani”.

You can even listen to the dramatic instrumentals from Bollywood movies, as those can prove to be the best music for studying (especially when you would like to avoid lyrics).

If you prefer softer, slower tunes, try these:

  • “Tum Se Hi” by Mohit Chauhan
  • “Main Agar” Kahoon by Sonu Nigam and Shreya Ghoshal
  • “Zara Zara” by Bombay Jayashri
  • “Masakali” by Mohit Chauhan
  • “Mitti Di Khushboo” by Rochak Kohli and Ayushmann Khurrana
  • “Jashn-E-Bahaaraa” by A.R. Rahman and Javed Ali

For those who like something with more energy, here are some great songs:

  • “Bom Diggy” by Zack Knight and Jasmin Walia
  • “Tum Hi Ho Bandhu” by Neeraj Shridhar, Kavita Seth and Pritam
  • “Balam Pichkari” by Pritam, Vishal Dadlani and Shalmali Kholgade
  • “Maahi Ve” by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Sadhana Sargan
  • “Jaane Kyun” by Vishal-Shekhar and Vishal Dadlani
  • “What Jhumka” by Pritam, Arjit Singh, Jonita Gandhi
  • “O Saki Saki” by Neha Kakkar, Tulsi Kumar and B Praak

If you’re new to Bollywood music and are looking for a great playlist to get you started, here are a few we would recommend: 

2. Studio Ghibli

Founded in 1985 by animated film directors Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli is one of the most acclaimed animation studios in the world.

The studio has produced 22 feature-length films, most of which have ranked number one at the box office in Japan. 

Some of its most beloved films include “Spirited Away” (which is the all-time highest-grossing film in Japan, earning over 30 billion yen at the box office), “Howl’s Moving Castle”, “My Neighbour Totoro”, and “Ponyo”. 

Studio Ghibli’s latest four films have earned four consecutive Academy Award nominations for Best Animated Feature Film.

These films are The Wind Rises (2013), The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (2013), When Marnie Was There (2014) and The Red Turtle (2016). 

A theme across all the studio’s films that audiences really engage with is how the characters grow and persist when faced with obstacles. 

For many Studio Ghibli fans, the music evokes a sense of nostalgia and warmth. Composer Joe Hisaishi is responsible for the musical masterpieces behind the studio’s films. 

The talented Japanese musician has released “A Symphonic Celebration”,  with music from the Studio Ghibli films of Hayao Miyazaki. 

These orchestral scores are some of the best music for studying as the sound is rich and evokes great emotion. It will certainly keep your brain engaged as you work. 

Here are a few songs you must check out:

  • “One Summer Day”
  • “A Town with an Ocean View”
  • “The Flower Garden”
  • “The Dragon Boy”

Want a playlist to play on a loop? Check these below:

best music for studying

Many BTS songs have upbeat and energetic rhythms that can boost your mood and provide a temporary escape from stress. Source: AFP

3. K-pop

Most of us are big fans of artists like BTS, whose songs “Dynamite” and “Butter” have become the upbeat earworms that our brains revert to when in silence. 

There are many other artists to check out, as well as specific songs which are the best music for studying:

  • “Shut Down” by BLACKPINK
  • “OMG” by ETA
  • “Ditto” by NewJeans
  • “Super Shy” by NewJeans
  • “Blackswan” by BTS
  • “Life Goes On” by BTS
  • “Seven” by Jungkook
  • “Slow Dancing” by V

Here are some playlists:

best music for studying

Classical piano music has stood the test of time, and its compositions can help you escape from the stress of university. Source: AFP

4. Classical music

For those who find lyrics distracting, classical music is a great way to find your focus. This might be the very best music for studying.

While most of us know the Beethovens and Mozarts, what about Asian artists in the classical music world?

Here are a few exemplary artists you must listen to:

  • Esther Yoo has been described as “the model of a violin soloist in the modern age.” Her latest album, Barber Bruch, is available on her website, Spotify, and YouTube.
  • Pianist Yuja Wang is said to have a captivating stage presence. Hailing from Beijing, the artist received advanced training in Canada and at the Curtis Institute of Music under Gary Graffman.
  • Mitsuko Uchida is the 2023 Grammy Nominee for Best Classical Instrumental Solo for Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. This peerless conductor has close relationships with world-renowned orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bavarian Radio Symphony, London Symphony Orchestra, and London Philharmonic Orchestra. 
  • American cellist Yo-Yo Ma has recently released his latest recording, “Nature at Play: Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 (Live from the Great Smoky Mountains).| This incredible artist is a United Nations Messenger of Peace, the first artist ever appointed to the World Economic Forum’s board of trustees, a member of the board of Nia Tero, the US-based nonprofit working in solidarity with Indigenous peoples and movements worldwide, and the founder of the global music collective Silkroad.

Here are some playlists to check out:

best music for studying

Famed Indian musician Ravi Shankar (L) and his daughter Anoushka perform in Calcutta. Source: AFP

5. Indian classical music

Group CEO at Omnicom Media Group, India, believes listening and understanding Indian classical music is the key to improving your listening skills

“My strong belief is that if you apply the principles followed by Indian classical musicians, it will lead to a more meaningful career,” he says. “Don’t forget it’s a life skill which you can apply anywhere. 

“This is an opportunity for all corporates to include Indian classical music as part of their training curriculum whenever they are training their teams on listening skills. This will significantly improve the quality of decisions and lead to improved business results.”

There are many artists to check out under the Indian classical genre:

  • Sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar is one of the best-known composers. He even composed the film scores for the Indian director Satyajit Ray’s famous Apu trilogy (1955–59).
  • Shankar’s daughter, Anoushka Shankar, is a talented sitar player and music artist in her own right. She was the youngest and first female recipient of a British House of Commons Shield and the first Indian musician to perform live or serve as a presenter at the Grammy® Award with seven nominations.
  • Ali Akbar Khan began performing at age 13 and became the court musician to the Maharaja of Jodhpur. He is known for his film scores for movies such as “Satyajit Ray’s Devi” (1960) and the Ismail Merchant–James Ivory production “The Householder” (1963).
  • The Bombay Sisters, C. Saroja and C. Lalitha held classical concerts as their many devotional albums in Malayalam, Tamil, Sanskrit, Kannada, Telugu, Hindi and Marathi. They received the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian honour, in 2020.

Sitars, ragas and tablas, here are some playlists to check out:

best music for studying

Despite being over a decade old, the music from Harry Potter continues to captivate and resonate with its fans. Source: AFP

6. Harry Potter

The orchestral scores that accompanied the boy wizard’s adventures certainly created a great atmosphere in the film series.

For avid fans, “Hedwig’s Theme” in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone holds a dear place in their heart as it sets the tone and became the iconic tune associated with the wizarding world of Hogwarts. 

American composer and conductor John Williams composed the music for the series’ first three films and was responsible for “Hedwig’s Theme”.

While he was not the only composer, his melody set the tone for the entire franchise. 

Other Harry Potter music to listen to while studying:

  • “Christmas at Hogwarts”
  • “Leaving Hogwarts”
  • “A Window to the Past”
  • “Double Trouble”
  • “Potter Waltz”

Dive into the Wizarding World with these Harry Potter playlists – it’s so good even the sorting hat couldn’t decide which song to listen to first:

7. Death Note

Based on a Japanese manga series written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, Death Note is an animated series adaptation produced by Madhouse.

Directed by Tetsurō Araki, the 37-episode anime show is about Light Yagami, who discovers a mysterious notebook titled “Death Note”. 

The book grants the user the supernatural ability to kill anyone whose name is written on its pages. 

The original soundtrack of this series is by Yoshihisa Hirano and Hideki Taniuchi and is made up of moody rock instrumentals. 

It is the best music for studying as it varies in tempo, each with a unique sound to keep your brain engaged and focused. 

You can listen to the original soundtrack on Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music.