Why are certain genres of music more effective in helping you study than others?

study focus music
Listening to music while you study can help boost concentration. Here's how. Source: Shutterstock

Music has many benefits. It’s been proven that listening to certain types of music in specific situations can boost productivity and mood, from enhancing the quality of your workout to reducing stress and anxiety. 

If you’re a student, you’re likely to have crafted or listened to a study focus music playlist at least once in your life. You may have noticed that listening to certain genres improved your concentration, especially if you’ve been studying in louder environments such as cafes. Or perhaps you enjoy going to the library, slipping your headphones on, and listening to songs while you work. 

If this sounds like you, you’re one of the thousands of students who do the same thing. A survey showed that around 60% of students tend to listen to music while studying. Researchers also found that listening to music was the most popular side activity for teens who juggled studying with another task.

How music helps you study

There are many reasons why music is such an effective tool to help you study. Here are some of them: 

  1. Music boosts memory

Listening to music is one of the best ways to improve your memory. For example, a study found that patients with memory loss would often remember songs and specific lyrics. Doctors would often use music and lyrics to help patients recall their lost memories. 

This is because the brain systems used for processing music and language — that is, for memorising information — are the same. This is why listening to certain songs may trigger specific memories in your mind. 

  1. Music reduces stress and anxiety

If you have a test or assignment coming up, chances are your stress levels are at an all-time high. Here, you have a simple solution: listen to music. 

Certain types of music, particularly those with a slow tempo, can have a relaxing effect on your mind. In fact, back in 2006, researchers at Stanford University discovered that listening to music changes brain functioning in the same way that medication does. Cambridge University found that hip-hop music in particular provides an uplifting effect on listeners, which can in turn help them accept, manage, and deal with mental health issues better.

  1. Music helps improve your brain functions

Science shows that music can help improve cognitive performance. In simple terms, it helps your brain function. In fact, one study showed that listening to music enabled test takers to complete more questions within an allotted time frame and get more answers right. 

This is because musical activity serves as a cognitive exercise for the brain, which then trains it for more challenging tasks in the future. 

Listening to music was the most popular side activity for teens who juggled studying with another task. Source: Michael M. Santiago/AFP

Why is study focus music so effective?

Not all music does the job, though. A University of Toronto study shows that loud music negatively affects reading comprehension, agitating rather than focusing the listener. Similarly, the University of Wales found that sometimes, music — especially music with lyrics — can worsen a student’s working memory and reading comprehension. 

Students who wish to study with music can consider diverting to slower, instrumental music. Popular study focus music genres include classical music, film scores, lo-fi (low-fidelity), and world music. 

These work for a variety of reasons. Classical music — which is often touted to be the ultimate study focus music — is so effective because it arouses your brain, making it easier to absorb new information in a meaningful way. 

Other genres, like lo-fi, help the frontal lobe in our brains to focus specifically because it is recorded with intentional imperfections, such as misplayed notes, low hums, environmental noise, and more. These flaws trigger the cerebrum which in turn can help improve your focus. 

Study focus music: Takeaways

That being said, music is not an effective focusing tool for every student as it affects everyone in a different way. It also depends on how much you personally like the music you’re listening to — if it’s an unfamiliar genre or something you find unpleasant, you’re less likely to be able to focus. 

If you think you’d benefit from listening to music, though, you should keep these tips in mind: 

  • Choose fairly predictable genres. Experimental music that changes abruptly or has an inconsistent rhythm will keep you guessing about what to expect, which can be very distracting. 
  • Turn the volume down. Your music should always be in the background, giving you room to focus on your studying.
  • Choose instrumental music. Songs with lyrics in a language you understand will likely distract you from simple tasks such as reading. 
  • Listen to songs you don’t have strong feelings about. You’d probably find it difficult to concentrate if you listen to songs that you either love or hate.