Long days and longer nights spent poring over class material and homework are nothing new to students. To make this task more palatable, students will often listen to music or put on a show in the background.
While the latter is quite obviously a distraction and detriment to efficiency, opinions differ about the effects of music. Some students believe that music is beneficial to their studies.
“Music helps me to continue to stay in the mindset of studying,” said Jordan Engle, sophomore in pre-communications. “I enjoy listening to music when I study because it provides me with a calm environment to focus in.”
Others dislike studying with music, unable to concentrate well with distractions.
Much like how students disagree on the effects of music, science does not have a definitive statement to make about this.
“Research ... provides mixed evidence about background music effects on learning,” said Jane Kuehne, associate professor of music education. “Some supports that familiar background music helps block out other sounds that could take attention away from the task at hand. Some suggests that silence is better.”
Fast and loud music can definitely be said to have a negative effect on comprehending new material, Kuehne said.
Keeping the music constrained to a lower volume can help minimize the distraction of music, she added.
Similarly, she said that new music can have a negative effect as well.
“If you are listening to a new playlist you created of music that you specifically like — or think you’ll like — but you’re not familiar with — you don’t know the words, melodies, etc. — you may end up paying more attention to the music and less to what you’re reading or studying,” Kuehne said.
According to a study by Chew et al, participants who listened to familiar music scored higher in most tasks compared to those who listened to new music or who completed them in silence.
Familiar music without words is even more helpful in blocking out other distractions without being distracting itself, Kuehne said.
“Vocal music can be distracting because the brain begins to focus on the words in the music rather than the studying that needs to take place,” Kuehne said.
Replacements for music that drives away an oppressive silence while at the same time being entirely uninteresting include white noise machines, rain or beach sounds and loud fans.
Sometimes, Kuehne said, busy places like Starbucks or a loud floor in the library can help.
In the end there is no right answer to the question of background music because each person is unique in how they study, she said.
“Ultimately, if you find silence is too loud to focus, use music or something else to block out the silence,” Kuehne said. “Because science tends to go back and forth on the subject, each person needs to experiment to find what works best for themselves.”