By Samson Badmus

As many as three students in this picture are listening to music while working. Any time I walk into Carrier library I see students at their laptops with a textbook out and earphones in. I have always been curious about how listening to music could, in any way, improve the ability to concentrate and study. And while I have seen some people watching Netflix in the library, the majority of students doing actual work are listening to music. My friends all swear by it — and no, this is not an exaggeration, every single one of my friends need music to be able to focus — so I decided to find out how exactly music affects the ability to concentrate and whether or not the genre of the music matters.

Does Listening to Music While Concentrating Matter?

You might have been involved in the classic debate on whether you‘re the type of person who needs music while doing work or if you‘re the opposite and need silence. While it is easier for some people to stay concentrated no matter what is in the background, science suggests that listening to music is most likely harmful to your level of concentration.

In Yi-Nuo Shih‘s study, 32 participants were separated into three groups and each group was exposed to either music playing before, music playing during, or no music playing at all during an attention test. While the sample size is rather small and there is no absolute answer to the question, the results still show a correlation between music and concentration level. The highest scoring group on the attention test was the group that listened to music before starting, the second highest was the group with absolute silence, and the lowest scoring was the group listening to music during the test. These results and the picture on the left clearly shows that music negatively affects your concentration during working and increases your chances for distraction. However, as no indication of what kind of music was played is mentioned, I did some more research.

What Types of Music?

There have been many studies conducted on the effects of classical and popular music on the brain while focusing or working on something. One such study is Mack T. Henderson‘s and the results showed that the two music genres were polar opposites of each other, not only in how they sound but in what they do to the brain.

While the popular music provided the students participating in the experiment with a significant level of distraction in the paragraph reading section, the students listening to classical music showed a much lower level of distraction during both the paragraph and the vocabulary section. Based on this study, we can conclude that listening to popular music interferes with your brain‘s ability to process information. The aspect of the music speculated to be the reason for this result is the presence or absence of words.

Popular music consists of rhyming sentences — put them together with a catchy beat, and it‘s hard to resist singing along (no matter how much you claim to hate Taylor Swift). In classical music, there are no words and something about the melodies increases your brain‘s dopamine secretion, the pleasure hormone. It also draws your attention, making you more focused on the task and likely to stay that way.

Useful Tips and Tricks

  1. Both of the libraries on the JMU campus, Carrier and ECL, have 24- hour study rooms where no noise is allowed. A sort of paradise for people like me.
  2. If you‘re used to listening to music while working, go through the ―study‖ channels on Pandora and see which type of music appeals to you and your notes.
  3. Similarly, type in your favorite movie or ―Hans Zimmer‖ into Pandora. Movie background soundtracks are specifically designed to make you focus on the conversation on the screen in front of you, whether the scene is intense or slow and uneventful — the latter being kinda like your chemistry textbook. Plus it‘s more interesting than typical classical music (sorry, Beethoven).
  4. The ‗Mozart effect‘ is a scientific theory that claims listening to Mozart‘s sonatas, or any other composer‘s, greatly improves your spatial ability.

So the next time you have to memorize the position of all the bones in your body, or anything else that has to do with the spatial representation of something — like a map –, here‘s something to help you study!




So whether or not you‘re the person who is constantly walking around with earphones in, or the person who sits and reads a book in silence, music plays a big role in how our brain functions. It determines our mood, our memories, and our concentration.

More and more is discovered about music therapy every day, but even now it is already widely used. Prior studies have shown that hip-hop offered a new way of thinking to those suffering from cognitive illnesses, singing, dancing, or creating music reduced depression symptoms in teens, and jazz reduced anxiety in patients undergoing surgery. While it‘s safe to say that classical music is more beneficial to your concentration level while working or studying, to each his own, and hopefully by now you‘ve figured out how you study best — either from this article or because you were always on top of things.