Music Doesn t Help You Study

Don’t Listen to Music While Studying

While working, I observe some students listening to music. I don’t see why I should ask them to take off their headphones and switch off their devices. I applaud each person’s exquisite, succinct prose as I walk around the room.

I inquire as to why music aids her concentration. “It relaxes me and relieves my stress,” she explains. “Plus, Ed Sheeran is incredible.”

I spent numerous hours studying in a dark nook of the Brandeis University Library as a college student. I’d frequently lose track of time and wonder if I’d ever see the sun again. My mother once called to inquire as to why I hadn’t gone home for Thanksgiving. I’d completely forgotten about the holiday, concentrating instead on getting a head start on a huge history paper while listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” on repeat.

Yes, please include me in the end-of-newsletter promotion.
Putting aside my self-imposed seclusion, music provided not just comfort but also enhanced focus for me — or so I thought, until I came across the work of Dr. Nick Perham, a lecturer in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff.


“Can preference for background music mitigate the irrelevant sound effect?” explains how music can affect short-term memory performance in Perham’s 2010 study.

Perham told me about the “irrelevant sound effect” when we chatted recently. This involves a subject performing a task, in this example recalling a series of numbers, while listening to various types of music. Performance is hampered when sound has acoustical fluctuations, or what Perham refers to as a “acute changing-state.” Continuous noises with limited acoustic change have a smaller impact on performance.

Another of Perham’s conclusions piques my interest. “We discovered that listening to liked or hated music had the same effect, and both were worse than the quiet control condition,” he explains. “Both had problems with serial-recall tasks.”

Still, I’m curious how often serial-recall is in real life and if it’s possible to live without it. Perham claims that recalling phone numbers, completing mental arithmetic, and even learning languages would be extremely difficult.

“It has also been discovered that learning organised information underpins language learning. When it comes to language, learning grammar, and understanding the principles that govern how we construct sentences, all of these things require order information “According to Perham.

Perham questioned his respondents how they thought they did when exposed to various musical genres. Although the study’s findings showed no difference, everyone reported doing significantly worse when listening to hated music.

When I told my students about Perham’s findings, many of them still refused to believe that listening to music while studying hurts performance. I even offered one of these ordinarily intelligent and sensible people early access to Perham’s audio interview.

She explains, “I enjoy listening to music while practising arithmetic.” “It definitely helps me think, and I’m not going to quit listening even if the study’s findings are negative.”


Perham corrects my pupil, explaining that she should listen to music before going to work to activate the “arousal and mood impact.” In fact, previous studies have shown that doing something enjoyable before hitting the books — whether it’s listening to music or doing something else — can have the same favourable effect on performance.

I ask Perham about the “Mozart effect,” which provided people who had recently listened to the legendary classical composer superior spatial-rotation skills in one early experiment. They fared better when they stopped listening and were asked to cut and fold paper rather than while they were listening to something else.

According to Perham, “subsequent investigations revealed that this wasn’t right.”

Instead, improved performance was linked to the type of music one listened to prior to doing such task.

“If you enjoy Stephen King’s stories, they found it,” Perham says. “It wasn’t about Mozart or classical music; it was about whether you enjoyed [listening to] anything or not.”

Perham claims that reading while listening to music, particularly music with lyrics, affects comprehension in one of his more recent research. In this situation, productivity is hampered by spoken lyrics rather than sonic variety.

“When you’re reading a book, you’ve got semantic knowledge that you’re trying to use, and you’ve got semantic information from the songs,” Perham explains. “It doesn’t matter if you enjoy it or not, if you can understand the lyrics, it will affect your reading comprehension.”

I opted to write this post in utter silence as part of my own little experiment. I write these days while listening to Dave Matthews, John Mayer, and other “cool” artists. I’m not sure how or if this relates to Perham’s findings, but I wrote this in roughly half the time it usually takes me to complete something of this length.

At the very least, I’m hoping that my experiment will inspire my kids to participate.