Can Music Improve Your Concentration?

Do you ever listen to music while you study? Or while you work? Many people do, and often it’s because they feel like the music helps them concentrate. But there has been a lot of debate around the topic. Some say that focusing on two things at once (eg. writing and listening) could decrease your concentration. Others argue that music can stimulate your brain and improve your productivity. As it turns out, both opinions are accurate. Music can distract you as much as it can improve your concentration. To understand how that’s possible, we need to take a look at how the topic gained popularity, the effects music has on us, and the best types of music for concentration.

The Mozart effect

Discussion of the topic began in 1993 when a study known as the Mozart effect was conducted by Rauscher et al. The study found that listening to Mozart could improve one’s spatial intelligence. Spatial intelligence is the ability to create, remember and transform visual images. It wasn’t long before teachers began playing Mozart in their classrooms. 

Five years later, a meta-analysis (a study of the study) found that the Mozart effect was biased. Its hypothesis was that classical music could improve intelligence. We now know that’s not the case. The Mozart effect became one of the greatest scientific myths. 

Effects of Music

Music affects you in many ways. Its impacts can be observed in various spheres. These include your mood, your emotions, your understanding, your creativity, and your memory.

  • Mood

Music influences your mood. Your mood describes how you feel. It will be affected in a good way if you enjoy the song, and in a bad way if you dislike the song. When you like music, your brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is known as the neuron of pleasure which means it’s likely to improve your mood. If you don’t like the music, you might feel irritated which can worsen your mood. Being in a good mood can increase motivation and productivity. So, it’s important to listen to music that you enjoy. It will make you feel less bored, and therefore, more productive. For example, the song Watermelon Sugar by Harry Styles puts me in a good mood. This helps me be more productive. But whether listening to a song that you like is enough to allow for good concentration and productivity is up for debate.

  • Emotion

It’s very easy to form an attachment to a song. You often listen to songs that you like repeatedly. Usually, there is a reason why you like a particular song. Maybe you relate to its message. Or maybe the song brings back memories. Or perhaps you simply enjoy the melody. This can have a bit of a negative impact on your concentration. Especially if the song is taking you down memory lane or on an emotional rollercoaster. At that point, it often becomes distracting. Olivia Rodrigo’s Driver’s License is a song that makes me feel like I’m going through a breakup. Though I haven’t necessarily experienced what Olivia has. Sometimes, even if you haven’t been through what a song is describing, it still has the capacity to make you feel emotional. This is generally not good if you need to concentrate.

  • Understanding

Songs tell stories. In many cases, by using words, and sometimes, through the melody. When words are used to tell a story in a song, your subconscious hears the words and sifts through them. This can be distracting if, at the same time, you’re reading something, like you are right now. If we take a look at Chemtrails Over The Country Club by Lana Del Rey, we notice that it’s a lyrical song. This means that it will be somewhat distracting. It’s usually best to avoid lyrical music for optimal concentration.

  • Creativity

Music is made up of many audio levels. It’s one of the most intricate audio experiences that we, as humans, can hear. It can be the combination of some or all the following. Voice, melody, musical instruments, and everything between. All this is processed by your brain. Your brain is composed of two hemispheres, the left and right hemisphere. Music activates both. This means that by listening to music you can unlock parts of your brain that might otherwise be dormant. It’s for this reason that music can increase our creativity, which can be really useful. For me, Lost in Yesterday by Tame Impala, inspires creativity. This is because it has a psychedelic sound that combines, in my opinion, every aspect of music perfectly. The music that can inspire someone to be creative varies from person to person. But creativity is an essential part of every project because it’s what fuels originality.

  • Memory

Songs have structure. Your brain understands the structure of the songs. This means that if you listen to music while learning something, the content that you learn might be more organized in your head. If the content is organized, you have higher chances of remembering the information. Classical music is generally very structured. Therefore, listening to it while trying to learn something can be beneficial for good retention of the information. I often listen to Experience by Ludovico Einaudi. It has great structure and it helps me study more productively. Some studies have actually shown that if you listen to the song you were listening to while studying when you take your test, you’re more likely to remember the information you studied.

To conclude, the concepts mentioned above describe the main ways music can affect you. We looked at mood, emotion, understanding, creativity, and memory. Sometimes they can impact your concentration well, and other times, less well. Ultimately it depends on the task you’re doing and what works best for you.

The best type of music for concentration

The kind of music you’re listening to can play a big part in how it’s going to impact your concentration. There are many genres and types of music so we’ll take a look at some of them.

  • Lyrical and Instrumental

Lyrical music and Instrumental music are opposites. One has lyrics, the other one doesn’t. As previously mentioned, lyrical music can be distracting. This is because your brain processes the words whether you mean to listen to them or not. On the other hand, instrumental music can be a good option for concentration. There are no lyrics to distract you and all the positive effects of music still apply. 

  •  Lofi, Classical and Ambient

There are many kinds of instrumental music. Instrumental music generally includes any music that doesn’t have lyrics. Let’s take a look at three of them: Lo-fi, classical, and ambient. 

Lo-fi : It consists of beats that have imperfections. They’re beats that might have been meant for a song but were discarded because they didn’t have a traditional musical structure. But these imperfections can have the effect of keeping you focused.

Classical music : refers to a genre of music that usually uses a large orchestra. The orchestra is generally made up of instruments like the violin, piano, and flute. 

Ambient music : like lo-fi, ambient music focuses more on creating an atmosphere than it does on being structured. 

Overall, these instrumental genres can create an ideal atmosphere for studying and working. They’re not necessarily as engaging as lyrical music is, but that’s usually a good thing for ideal concentration. 

  • Video Game Soundtrack

Video games have soundtracks. If you think about it, video game music is created so that players can ignore distracting sounds and focus better on the game. But, it’s not so distracting that players pay more attention to the music than the game. Stereo Madness from the video game Geometry Dash does exactly that. As such, listening to video game soundtracks while studying can be a good option for some people.

  • White noise

White noise is a great option if both silence and music bother you. In fact, it’s a steady sound that can keep you focused. The sound can be of waves crashing, or raindrops falling, or the sounds of traffic on a drive home. Whatever works best for you.

In summary, some genres, specifically instrumental genres, can increase concentration. Other, more lyrical, genres generally decrease it.

What’s your preference? 

Everybody is different and what works for one person isn’t necessarily what will work for you. In the end, it comes down to personal preference. If you’ve always listened to lyrical music while you study, then that might just be what works best for you. On the other hand, if you’ve never listened to music while working because it distracts you, then that’s fine too. However, if you have felt distracted while studying, then I recommend that you try something new. Who knows what you might discover about your response to music and its impact on your concentration. 

Below are results of an online survey that I conducted on the topic of music and concentration.

After reading my article, How Music Can Improve Your Concentration, let me know what you thought of it by taking this short survey!