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  • Molly McCaig

Study Music: is it Good or Bad?

Listening to music while studying, is it good? Students share their thoughts on what kinds of music are the best to listen to while studying.

Illustration by Izzy Reeve (IG: @izzymayv)

Listening to music while studying is a widely contested subject. It leads me to wonder, is studying with music actually a good habit? I’ve heard a lot of different perspectives on this topic. Many people have polarizing stances on whether it’s distracting or not to listen to music while studying or doing schoolwork. A 2019 article from the University of Wollongong about music and studying argued that because music puts us in a good mood, it can help us to improve our studying. However, music (specifically music with lyrics) can often be highly distracting. The article ultimately concludes that in order to study with music effectively you need to “reduce how distracting music can be, and increase the level to which the music keeps you in a good mood.”

Personally, I tend to rely on the perpetual YouTube livestream Lofi Girl. “Lofi beats to relax/study to” has accompanied me on many study sessions, essay-writing all-nighters, and trips to the library. I find the lofi genre to be the perfect type of music for studying, because it always feels vaguely familiar and yet doesn’t have lyrics or a typical song structure. It’s a good compromise, because I find listening to my favourite songs and artists becomes far too distracting when trying to concentrate. On the occasions where I’ve tried the latter, I tend to zone out from the work and end up just listening to the music (or accidentally writing down the song lyrics mid-essay paragraph...).

I interviewed a few of my fellow university students to see what their thoughts were on the subject:

A third year environmental science student, Hannah, shared how the kind of music they listen to really depends on what kind of studying they’re doing. “If I need to get something done quickly, I'll listen to really intense classical music where the instrumentals are going fast.” They cite Mozart’s “Turkish March” as a good example of this. However, if it’s more active-recall based studying, Hannah tends to stick with more mellow music to have playing in the background. In general, they find music with lyrics too distracting and prefer instrumental music, particularly when studying for exams: “It’s the instrumentals that keep me going more, because if the lyrics are too catchy or it’s a song I like, it’s harder to pay attention and understand what I’m doing.”

Fran, a third year neuroscience student, shares her unique approach to study music which she learned from her sister. Her trick is to listen to high intensity music, ideally a soundtrack, in order to have an intense study session. She lists Pirates of the Caribbean, Undertale, and Indiana Jones as ideal examples. She compares her approach of study music to working out at the gym: “It’s similar to exercise music, because you’re exercising your mind.” For everyday coursework however, she also recommends lofi music or anything without lyrics.

A third year history student, Isla, does not have one particular kind of music she listens to while studying. She likes having a variety of different genres and artists, and often prefers to hit shuffle on her playlists to avoid pressure of choosing. This allows her to get straight to work with studying. Isla does tend to gravitate towards jazz music, particularly Frank Sinatra, an artist she was introduced to by her grandfather. She also enjoys classical music while doing readings for her classes as she finds music with lyrics to be too distracting.

Taking all of this into account, study music seems to be a very individualistic experience. It’s about finding that perfect balance of having motivating music that keeps you in the zone, but also ensures you aren’t getting distracted by your favourite songs and artists. Now my only question is, what will you listen to for your next study session?


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