Music helps retain learning, but only with the right study playlist


Iya Abdulkarim

Freshman Maya Shrestha listens to music while studying in the gym foyer. “Having some background noise helps me focus on my work,” she said.

Iya Abdulkarim, Feature Editor

When a student puts on their headphones or their earbuds in while studying, they tend to do one of the following: they sit down and plow through their work, or they sit and stare at it as they mouth the lyrics to the song they’re listening to. Fear of the latter option has lead many students to believe that listening to music while studying won’t work well for them.

It may be the case that listening to any type of music is simply distracting. In 2014, a study was performed to compare brain activity and connectivity patterns to music which different people preferred and disliked along with their favorite songs. The results showed that listening to preferred music engaged more parts of the brain than the liked or disliked music. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that listening to music you love will help you focus: the activity of other parts of the brain might cause you to think of other things, pushing aside your homework.

“[Music] helps me concentrate, and it also gets me in a mindset where I want to get things done,” sophomore Cole Staples said.

An online poll sent to St. Paul Academy and Summit School students showed that over half of students listen to music while doing homework or studying. Nearly 45% of students listen to music while studying because it puts them in a better mood, and 26% said that music helps them focus. Freshman Maya Shrestha said “having some background noise helps me focus on my work.”

In 1993, a study concluded that listening to Mozart has a short term positive effect on spatial reasoning and one’s IQ level. This effect generally lasts for only 12 minutes, but has initiated other studies that question the effects of other music.

A French study led by Fabrice Dosseville in 2011 took a group of students, half of whom attended a lecture and were tested afterwards. The other half of students did the same thing but with classical music playing in the background during the lecture. The scores of the students with music playing during their lecture were higher than the scores of the other students. This study showed that generally classical music has a positive impact on one’s learning and studying abilities.

“I find music to be distracting while doing homework,” freshman Ben Konstan said. 49% of SPA students cannot focus on their work while listening to music. “It’s too distracting, and I don’t get anything done,” junior Blaire Bemel said. Possible solutions include listening to classical music, which is what 32% of SPA students already listen to. There are also instrumental pieces without lyrics, which can even be the background music to popular songs. For someone who simply cannot listen to music, binaural beats are another alternative. Binaural beats, which can be found online, are sounds generated to assist focus.

Sophomore Jack Indritz enjoys listening to music while doing his homework, and believes that it helps him take his mind off of his work because he doesn’t like thinking about his homework too much. “It depends what type of homework I’m doing, but often I listen to Jazz, whatever is on the radio, [and] I listen to some Mexican music,” Indritz said.

Playlists for studying can be found for free on iTunes radio, Pandora, and Spotify. Helpful search terms to find non-distracting music include study and focus. Finding suitable music or sounds will help avoid distractions and truly help get work done.

Listen to a classical musical playlist compiled by Staff Writer Paul Watkins.