The songs of silence: The best study music

FOCUS 11-17

 

With all your notes and books laid out on the desk in front of you, the only thing left is to decide whether to hit play on your music, or leave the room silent as you study.

Students get more and more stressed about everything they have to study during finals week. For many, music might just be the relaxing thing needed to get through a day full of books, notes, flashcards and PowerPoint slides.

Listening to music might sound like a good idea at the time. But Judy Bundra, associate dean for Academic Affairs at DePaul University’s School of Music, said according to research studies, music is a distraction when studying.

The study that comes to mind for many when considering listening to music while studying is the one that created the “Mozart effect,” which according to a Nov. 9, 2013 Spin Education article, “gave individuals who had recently listened to the famous classical composer enhanced spatial-rotation skills.”

FOCUS 11-17 copy 2However, Bundra said it was “a limited effect” and “was difficult to replicate the results.” Music during studying might not be good, but it might be helpful for preparation.

“I think it’s a good idea to listen to music before you study,” Bundra said.

According to the same Spin Education article, Nick Perham, a lecturer in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, said listening to music before studying can engage the “arousal and mood effect.”

Julia DeStefani, a junior at DePaul, does just that. She doesn’t normally listen to music when she studies, but beforehand she’ll listen to music such as The White Stripes, Bob Dylan and Fleetwood Mac, among others.

In the same article, it said according to past studies doing anything enjoyable before studying can “produce the same positive effect on performance.”

Even though she only listens to music before studying, it isn’t a distraction for DeStefani. She said  she gets into a zone where she might not even hear the music playing.

“I’ll put my headphones in and forget to hit play,” DeStefani said. “So even if I had music on, I probably wouldn’t hear it.”

For others, though, music is a distraction—especially while reading.

“I need complete silence for reading,” Alex Nguyen, a junior at DePaul, said.

Trinity Deguzman, a freshman at DePaul, said she can’t listen to music while reading or writing because it’s too distracting.

However, those who don’t listen to music while reading or writing might still listen to music when they work on other subjects.

Gabby Ventura, a freshman at DePaul, said she listens to music when she does homework that isn’t too serious, “like if it’s kind of mindless,” Ventura said.

Many students agreed that math is a subject they can listen to music while doing.

Ian Hill, a freshman at DePaul, said that he will sometimes listen to music when he does science homework. But like other students, if he is reading he needs silence.

For those who do listen to music while they study, many wonder what kind of music works best.

For some students, such as Hill, genres such as rock and rap are distracting. For others such as James Galba, a freshman at DePaul, rock and alternative music are his go-to picks.

Many students prefer classical or instrumental music in general, as music with lyrics distracts more.

Julia Gardziel, a freshman at DePaul, and Madison Bagby, a sophomore at DePaul, both dancers, said more popular music reminds them of dances they may have done to those songs, which can be distracting from homework.

“You just start dancing in your head,” Bagby said.

In the Spin Education article, Perham said “he found that reading while listening to music, especially music with lyrics, impairs comprehension.”

If students aren’t willing to turn their music off completely, finding something without lyrics would be a better option, he said.

Although listening to music isn’t the best study scenario, it still can be helpful.

“I think it’s a great tool to learn certain things, and to fix it in your head,” Bundra said.

Many people have used songs to remember lists of things — from the alphabet to the 50 states to which bone is connected to the hipbone.

But it depends on the person and how they listen.

Bundra referenced composer Aaron Copland’s book “What to Listen for in Music,” in which he said people listen to music on three different planes — the sensuous plane, the expressive plane and the sheerly musical plane. She said she doesn’t listen to music at home because it doesn’t relax her.

“My mind is analyzing too much,” she said.

For others who don’t have the same music knowledge as Bundra, they might find music distracting. But others don’t. Some can’t listen to music with lyrics; others have it on and don’t even hear it. Some only listen during certain subjects such as math or science, while when reading or writing they can’t listen.

“I think it’s hard for this generation of students to study without music,” Bundra said. “But I think it’s something they should try to do.”