Study music: to listen or not to listen?

Last week, one of my classes started up a fascinating discussion about the pros and cons of listening to music while studying.

A few students claimed that their local Top 40 radio station provided the only background tunes they needed, while others found the ads vying for their attention far too annoying. The student who started the discussion maintained that the Mozart station on Pandora is the way to go, calling it "brain music." Still another claimed Lil' Wayne as the ultimate study aid, though how he can ignore the nonstop stream of lyrics and concentrate on American History is beyond my comprehension. Only one (very small) faction said that silence was is way to go.

So who's right?

At least a few scientific studies claim that background music can actually impair your ability to perform memory tasks. In one study, participants were presented with a list of items and then asked to recall the list while in a series of different sound environments. Recall ability was the poorest while the participants were listening to music. So, while you're flipping through vocab flash cards it's probably not a great idea to have Beyoncé blaring in the background.

But what about when you just need to filter out the TV blasting in the living room, your sister practicing her cello, or the construction project happening next door? And how about those times when the silence itself just becomes deafening?

I say figure out what works for you and go with it.

For me, study music doesn't get any better than, which pairs ambient electronic music with (get this) live police scanners. Weird, right? But the result is always hypnotic, often beautiful, and actually helpful (for some, at least) in maintaining concentration. The music filters out external distractions and somehow encourages me to stay in "the zone." It may not be for everyone, but give it a shot. You might like it. You'll need to adjust the volume sliders to find the right ratio of music to police chatter. (I suggest music way up, police scanner just barely audible.)

Or, you could just study with the traditional accompaniment: good old-fashioned peace and quiet.

What study music works for you? Share your tips. We want to know!

Posted on March 22, 2012 and filed under Study Tips.