For my research project, I investigated why students choose to listen to music while studying and what the most popular genre is. I identified trends in the listening habits of BCM212 students and aimed to present the findings that my peers and I can benefit from. I conducted my research with 70 students who participated in an online survey distributed on Twitter with the hashtag #BCM212.
Why do students listen to music?
‘Music is a friend of labour for it lightens the task by refreshing the nerve and spirit of the worker.’ – William Green (quoted in Furnham & Bradley, 1997).
Despite my own dependence on music, I was surprised to learn that 10% ‘rarely’ listened to music while studying. Contrary to my initial hypothesis, most students (30%) answered ‘sometimes’, shortly followed shortly by those who answered ‘usually’ (24.3%) and ‘always’ (21.4%).
The most popular reason for listening to music while studying, answered by 64.3% of respondents, was that it puts them in a better mood for study. One participant responded: “I love to listen to music because it always puts me in a good mood. Sometimes this can help me with studying and other times it can distract me from what I’m doing because I’m thinking too much about what I’m listening to.”
This supports research from The New York Academy of Sciences, that compared the effects of music composed by Wolfgang Mozart and from pop band, Blur. This was based on the Mozart Effect, a study that claimed listening to Mozart increased your spatial intelligence (Schellenberg & Hallam, 2006). This study and my own research concluded that by being in a better mood, students are more likely to persevere with challenging tasks (Byron, 2019). Other reasons students noted was that it prevented students from getting bored (40%) and helped them focus (37.1%).
Although students recognise the positive ways music can help their productivity, many acknowledged it can be distracting to their work. From the 70 survey participants, 26 responses stated music distracts them from concentrating (37.1%) and another 26 responders admitted music distracts them because they sing along (37.1%). This survey question was based on ‘The Perceived Impact of Playing Music While Studying’ that similarly concluded the general agreement that music alleviated boredom but could interfere with concentration (Kotsopoulou & Hallam, 2010).
Studies suggest introverts are more likely to become overstimulated and easily distracted by music while they study (Byron, 2019).
However, I had an even spread of introverts (33 responses), extroverts (27 responses) and those who considered themselves as both (10 responses), and my research did not reflect this, with no distinct difference in each group’s answers.
What is the most popular genre?
The most popular genre BCM212 students listen to while studying is R&B (28.6%), slightly beating Instrumental music (28.7%). While R&B was the most popular genre, it was music typically slower (34.3%) and more familiar (42.9%) to students that were the most common answers.
This again agrees with secondary research indicating listening to music you like can make you feel better (Gillett, 2015). R&B is usually a slower tempo and a lot of today’s pop music can be categorised as R&B. From personal experience, I listen to Hip-Hop when I study but this is a genre that I am familiar with and I can understand that people would find it too wordy to study to.
Lo-Fi (25.7%) is another genre that I listen to while studying when I need to concentrate harder, but again, this is a genre I listen to outside of studying. I fit into the majority of students (71.4%), whose choice of music for study does not vary from their usual listening habits.
Additionally, students are more likely to listen to music softly (48.6%) with only 5 students responding loudly. Many students (44.3%) replied that it depends, with variables including their mood, the difficulty of the task and whether there is background noise.
Is there a solution?
Of the 70 respondents, only 12 linked their own study playlists and another 10 responded with a playlist they listen to but didn’t create. One respondent commented: “I should make my own playlist up. Too lazy.”
With this in mind, I have curated ‘study sounds’, a playlist based on the 45 responses of student’s favourite study songs. From the mainstream hits of Frank Ocean and Travis Scott to soundtrack songs from Spirited Away and Inception, the playlist covers a wide range of what students believe work best for them.
This is not a solution guaranteed to improve your productivity and magically give you better marks. However, it’s a diving board into finding out what music works best for you by providing insight into yours and your peers listening habits. From there, you can create your own playlist to further personalise your study music. If that doesn’t interest you, ‘study sounds’ will remain public and collaborative so you can join in on updating the playlist to benefit your study experience.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to the playlist!
The research I have conducted can conclude that there is not a single type of music that can help all students. While my research is limited in the small cohort of students I surveyed, I believe it accurately represents student’s use of music for studying. The most common finding reveals music can place us in a better mood for productivity, typically if it is slower or familiar to you. I urge students to understand their listening habits and implement strategies to increase their efficiency. By doing so, I hope students choice of music is beneficial to their study and can keep them focused and entertained while studying.
Byron T, ‘Curious Kids: is it OK to listen to music while studying?’, The Conversation, 17 October 2019, viewed 03 June 2020, <https://theconversation.com/curious-kids-is-it-ok-to-listen-to-music-while-studying-125222>.
Furnham A & Bradley A, ‘Music While You Work: The Differential Distraction of Background Music on the Cognitive Test Performance of Introverts and Extroverts’, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 03 January 1997, viewed 03 June 2020, <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/%28SICI%291099-0720%28199710%2911%3A5%3C445%3A%3AAID-ACP472%3E3.0.CO%3B2-R>.
Gillett R, ‘The Best Music For Productivity’, Business Insider, 25 July 2015, viewed 05 June 2020, <https://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-best-music-for-productivity-2015-7>.
Kotsopoulou A & Hallam S, ‘The perceived impact of playing music while studying: Age and cultural differences’ Educational Studies, 08 January 2010, viewed 03 June 2020, <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/240525306_The_perceived_impact_of_playing_music_while_studying_Age_and_cultural_differences>.
Schellenberg E & Hallam S, ‘Music Listening and Cognitive Abilities in 10-and 11-Year-Olds: The Blur Effect’, The New York Academy of Sciences, 18 April 2006, viewed 03 June 2020, <https://nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1196/annals.1360.013>.