During the semester, I researched why students listened to music while studying and what the most popular genre is. This is a well-researched topic from academics across the world and the starting point of my research began by looking at the Mozart Effect. This was a study that I was familiar with, but by investigating further into it, and the studies that followed, I recognised that there were two angles I could take.
The first angle could focus on the scientific side, looking at the cognitive benefits that music has on us while studying. However, I decided to steer away from this and look at how music makes students feel while studying and how by better understanding this, we can improve our productivity.
Approaching my primary research, I began with a survey I made on Google Forms and distributed it through Twitter. It consisted of 12 questions, collecting quantitative and qualitative from the 70 respondents were answered. I would’ve liked to have received more answers and I could have achieved this by being more interactive with the Hong Kong BCM210 class. That being said, I was pretty active on Twitter and this gained responses from 35% of the entire BCM212 cohort.
Originally, I was going to conduct a content analysis on the study playlists of BCM212 students. After my survey though, only 12 participants had linked their own playlists indicating that people use others more than creating their own. Due to the previously stated and time constraints, I decided against the content analysis and thought of the idea to create a study playlist. This playlist would be a collaborative effort that would act as an experiment for students to listen and determine what music works best for them.
This was a topic that I am extremely passionate about and I was excited to research it. I had previous experience in ethical research so I did not find that aspect too challenging, however, what I did find difficult was narrowing my subject matter. I divided my research project into three sections: Why do students listen to music?, what is the most popular genre? and is there a solution? This allowed me to highlight important findings, compare these to secondary sources and present a possible solution.
I’m satisfied with my work throughout this semester and while I recognise the ways in which I could have improved my work, I think I created a well-written and useful piece of academic writing that has helped me learn about my studying habits and will hopefully be of benefit to those who read it.
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.
In the laziest form of journalism (yes I’m talking to you, Buzzfeed), my university student experience can be summarised in a single gif.
According to Radio Live’s 2019 ‘Share of Audio‘ study, Australians spend 3 hours and 28 minutes listening to audio every day, with this number being increased by 7 minutes from the previous year (Hishon, 2019). With aspirations of being a music journalist, I have a strong passion for writing and researching music. I’m constantly listening to music throughout the day, while exercising, cooking, working and studying. Whether carefully planned or executed last minute, studying is a key aspect of every university student’s experience.
With this in mind, I wanted to explore the use of music during study. My initial research questions included why do we listen to music while studying, what the most/least popular genre is and if this differs to students typical listening habits. Knowing this would be a wide area to attempt to cover within one semester of research, I considered what facet of this topic would be most achievable, relevant and timely. Narrowing my research topic down, I’ve decided to investigate what music is the most and least popular genre to study to and whether this differs from individuals usual music taste. This research aims to enhance students understanding of studying and music listening habits to improve their productivity and ideally, their results.
Fortunately, this topic has been well researched in recent years through the commonly debated, Mozart Effect, and increase of music accessibility through streaming services. The sound theory, known as the Mozart Effect, was first theorised by Dr Gordon L. Shaw in 1993 where he claimed that students perform better after listening to Classical composer, Wolfgang Mozart (Hershenson, 2000). Despite the theory being disproven, the Mozart Effect is still the catalyst of my research in looking at the relationship between music and studying (Hamer, 2016). Focusing less on science, my research aims to identify what music different students listen to and how they believe this influences their studying experience.