Background Music with Schoolwork: Great Satisfaction or a Distraction?



For sophomore Mia Rovinsky, listening to music while studying is not a distraction, but rather is a help.

Rachel Tuman, Staff Reporter

Music is everywhere. It is on televisions, public transportation, stores, and even in doctor’s offices. There is practically unlimited access to any genres of music due to this increasingly digital age. When it almost seems that there is no escape from this distracting pandemonium, many people, specifically students, look to music for peace of mind: a satisfaction. Ludwig van Beethoven famously once said, “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.” As a famous composer, his music is still very influential in academic settings. In fact, many people play his music while in an academic environment to focus. While it might seem counterintuitive to have background music on while completing difficult schoolwork, various scholarly studies have proven otherwise. People with a relatively high working memory capacity that listen to music while studying, retain and comprehend more, leading to higher productivity and better understanding of the academic material.

At first glance, it might seem that music could distract anxious students trying to learn their respective schoolwork and information. While this is a valid argument, many scholarly studies have proven otherwise. Background music surprisingly stimulates arousal in the brain’s functions, as well as improve cognitive performance in individuals. Music arouses the brain to pay more attention and to process information more efficiently. Arousal describes physical activation in the body, more specifically, the mind. Background music can either increase or decrease arousal during study sessions, based on the tempo of the song. People with insufficient arousal tend to stray off the academic task because they are not focused. Conversely, too much arousal can lead to alarming rates of anxiety and rumination on certain aspects of their academic situation or performance.

Yet, a person’s educational success while listening to background music is not universal. Simultaneously studying and listening to background music is a complicated activity to perfect. All outcomes and factors depend on the individual’s working memory capacity. Working memory capacity is a cognitive system responsible for temporarily storing information for processing. A learner’s working memory capacity is a crucial part in processing and sorting educational material.

According to Lehmann and Seufert, “The higher a learner’s working memory capacity, the better they learn with background music. Whilst processing the music, they still have enough capacity left for the main learning task.” Consequently, learners with lower working memory capacity will be overburdened by both the academic material, and the background music. The music could be considered a distraction for people with low working memory capacity, henceforth, hindering their academic performance.

However, when attempting to foster retention and understanding for high-capacity learners, one should use a piece of music without lyrics. More specifically, background music with an ideal brain arousal level is heavily suggested for maximum performance. Undoubtedly, in an academic setting, there are various levels of working memory capacity throughout the individuals. As previously stated, to be able to concurrently understand the educational material, and also benefit from the background music, the learner’s working memory capacity must be relatively high.

Additionally, specific characteristics of music, like tempo and intensity, have a major impact on retention and comprehension during an academic performance. Learners have individualized techniques with their usage of music in academic settings. Sophomore Emilie McAllister prefers to listen to music while studying. “It helps me concentrate on what I’m doing, especially with headphones on because it blocks out all other distractions.”

Musical techniques can help the brain organize incoming information more efficiently. Some might consider music as motivational, or relaxing, while others might consider it a distraction. Although music can be a distraction during studying if not utilized properly, it can also have favorable outcomes. Music from composers like Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven can be extremely effective for students to mentally categorize their topics and materials. In another sense, background music can substantially reduce high stress levels in both healthy individuals, as well as those with health problems. Research from the University of Maryland Medical Center found that “…listening to soothing music can decrease blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety levels.”

These symptoms are prevalent in stressed, overworked students studying for multiple subjects. Soothing music can decrease harmful factors caused by medical, emotional, environmental, or even genetic aspects. For instance, research confirms that classical music, such as Mozart and Bach effectively treat insomnia and anxiety in students. Sophomore Mia Rovinsky believes that listening to background music while studying is “Very advantageous and beneficial because it helps me de-stress after a tiring day.”

In conclusion, background music stimulates arousal in the brain’s functions, as well as improves cognitive performance in individuals. As proven, students with a relatively high working memory capacity retain and comprehend academic material with greater success while listening to background music. Moreover, this simple activity directly increases productivity, emotional health, and a better understanding of the material. Background music is the ultimate key to a more focused, healthier, and efficient study session or academic task!