Studying to Background Music: Pros & Cons

There has been a long-running debate about background music and studying. Some students swear on their lives that it’s beneficial. Others prefer nothing more than silence. The studies also have different perspectives and specific limitations.

To put it simply, there is no one definite answer. Music affects the human brain in many different ways. And the result depends on many factors as well, such as what kind of music one listens to and what kinds of tasks they are trying to perform.

In this article, we’ll cover all the pros and cons of background music for study sessions. But keep in mind that individual experiences may vary. For example, some are better visual learners, and others use audible memory. Some students struggle with writing assignments, and others cannot do presentations.

Everyone is different. This is one of the factors that make college education challenging. The curriculum is designed for an average learner without any attention to individual needs. For example, there are lots of written assignments in almost any college.

Not everyone can excel at them similarly. Some students tend to struggle with putting their words together more than others. And all students suffer from lack of time for sure.

It is important to remember that there is help out there. “Could someone write my paper for me?” – one might ask. And the answer is yes. There are academic platforms like WritePaper that offer professional assistance to students.

Whether you need advice, samples, or everything together, they have you covered. And in the free time you’ve got now, you can rest, do other things, or enjoy some great music.

Pros of Background Music for Studying

First of all, let’s start with the positive influence music can have on a person’s learning experience.


Upbeat songs can help keep motivation up. The same way one goes to the gym with a favorite playlist, they can use that for studying. This is especially good for days when a person is low on energy.

Turning the tunes that work for you even for 15 minutes can change the game. And upbeat songs do improve physical performance.

The 2019 research published on PNAS shows that listening to tunes activates reward centers in our brains. So, it can also be a great way to motivate you to learn something. For example, try 15-minute music breaks after finishing a specific duty.

It Helps With Repetitive Tasks

When you are dealing with some repetitive things, listening to songs can be a perfect help. According to the study by Fox and Embrey, constant rhythm allows you to perform routine tasks better. So, in case you are formatting docs or proofreading, try to put something nice on.

That way, you will make such tasks more enjoyable and less mundane.

It Improves One’s Mood

Choosing songs that make you feel better or have a positive tone will improve your overall mood. According to Janina A. M. Lehmann and Tina Seufert’s study, having a good mood improves learning outcomes. You are more productive and more likely to learn new things better.

It Can Boost Focus

Stanford University School of Medicine published a report in 2007 on classical music and focus. Their findings illustrate that classic tunes help the brain absorb new information easily.

Somehow, classical music trains the human brain to pay attention and make predictions on things. So, if you are struggling with a specific topic or subject, this might be quite helpful.

It Helps Memorize Information

Another benefit of classical music is that it contributes to your memory. However, the study suggesting this was conducted on older adults. But it is known that music stimulates the brain the way exercises stimulate one’s body.

For example, learning to play an instrument is as effective for personal development as learning a new language.

It Can Reduce Stress and Depression

Burnout is a common issue in college. Constant stress, exhaustion, and often lack of sleep may lead to that. Burnout may lead to other complications, such as depression.

Music can improve your mood: listening to positive or feel-good songs breaks the hormonal cycle of stress. Stanford University scientists claim that music can alter brain functioning to the same extent as meditation.

It Cancels Noise Pollution

Headphones are great for that. Whether you are studying in a café, library, or in a dorm, there might be some irritative sounds around, like people talking on the phone or your roommate playing video games. If the choice is between those sounds and your playlist, the latter is always better.

Cons of Background Music

If there were only the positive effects, they’d probably play some tunes in libraries. But there are several ways it can hurt your studying.

It May Be Distracting

The main reason many students prefer silence is that any sound is distracting. Your brain will still use some of its energy to process sounds. Any songs with words are the most distracting, especially if you can understand the lyrics.

It is particularly distracting to listen to something new rather than the tunes you know well. The more new information a brain has to process, the harder it will be for it to concentrate.

The worst time to be distracted like that is when working on verbal tasks or anything concerning language.

It Can Reduce Working Memory

Working memory is important to solve problems, learn, or perform other cognitive tasks. The more things you can remember at a time (a grocery list, for example), the higher the working memory capacity is.

But listening to music while learning will reduce that capacity. It is another source of information the brain has to deal with at the same time.

It Can Make Comprehension Harder

Depending on the type of songs you prefer, it can be bad for reading. If it is fast, loud, and has lyrics in it, it can hinder the understanding while reading. But a better choice can be classical music or something with a slow tempo and no words.

It Can Decrease Productivity

There are several reasons for that. First of all, the brain still has to process that as an additional stimulus. Secondly, one might get distracted by singing along. Thirdly, one might be too concerned with what to listen to rather than learning. Overall, it can decrease productivity by 10%.

It May Trigger Emotional Response

Songs can trigger memories and feelings. And not all of those are positive. Try to avoid listening to something that can evoke bad memories in you. Do not put something sad on while you need to learn.

After all, you do not need to remind yourself about the heartbreak when trying to learn string theory.

How to Make It Better

If you need background music and want to make it more effective, here are some tips:

  • choose ambient noises as they may improve creativity;
  • try classical music;
  • avoid songs with lyrics;
  • try something slow and instrumental, especially when reading;
  • keep the volume reasonable;
  • do not put on songs you feel strongly about (especially if the feeling is bad);
  • avoid streaming with ads; those are distracting.

Try other sounds, like nature, white noise, or binaural tones.


It is a personal preference whether to put something on or not when learning. But when you do, try to make a decision beforehand and base it on a specific context. The best styles for learning are usually ambient, downtempo, and classic. 

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