Have you ever wondered why some people can’t study with music and why some can’t study without it? We have had many parents who have come to me asking why their children insist on studying with music when (parents sense it) it is so obviously distracting and not very conducive to learning.
The truth here is quite nuanced and largely depends on the type of music you are listening to. If you listen to your favorite songs, they might distract you because you will be following the music. It puts you into “active” listening mode, where you focus on the music itself. What is useful during study (or any other task that requires concentration) is “passive listening” when the music creates a sound backdrop for you to focus on whatever you are doing. The type of music that has been found to be the most useful for study is instrumental music. Why is it? Because there are no words to distract the brain.
An interesting caveat here is that if you are a musician or a music student, it may be best to avoid the style of music you are learning or playing when trying to study, as your brain may be more trained to focus. on the music. as the task at hand. So, if you are a Carnatic mridangam player, you might not need to listen to a complex rhythmic piece while preparing for your math exam.
It’s also good to remember that while there are studies to show how the brain relates to music, each of us is unique. My own brother made his way through medical school playing ghazals through late night study sessions and he’s doing very well.
Volume also plays a role: try to make sure it’s at a volume that helps drown out outside noises (like the pressure cooker at home!)
If you’ve never used music while studying, give it a try!
(The authors run SaPa – the Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts)