Are you looking to improve your students or your own performance with music?
Would you like some more reasons to support music in schools and in classrooms?
Among the many (many) benefits of music is the ability to focus better when listening to and performing music.
But why does music help you focus?
Listening to and performing music improves focus by activating both hemispheres of the brain, reducing stress, decreasing performance anxiety, and increase memory. The most gains are seen when performing music, and the next are listening to classical music between 60-70 beats per minute.
Read on for more details to help advocate for music.
How Does Music Help You Focus?
Music helps you focus in several ways. All of these have been studied and proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Activates Both Hemispheres
Dr. Marsha Godwin, professor at North Central University explain that listening to certain types of music, we can activate both the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
By activating both sides of the brain, you can improve brain function. This results in a feeling of better focus along with the other benefits below.
Listening to music can also reduce stress which allows your body to focus on its task rather than trying to activate its stress defenses.
Soothing music, more formulaic classical music at a slower tempo of 60-70 bpm, is shown to physically alter the body’s stress response including these ways:
- Decrease blood pressure
- Decrease heart rate
- Anxiety-response chemicals
This information comes from the University of Maryland Medical Center.
The stress reduction may also be one of the reasons music students get better grades.
Decrease Performance Anxiety
Testing and performance anxiety is no joke. One of my relatives struggled to pass tests regularly and would need to retake a test multiple times to demonstrate knowledge she definitely had.
However, on learning more about music, she was able to work out with her professors to listen to low tempo music while taking the test. Her anxiety decreased significantly, and focus was able to increase.
While this may not always be an option during a test, studying, or playing music, listening to the focus types of music beforehand can still impact your brain and emotional response for a time after you’re done listening.
As you listen to or perform music, you activate both hemispheres of the brain, as we said before. But this whole brain activation also increases the neuron activity in your brain and allows it to build more pathways easier.
This path-building results in increased memory. On top of this, your brain will associate the music with specific informational and emotional events which increases memory as well through association.
This metaphor may help you understand music’s impact better:
Studying a set of vocabulary words by rote practice and just looking at it over and over again builds one set of connections in the brain. Do this enough times and the path becomes a well-worn trail you can walk easily.
Studying the same vocabulary words in different ways including music which activates more of the brain results in a 10-lane super-highway being built to the information. Now your brain can get there at 150mph with no effort.
The result is the same, but maybe now you can see why this can seem to help focus. You don’t have to work as hard to remember information.
Does Music Affect Concentration?
A 2007 study by Stanford University looked at how the brain activates when listening to music. They found music engages the parts of the brain specifically involving:
- Paying attention (focus)
- Making predictions
- Updating the event in memory
Interestingly, they found the highest engagement of the brain occurs during a transition between movements and at the end of the piece. They describe the engagement as consistent with all members of the study at high amounts of focus.
For music, they used the works of Baroque composers such as J.S. Bach.
They suggest that music is effective at increasing focus because the brain practices segmenting all the continual information it’s receiving.
This makes sense logically because of classical music (specifically, Baroque, Classical, and Romantic period music) and its more organized nature.
To get the brain bump, students and performers should listen to this style of music while they work or right before. At this point, the brain is primed for this focus and segmentation.
Is Studying With Music Good Or Bad?
Studying with music can be good if you do it correctly. The music you choose to listen to makes all the difference, so pick with these elements in mind (ranked from most to least effective):
- Tempo 60-70 bpm (or at least <100 bpm)
- Classical genre
- Minor key
- Low volume
- Instrumental or solo voice
- Multiple movements
- Music you recognize and enjoy
Altering these elements can still result in a bump in “brain power”, but the more that are in place, the better.
Try to get at least 3 out of the 7 when using a playlist for every song on the list.
Note: This is specifically for focus and studying with music. If you’d like to get your body prepared for something physical, choose upbeat music you like.
Warning! There are some studies which show music loud, aggressive, and fast to actually distract you and reduce studying effectiveness.
Music To Listen To For Focus
Many people have different songs enjoy listening to for increased focus, but it can be hard to build your own list.
In this section, I’ll offer some of my favorite groups for listening to music while working which fit most of the requirements from the last section.
Classical Songs List
- Concerto in La Maggiore, I. Allegro by Vivaldi
- Piano Concerto No. 5 in Eb Major, II. Adagio un poco mosso by Beethoven
- Suite No. 3 in D by J.S. Bach
- Concerto for Flute and Harp in C Major, II. Andantino by Mozart
- Sonata No. 8 in C minor, II. by Beethoven
- Concerto for 2 Violins in D Minor, II. Largo by J.S. Bach
- Clair de Lune by Debussy
- Bach Cello Suite No. 1 by J.S. Bach
- Concerto No. 5 in A Major, II. Adagio by Mozart
- Adagio for Strings by Barber
Find the Instrumental Focus playlist on YouTube.
Note: There are also many “playlists for studying” on platforms like Spotify. This one is called 60bpm Baroque & Study Listening Music (although it’s not all Baroque, it’s still pretty good).
Personal Favorite List
- “Blackbird” by the Beatles
- “I And Love And You” by Avett Brothers
- “Rivers and Roads” by the Head and the Heart
- “Something” by the Beatles
- “Awake My Soul” by Mumford and Sons
- “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor
- “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel
- “Candle in the Wind” by Elton John
- “She’s Always a Woman” by Billy Joel
- “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” by Bob Dylan
Find the Favorite Focus Music playlist on YouTube.
- “Sing” by Ed Sheeran
- “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac
- “True Colors” by Timberlake and Kendrick
- “Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Cooper
- “Say Something” by A Great Big World and Christine Aguilera
- “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts
- “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars
- “All of Me” by John Legend
- “Remember When” by Alan Jackson
- “FourFiveSeconds” by Rhianna, West, and McCartney
Find the Mainstream Focus Music playlist on YouTube.
I hope you enjoyed learning why music does help you focus. All the mental, emotional, and memory boosts you get increase your focus and success in studying or learning.
If you can, pick something from the classical genre, such as Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven at a tempo of 60-70 beats per minute.
Are there pieces of music you love to listen to while studying or learning? Let us know in the comments below!