Can listening to music improve your concentration?

pexels-photo-340152Photo: hitesh choudhary / CC0
Try tuning in the next time you have lots of work to get through.

If you’ve ever tried working in a busy office or found it difficult to focus on a task, then you will know that maintaining concentration levels can sometimes be tricky. Whether cramming for a last-minute exam or trying to get a complicated piece of work done, distractions can often get the better of us, which often results in poor productivity. That’s why some people swear by having a soundtrack on in the background when it’s time to concentrate.

And if the continued growth of online streaming is anything to go by, the number of people listening to music while performing tasks is probably a lot higher than most think. But can listening to music help with concentration?

Yes and No 

The answer is not as straightforward as a yes or no. Firstly, the type of task at hand is a defining factor in how well music will help the brain to focus. Well-defined and repetitive, practical tasks are perfect for listening to music as they require only a certain level of input from the brain. When undertaking this kind of task, music helps to improve efficiency and generate feelings of happiness.

However, that doesn’t mean that listening to music when undertaking complicated work is bad for concentration. Research indicates that listening to music engages areas of the brain that deal with paying attention, making predictions, and updating memory. As music activates the left and right brain at the same time when you are listening to it, thus, making it more receptive to learning and functioning at its best. Meaning it’s beneficial to have music playing in the background while you’re performing demanding tasks such as working, studying or playing mental games on your phone. But not all types of music help the brain to behave in this way.

It’s All About the Genre

That’s right, only certain types of music are going to help the brain perform at its best. Some believe that only classical music, with its easy-listening melodies and lack of lyrics, is the best type of music for concentration, which might have something to do with the Mozart effect that was wildly popular back in the early 90s. It appeared after a study found that participants were much better at undertaking spatial rotation performance tests after listening to Mozart.

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Listening to music can help you to focus while playing games.

The study inspired many subsequent studies, all of which found there is a direct link with most types of music and the ability to concentrate. So, don’t worry, you don’t have to only listen to Mozart to get an A on that test. Sure, the slow tempos and soothing melodies of classical music might work for some people, but others find that listening to unfamiliar music is jarring to the brain and reduces their ability to concentrate.

It’s probably because music has a profound impact on our moods. If we are listening to our favorite songs and feeling upbeat and happy, our brain is more likely receptive to learning. However, there is a downside. Songs containing lyrics are not ideal for tasks that require a lot of reading. There is a conflict in the brain as a result of processing the two sources of words, leading to poor performance in the task at hand.

To Listen or Not to Listen

To summarize, listening to music can both hinder and help concentration. It all depends on the task at hand and the type of music playing. The key is to understand the link between the two to maximize productivity. When undertaking repetitive practical tasks or tasks that require a degree of creativity, then listening to upbeat music that you like is an excellent way to enhance efficiency. However, when undertaking tasks that require the brain to understand new concepts or process information, then quieter music without lyrics is better.

So, remember to tailor your soundtrack to each task, and you should see your productivity levels soar.