All of us have different techniques and habits for studying. Listening to music is a popular way for many to focus. It is common for a teacher to play music during work time, or to see people working independently with headphones in. Why is music so popular for studying?
The process of your brain reacting to different events, such as your homework and the noises around you, is called selective attention. Music is a stimulant, which means listening to it requires cognitive processing. Because of this, Franklin psychology and history teacher Greg Garcia only listens to music if he is “in a situation where [he’s] doing something that does not require a lot of cognitive stress.” He says that “because of selective attention, you can either do something really tricky, or listen to music, but you can’t really do both.”
On the other hand, Franklin student Frankie Park (11) consistently uses music to focus. She says that while focusing, “anything inconsistent is a distraction.” Music can be effective in drowning out background noise because of its consistency. “Even if a song is changing, it is still much more constant than other noises,” Park says. Whether you are working at school, home, or a coffee shop, there is always something going on in your surroundings. In general, the beat of a song is much more predictable for your brain than other less consistent noise in the environment. Because of the rhythmic patterns that are often found in songs, a psychological concept called habituation can create focus. If a pattern is consistent, “your nervous system becomes accustomed to it, and even anticipates certain things, and it becomes easier to do things on the beat,” Garcia says.
Without music, Park finds it especially easy to get distracted by side conversations. “When there are people talking, I tend to zone in on their conversation,” Park says. While Garcia has gotten used to side conversations in the classroom over the years, it still takes energy to filter them out. “Part of that is at the expense of my selective attention,” he says. When music can replace background conversations and noises, it is able to create an environment with overall fewer stimuli. In this same way, songs with lyrics require more cognitive strength than those without. Even if you aren’t actively focusing on the lyrics, your brain is still using energy processing the words.
Lofi music has exploded in popularity, and is often advertised as “beats for studying.” It is very common to hear lofi music playing in a classroom, and many YouTube tracks have over 100 million views. In addition to its lack of lyrics, there are many parts of the lofi song that make it so ideal for focus music. Central to lofi songs is a strong, predictable, and repetitive beat. The melodies are often jazzy, and strike the perfect balance between too little and too much energy. But there are other genres of music that people find optimal for focus. Park has found video game music ideal for studying, specifically the Final Fantasy soundtracks. “When you are playing a video game, they want you to be focused on whatever the task is,” she says. “It is designed to keep you focused.” Regardless of the genre, music without lyrics can be an extremely useful tool to help with focus, especially in scenarios that may not require all of your attention and brainpower.