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The Science Behind Your Study Playlist

Whether it's the hit songs blasting from our speakers or the melodies pulsing through our earbuds, we love music. With the ability to engage, excite, and embrace us with feeling, it is no wonder that music has made its way into everyday life. But is there a right time and place for it? Are there activities in which music does not belong?

The effect of music while studying has been assessed and debated for decades. Studies investigating this practice have varied in conclusions—some finding a positive relation between music and learning, some declaring a negative impact, and others finding little to no effect at all. There is no definite answer to the effectiveness of music during study sessions; rather, it depends on both the type of music and the listener's characteristics.

Nonetheless, music can help stimulate the brain and boost your mood, which can improve your studying performance. As Healthline puts it, "It mostly helps in indirect ways, but those benefits can still make a big difference." With that said, you may be wondering about the powers within your study playlist. In this article, analyze the pros and cons of your favorite study music, and discover the best sound environment to help your productivity levels soar!

Upbeat Songs

Your favorite upbeat songs are great for jamming out and singing along, but consequently, they may also be distracting during a study session. A 2011 study investigating the effect of background music on reading comprehension found that loud and fast music is likely the culprit for the disruption of focus and substandard reading performance. However, according to the University of Wollongong, the music you love can boost your mood. This is important to motivate and engage yourself in your work.


  • Boosts mood, which can improve studying performance

  • Reduces stress or anxiety—factors that can negatively affect performance

  • It acts as an incentive for learning and keeps you motivated and engaged


  • May be distracting and hinder one’s ability to focus

  • Loud and fast music is disruptive to reading comprehension

  • Songs that are too wordy, too noisy, or that evoke strong negative emotions (such as anger or sadness) can have an adverse effect on mood, and thus studying performance

Overall, it is vital to ensure that your music does not distract from your studies. If you find this happening, you can experiment with your songs' volume and intensity or opt for a different study sound in this article. Some professionals recommend allocating your favorite tunes to listen to before a study session or during breaks!

Instrumental Music

If you find the upbeat pop hits overtaking your focus while studying, you may wish to consider instrumental music. From soft ambient tones to atmospheric electronic beats, the calming rhythms of instrumental music can increase focus, and the absence of lyrics provides a minimal distraction. Studies have shown that ambient music can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety levels in a listener, placing them in a calm state that can enhance cognitive function. As another good plus, you may even find various instrumental and ambient music types that can boost your creativity!

Quiet Quest - Study Music on YouTube pairs

relaxing music with stunning views of nature.

Classical music

According to Classic FM, the Mozart Effect is a theory that stems from a 1993 study conducted at the University of California, Irvine. From it and similar tasks that followed, researchers found that listening to classical music, specifically, Mozart's sonata, improves an individual's spatial reasoning and thereby makes them "smarter." However, if the magical ability of Mozart's composition to incite your brilliance sounds too good to be true, it likely is. Since then, multiple studies have refuted this direct relation, suggesting that music, in general, affects arousal and mood, ultimately improving learning performance. Nonetheless, classical music is an excellent option for study music, and with exploration and experimentation, you may find that it suits you!


  • Improve emotional state and lessen stress or anxiety

  • Works well as background music and contains no distracting elements

  • Research has shown that it can stimulate the brain and maximize information retention


  • May lack an excitement-provoking aspect, especially among teenagers

  • There is controversy surrounding the direct relationship between classical music and brain function, as many scientific studies coming to this conclusion have been debunked

Classical music also varies in tempo and strength, ranging from solo instrument melodies to orchestra music. Whatever suits your taste, keep in mind that moderate or low-level music is ideal for achieving maximal focusing and minimal distraction during your study sessions.

This playlist on YouTube features music from

the greatest classical composers of all time.

Nature Sounds

Perhaps you are not looking for music to create a relaxing study space, but instead, the mesmerizing nature sounds. With the endless nature playlists on YouTube or streaming services, you can immerse yourself in a stress-free environment, whether it be a tropical beach, an exotic jungle, or a rainy day. Nature sounds also come in handy if you are seeking tranquility in a loud and noisy workspace. A study conducted at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that "playing natural sounds such as flowing water in offices could boost worker moods and improve cognitive abilities in addition to providing speech privacy."

This Spotify playlist features 80 sounds of nature ranging from

thunderstorms to calm waves and birds in flight to jungle ambiance.

Or perhaps you work best in the familiar environment of a cafe or restaurant. Coffitivity is an app that recreates these ambient sounds to improve creativity and overall working performance. Now you can take your study session back to a pre-pandemic time amidst the soft chatter of a cafe!

White noise

On the other hand, you may find background noise distracting and a drawback in your study sessions. As Desk Time explains, white noise is a composition of the different sound frequencies on the auditory scale, similar to white light in color frequencies. It has the effect of silencing disruptive background noises while an individual is studying. Research conducted in 2017 had presented findings that when healthy young adults listened to white noise during new-word learning, it considerably enhanced their accuracy over time. With additional abilities to enrich concentration and ease anxiety, white noise is a great tool to pair with your study sessions.


Music and its effect on brain function and productivity are relative to the listener. While some may excel in stimulating high-energy environments, others might prefer calmer conditions. While some may experience maximal concentration levels listening to classical music, others might focus best in silence. Your ideal study music can also vary depending on the task at hand. Ultimately, you are free to experiment with all types of study sounds, and from there, may the greatest study playlists be formed!

Featured image is courtesy of Miguel Á. Padriñán via Pexels.

Article Author: Victoria Huang

Article Editors: Valerie Shirobokov, Edie Whittington