Music: enhancing your study?

Berthold Auerbach once said that “Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” After returning home from a stressful day, many of us try to recuperate by tuning in to some of our favourite tracks. Regardless of whether it’s Drake, Adele or Bullet For My Valentine, this usually helps us relax and bring our mind at ease. Yet, some of us may continue listening even while studying. Though this is enjoyable, does listening to music really enable you to focus better or are you in reality hindering your performance?

Most people I have asked said music really helped them. By playing music in the background, they were able to focus and complete the task. Several past studies have also emphasised these points. They have shown that listening to music improves attention, mental arithmetic skills and even alleviates anxiety. However, a recent study at the University of Wales offered varied findings to this theory. The study investigated into how background music affected a student’s ability to recall a list of consonants in a particular order. The results demonstrated that music hinders short-term memory and participants remembered fewer items compared to when they performed the task in a quiet environment. It was also revealed that recall memory was poor when the music was constantly changed and musical preference had little effect on performance. So sorry guys, guilty pleasures won’t help! The overall conclusion drawn was that silence is golden while studying, as students performed best when they were in an environment of silence or had steady state sound, which could easily be tuned out.

One must note however, that the effect of music on each participant did vary greatly and some individuals performed better with background music. Also, the music used in this particular study had lyrics and it is likely participants would have been encouraged to sing along; this can greatly alter ones concentration. Conversely, instrumental music helps one study. It heightens concentration. Thus, individuals with concentration difficulties are therefore urged to listen to classical music while studying.

Regardless of whether you listen to music while studying, music certainly has many benefits. It improves mood, helping build confidence and reduces the likelihood of associating negative thoughts with the task you are completing. Many recent studies have suggested music therapy should be given to medical students when experiencing episodes of stress or depression. Playing an instrument also helps improve cognitive function, keeps the mind relaxed and improves performance with logical tasks. Amal Lad, a musical artist studying at Barts and the London states “As a guitar player, I find that my instrument is an outlet for my mind. It helps me release any built up frustration and gives life to emotions that cannot be put to words. I find music to be an immense source of confidence and self-empowerment which motivates me to work as a medical student. Music is the study of my mind and my purpose in life, whereas medicine is the study of the body and how we can serve the world around us using our skills.” Personally a short ten minute break with any music certainly improves concentration and prevents me being distracted and digressing onto new ventures.

The answer to this question is therefore two sided, there is no right or wrong answer and is entirely dependent of the individual. Music can be a great aid while studying but for optimum results, choose something instrumental so you won’t fall into the trap of singing away in harmony before realising you’re not at a karaoke and an hour of your precious time has flown by. After all, I’m sure such a scenario is one many of us can relate to. If you really want to listen to a few of your favourite songs, take a short break but be disciplined!

By Shivali Patel

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