The research has proven that people who play musical instruments are better at math and science but does listening to music while studying these subjects help you to learn? And what type of music is the best to listening to when studying math?
Better Mood = Higher Scores
We have all heard of the Mozart Effect where children who listened to Mozart were better at math and science. In 1993, the original research claimed that after listening to Mozart for 10 mins, children tested higher on spatial reasoning tasks. Further research was not able to reproduce the results and found it was more likely the results were because music put us in a better mood.
In 1990, The Blur Effect was a study that found that 10 and 11 year olds tested higher than anything seen in the Mozart effect study after listening to contemporary pop music compared with the other group who listened to music by Mozart. The findings supported that positive benefits of music listening on cognitive abilities are most likely to be evident when the listener enjoys the music.
Working Memory and The Brain’s Ability to Group
When we study, we use our working memory. This is the brain’s ability to manage multiple pieces of information at the same time. There is a limit to how many that is, and it varies with age and personal ability. Let’s say the limit for a person is 12 and each circle represents a piece of information.
When 12 pieces of information come into the brain, it has reached its capacity, so it will be busy managing those 12 pieces. It can’t take in more because maximum capacity has been reached so until something has been discarded or used in a different way, no new information can be added.
But the brain has an uncanny ability to be able to group things together.
When information is seen as a “group” then these 12 pieces of information become 3 groups (or 3 pieces) of information. Now the brain has space for 9 new pieces of information. The better our brains are at grouping, the more information we can juggle at the same time.
Music is full of patterns. Patterns in melodies, in harmonies, in rhythms. Repeated patterns can be seen in the chorus in songs and in lyrics and phrases that are repetitive.
The more we listen to music, the better our brain’s ability is at recognizing and putting information into groups, but does that mean that listening to music DURING study does the same thing?
Music & Math use the Same Part of the Brain
Much research has been done about the correlation between math and music and it has supported the theory that parts of both are processed in the same part of the brain. A study in 2012 found that listening to music during math lessons or during a math test improved children’s overall ability in math and helped them to achieve up to 40% higher in examinations.
Various parts of music are processed in both hemispheres of the brain differently and have the potential to create an increased ability for balance, making it easier to retain math concepts.
Is it Good to Listen to Music While Doing Math?
This depends on the type of person you are. There is no “one size” approach to this question. You may find that music distracts you and you end up reading the same question 10 times because all you can concentrate on is the music.
While the research clearly shows that it can help, it is not a guarantee that it will for every individual, so you need to know how your brain works and how distracted you get.
If you have never studied with music on before, suddenly turning on the radio is not going to make you a math genius overnight.
Are You Easily Distracted?
One point to consider is if you are easily distracted. As individuals, we have different preferences and needs and for some, any distraction hijacks our ability to concentrate.
If you are the type of person that gets distracted by noise, or talking, then music may not be your best option, or maybe instrumental music is ok but not words with lyrics (that you might start singing along to which would take your concentration off what you are studying.
It may take some experimentation. The research is clear that it CAN be beneficial but there are some things to consider.
Here are some ideas to try to see if it might work for you:
- Start with something that is quiet in the background and see if you can study without distractions.
- Play just instrumental music
- Try music with words
- Try music you really love (any sort of music)
- Try classical music
- Try different volume levels
Is it Best to Use Headphones or Speakers?
Once again this depends on you. Headphones are always going to be closer to the brain and stimulate the auditory system in a much more active way than speakers. However, it is a personal preference.
Some people may find headphones distracting, while others may find it helps to have them drown out other distracting noise in the room.
Some people may prefer sound played through speakers while others may be more distracted hearing a mix of room noise and music.
Whichever method you use, make sure the volume is at a safe level for your hearing.
What Type of Music Should I listen To When Doing Math?
Once again, this will depend on the type of person you are. If we look at the previous research that was mentioned, music that you like has a positive effect on the brain. It raises your mood, makes you more patient and able to persevere with working out problems and study.
That type of music will be different for everyone. The research doesn’t suggest any particular type of music is better than another, but the most crucial factor is that you like it.
Here are some suggestions and potential issues that may arise:
|Types of Music||Potential Issues|
|Instrumental Relaxation Music||Depending on the type of music, it could relax you too much|
Anything 4- = 60 beats per minute will align with your heartrate and will make you more drowsy
|Classical Music||You may not be used to classical music. You may find the high pitch of strings annoying and the structure of the music foreign.|
|Pop/Modern Music||Could be distracting, especially if you are someone who starts to sing along to the lyrics – although research has proven that music you like puts you in a good mood and helps you to have more patience and the ability to stick with something longer|
|Songs with Lyrics||Could be distracting if you want to sing along – you will find yourself occupying your brain with lyrics and not math equations.|
Words that are less wordy will be less distracting
|Rap Music||This has the largest potential to be distracting because it has the largest number of words in the shortest timeframe|
Remember our working memory? The more words, the more it ties up your working memory.
Consistency is Important
Music can be used to train your brain to help with memory. For example, if you listen to the SAME music when you are studying for an exam and when you take the exam it can help with recall.
This would need to be one over a period of time and consistently, but it has been proven to work.
Even if you are just using music as a background as you study, keep consistent. If you are finding you don’t get distracted, then always study with music on.
Using Music as an Aide to Learn
If you are the sort of person who remembers tunes, then why not make up songs using familiar melodies set with the words of math equations or other facts you need to remember.
This has proven to be an effective method for musically inclined people to help them to remember all sorts of facts. Singing the song in your mind helps you to remember the information learned and is a positive help for recall.
So is it a Good Idea to Listen to Music when Studying Math or not?
It all comes down to the type of person you are, whether you get easily distracted by music, or whether it helps you to concentrate. While it is a personal choice, the research suggests some things to consider:
- Music with less words will be less distracting
- Don’t use relaxation music with mostly low tones and a slow beat
- Make sure it is music you like
- Don’t have the volume too loud
- Are you an easily distracted person?
- Do you need quiet to study?