November 3, 2020
School can be intense, especially during exam season. You find yourself spending all your free time studying, working on projects, reviewing assignments, pouring over practice tests, and doing everything you can to prepare yourself. But have you really tried everything? What do you listen to when you study––a favorite playlist, a babbling brook, nothing at all? A wealth of scientific research has found a new way for you to boost your academic performance: listening to classical music for studying!
This simple practice can boost your grades and help you retain information, so give classical music a try and see if it becomes a helpful habit for life! You might find that you finally get the exam scores you’ve been craving, and feel healthier and happier in the process. Here’s why classical music for studying works for so many people:
Scientifically Significant Study Benefits
You may be familiar with the rumored brainpower phenomenon called the “Mozart Effect.” A 1993 linked the effects of listening to Mozart with an increase in IQ, spurring an increase in the popularity of classical music for studying. The study demonstrated that participants who listened to Mozart tended to score higher on subsequent IQ tests. While this specific research is now widely discredited, it has been replaced by a plethora of well-respected studies demonstrating that there are definite academic effects derived from listening to classical music for studying.
Research conducted in a French university found that when students listened to classical music for studying, their academic performance improved. In this study, two groups of students watched a lecture, one with classical music in the background and one without. The students who listened to the music scored higher on a lecture quiz than the other group.
Another study suggests that students are able to focus better and study longer with classical music playing in the background, leading them to perform up to 12% better on exams than their peers. The absence of words in classical music might decrease distractions and could account for the improved focus amongst listeners.
Classical music for studying can boost academic performance in creative classes as well because it increases divergent thinking. Divergent thinking, or the ability to come up with new and innovative concepts, is the backbone of creativity. A 2017 study from Goethe-Universitat in Frankfurt, Germany, tied listening to “happy music” to enhanced divergent thinking, meaning happy music makes you more creative. Classical music is commonly considered both positive and energetic, and thus encourages creativity. Working on a final project for an art or film class? Trying to find a new way to approach a complex calculus question? Or just feeling stuck in general? Find a classical playlist. Classical music for studying gets your creative juices flowing and puts you in a mindset open to innovation and discovery.
Turn on some Mozart, because studying with classical music has also been shown to increase productivity. A UK-based experiment paired a classical radio station with a psychologist to see if British office workers would be more productive while listening to artists such as Beethoven and Bach. They found a 15% increase in productivity when participants completed a task listening to classical music, versus working in silence. By blocking out noises and distractions, classical music can increase your focus, leading to improved productivity. Apply these findings to your own study habits and get more done in less time!
Plus if you find yourself losing sleep due to exam stress, listen to this. Researchers at the University of Toronto found that classical music can combat insomnia and improve sleep. With 60% of college students habitually getting less than 7 hours of sleep, finding ways to improve sleep quality is of paramount importance. Improving sleep quality is a tried and true strategy to increase cognitive performance, paving the way for better understanding of school subjects.
A study conducted by Baylor University found evidence that listening to classical music for studying both during lectures and while sleeping can trigger targeted memory reactivation (TMR). During this process, the music triggers the brain to move the concepts learned during studying to more permanent memory storage. The students exposed to classical music for studying both during lecture and sleep performed 18% better on the test than the control group. So try turning on classical music to help you study and sleep! But that’s not all, listening to classical music for studying offers a number of physical and emotional health benefits too!
When you listen to classical music, it improves your overall health quality by reducing stress. Researchers at the Duke Cancer Institute found that blood pressure actually decreases as individuals enjoy music. However, this effect was only observed in participants who listened to classical music, not jazz, pop, or other genres tested in this study. So, if you like to read with the music in the background, but feel it hasn’t helped you improve exam scores or relax, you may want to try switching to calming classical music for studying.
Music with too many dynamic changes, unpredictable rhythms, lyrics, or jarring instruments will serve to distract rather than calm, so be intentional in your music choices. Classical music has been found to reduce stress as a result of its specific, unique musical qualities: the slow, rhythmic tempo of classical music is similar to the natural pace of the human heartbeat, encouraging your body to calm down, lower your heart rate, and de-stress. Its patterns and textures allow your brain to expand as you listen, without over exciting your body.
Not only do these physical benefits help you study better, but decreased blood pressure and lowered anxiety contribute to a healthier lifestyle for years to come. Making classical music a part of your daily routine, even on the days you take a break from studying, will certainly pay off in the long run.
Listening to classical music for studying produces a wealth of emotional benefits on top of the physical benefits. When the “Mozart Effect” was debunked, researchers replaced it with a new theory. They determined that while listening to Mozart didn’t necessarily cause increases in IQ, it did improve mood. Listening to Mozart’s music causes the brain to release more dopamine, a hormone known for improving mood and producing a ‘feel-good’ effect. These increased dopamine levels were tied to improved feelings of happiness among listeners. Happier participants tended to perform better on evaluations.
Increased dopamine also makes classical music a tool for fighting the symptoms of depression. If you tend to feel discouraged while tackling a difficult class, classical music for studying can help improve your mood and keep you on track for success. And not only that: by improving your emotional state, classical music actually makes your brain more receptive to new information. By getting you into a good headspace, classical music for studying prepares you to tackle any academic challenge.
Ready to pop in your headphones and play some classical music for studying? There is an endless variety of classical music playlists online to choose from! From hours long YouTube videos to specially curated Spotify playlists, your options are inexhaustible. Taking a bit of time to find the perfect blend for you is definitely worth it.
A good general rule to follow is: skip the big orchestral selections! Pieces with huge dynamic changes that range from whispers to crashes are too busy and distracting for your purposes. The 1812 Overture, for instance, will probably have the opposite of the intended effect and increase your heart rate and anxiety.
Try to stick with simple pieces to avoid inadvertently distracting yourself. Classical radio station producer Alan Chapman recommends solo piano pieces by Mozart, Poulenc, Debussy, or Fauré, gentle guitar music, Bach lute suites, and Elizabethan consort music written in the 16th century.
To help you get started, here’s a list of classical pieces to study to that we recommend:
- Goldberg Variations, by Johann Sebastian Bach
- The Four Seasons, by Antonio Vivaldi
- Für Elise, by Beethoven
- Canon in D, by Johann Pachelbel
- Clair De Lune, by Claude Debussy
- Piano Concerto No. 23, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- Salzburg Symphony No. 1 (‘Divertimento in D major’), by Mozart
- Gymnopédie No. 1, by Erik Satie
- Academic Festival Overture, by Johannes Brahms
- Etudes, by Frédéric Chopin
- The Hours, by Philip Glass
- Moonlight Sonata (I), by Beethoven
- Organ Concertos, by George Frideric Handel
- The Blue Danube Waltz, by Johann Strauss II
Exam season is challenging, exhausting, and stressful, but now you have another tool to get through it. Listening to classical music for studying has been proven to have a wealth of benefits on your mental, physical, and emotional health. It decreases your stress and anxiety, brings down your heart rate and blood pressure, and helps your retention skills by enhancing memory capabilities. Further, it releases dopamine to improve your mood and fight depression, increases your creative capacity, and improves productivity. The scientific studies point to classical music as the perfect study companion, so crack open that textbook and turn up the Bach!