People naturally try to make things more enjoyable. Whether it is watching a movie while doing laundry, doodling while taking notes, or singing in the shower. Why wouldn’t we want to make our lives more fun? But is any type of fun helpful when we’re learning?
When I have private work time in any class I always see at least two thirds of the students with earbuds in. And to be honest, I am usually a part of that majority. Teachers never seem concerned with it, but should they be? Or should we be? It’s common sense that working in a quiet environment helps you with focus; it gives you more space to think and not have other intruding thoughts. So when is it OK to listen to music? And how can we tell?
A previous study found that listening to music prior to working helps improve memory, attention, and mental math ability. That sounds reasonable. When you listen to music that you enjoy, you usually pay close attention to it, which can get you in the ‘working mood’ since you started out focusing on something that is nice to listen to. But here’s where it gets difficult.
Another experiment was conducted by the University of Wales in 2010, in which groups of students were tested in five different environments. The first environment was a quiet space. In the next environment, a word was recorded and repeated over and over again on a sound system in the room. In the third environment the researchers played an audio recording of many different words. Next there was an environment with music that the students themselves chose because they enjoyed it. And the last environment had music that the students didn’t enjoy.
Here are the results: there was no significant difference between students who were tested in a place with a recording of different words, music they liked, and music they disliked. Music with words distracted students the same amount as if someone were talking. Performance scores were higher in an environment with the same word repeated and in the quiet space. Also, students said that they enjoyed working with their preferred music best, however, they received poorer performance scores. What I gather from this is that music improves work when you listen to it beforehand, but it worsens work when you listen to it during your work period.
But that doesn’t answer my question very simply. When is it OK to listen to music? Here are some tips from various researchers, which you can set for yourself when working:
- Listen to music beforehand to clear your head.
- Don’t listen to music with words when studying for a test. Find a quiet space where you can pay full attention to your work so that you won’t get distracted in any way.
- If you can’t be in a quiet place, listen to music that you enjoy. In this situation it would be best to listen to music that has no words.
- Most music is better than listening to people talking in the background.
So music can be helpful, but it can also slightly harm your studying. It’s all about finding the right balance!
Sophia Kimsey – The Falcon Post, 2017