The debate over whether we should be allowed to rock out at our desks has been raging for decades. But while the jury is out on which is better since everyone is different, several research studies are proving that listening to the right kind of music can put your mind into study mode. Megan Jackman weighs in.
A household full of siblings home-learning, a conservatory converted office for a bank clerk, and a university student cramped at a desk in their childhood bedroom, surrounded by distractingly pink curtains and teddy bears. Studying from home can be quite the challenge, especially without a definite end in sight. There is one partial solution, however – music.
Whether it be echoing it through your home or withdrawing from the outside world with some noise-cancelling headphones, music is proven to get us through the toughest of tasks, whether that be to accompany note-taking, or the stress of a take-home examination, while your pre-teen brother sits yelling on his games console. But what should you listen to? What does more harm than good? I have put together some do’s and dont’s based on my experiences of studying in the pandemic.
DO – Tailor your music choice to the type of task you are tackling.
Essay writing? Maybe an instrumental playlist is best. Maybe even some film music, the Interstellar soundtrack a particular favourite of mine. Hans Zimmer’s climatic crescendos definitely help me carry through a trail of thought to a successful conclusion.
DO – Base your playlist on what is going on around you.
Loud television in the background? Conference call chaos? Maybe you need to turn up the volume and play some pop hits. See what’s going on in the charts, you might just discover something new you like. Admittedly, this can be a distraction for some, but I find that if my surroundings aren’t ideal, I prefer to block this out with some upbeat music to divert my attention away from a flawed environment.
DO – Try something new.
A great way of expanding your musical horizons and keeping a focused mind. If you don’t know the lyrics to the song, it’s often less distracting. You don’t have to steer away from your genre of choice but listen to something you haven’t heard before. You can appreciate a familiar style, but also appreciate that deadline needs meeting!
DON’T – Reinvent the Victoria Palace Theatre at your desk.
Avoid listening to Hamilton if you’re going to start recreating the entire musical by yourself, sitting at a desk, with a pile of seminar preparation with your name on it. It won’t do it itself, and neither will Aaron Burr, sir.
DON’T – Be too rigid.
If you want to listen to your favourites, allow yourself! Just coincide it with work that requires a little less brainpower. It’s important to get that dopamine rush, a neurotransmitter that causes reduced feelings of anxiety, and increased feelings of positivity.  For me, I know I can rely on the Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again album for this. It definitely recharges my energy, after some intense study listening to some lighter instrumental tracks. Let your personal favourites increase your motivation to study, allowing you to be even more productive.
DON’T – See music as a complete distraction.
Although we have been orientated around exam conditions from our early stages of education, don’t rule out music and see it as pure distraction. Research suggests that “song lyrics activate Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas, the parts of our brains that process language”, so ultimately, music might be our perfect solution to studying at home, so long as we choose it wisely. 
The Power of the Playlist
Fortunately for us students, Spotify and Spotify users have created playlists to suit every type of study, with songs specifically designed to boost your mood and get you on top of those lecture notes. Here are some of my favourites:
Instrumental Study – This includes various instrumental tracks from musicians around the world. I choose to pair this playlist with some more intense study, where I can’t afford to get distracted. Why not try it with some secondary reading? Take in those important critical essay points, with rhythms to maintain concentration level.
Study Zone – A selection of mainly pop music to benefit from familiar sounds but retain your attention to the task at hand. For me, this playlist consists of, for the most part, songs that I haven’t played on repeat and know all the lyrics to! This makes it great for listening to the style you like and not getting distracted by singing along.
Today’s Top Hits – For some relaxed study, I like to have a listen to what’s being streamed right now, making the top 50. For a lover of The Beatles and other classic bands from the past, it’s interesting to have a listen to what’s new and successful right now. You might just discover some new favourites while following up on your workshop notes! Let those faster tempos increase your productivity when you draw the week to a close!
 Mayo Oshin, ‘The Science of How Music Affects Your Productivity’ (2019). Available at: https://medium.com/@mayo_38288/the-science-of-how-music-affects-your-productivity-4f848a7fd21f (Accessed 11/2/2021)
 Emily Carter ‘Whistle While You Work: Impact of Music on Productivity’ (2019). Available at: https://www.webfx.com/blog/internet/music-productivity-infographic/ (Accessed 11/2/2021)
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