Listening to classical music vs. music with lyrics vs. complete silence while studying?

If you’ve ever people watched at the library, which you probably have considering any sight is better than the work in front of you, you’ve probably noticed that the majority of people have headphones in. Personally, I can’t do school work without listening to my current favorite music, but I know that “studying music” varies from person to person. I am currently sitting at the library right now listening to “Circle Down” by Ayer wondering if the catchy lyrics are distracting me from writing this blog. I know that I need music to do work, but would listening to music without lyrics or no music at all improve my ability to focus and or the quality of my work? This definitely isn’t the first time I’ve asked myself this question so I decided to look into the effects of listening to instrumental music, music with lyrics, or complete silence while studying.

According to the University of Phoenix, listening to music with lyrics can be distracting while you read, study, and write. The study found that your brain can struggle to process musical lyrics and do school work simultaneously. Doing these two actions at once is considered multi-tasking and research has found that multitasking can decrease your IQ by ten points.

In addition to this study researchers at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff, United Kingdom found that students were able to study more efficiently in quiet environments than in environments with music playing. The study involved twenty five participants who were given a list of things in order to memorize. Participants were then tested on the list they had to memorize. It was found that those who listened to complete silence while studying did the best while students who listened to music while studying did the worst. Researchers concluded that the changing notes and words of music while memorizing an ordered list impaired one’s cognitive abilities. It makes sense that listening to music with lyrics hinders your minds ability to study as efficiently as it can without music. How can one resist repeating their favorite songs lyrics in their head or out loud as they jam along to it while studying, but singing those lyrics can easily distract one from the current material their studying. Imagine listening to “What do you mean” by Justin Bieber while memorizing terms for a bio exam, are you going to be focusing on the bio terms or remembering all the good times you had listening to this song? This led me to the last option besides silence; classical music.


In an experiment done by Macquarie University Professor William Forde Thompson, and his team played Mozart piano sonata while two groups of students read a passage. One group of students listened to a slow version of the Mozart piano sonata and the other group listened to a fast version of the Mozart piano sonata. Forde concluded that the student’s comprehension was only affected if they were in the group listening to the fast music. Forde proceeded to note that he thinks, “The reason why music doesn’t impact our thinking as much as it should is because music has the ability to put us in a better mood, which therefore increases our IQ.”

There are clearly various different opinions on listening to music while studying, but I think that the general take away is students should do what works best for them, whether its listening to silence, classical, or music with lyrics. Maybe if you feel your grades could potentially be better try switching up your background noise.

4 thoughts on “Listening to classical music vs. music with lyrics vs. complete silence while studying?

  1. Taylor Nicole D'anna

    I personally need to listen to music when I am studying or doing homework. I dont know why but I feel if there is no background noise I can’t focus. Having lyrics in the song or not having lyrics in the song doesn’t really affect me, but I can see how it may affect other peoples brains . I found this article that is related to yours that talks about the benefits of listening to music and working at the same time.

  2. Jenny Eberhardt

    Great post! I thought it was very interesting. Like you, I have always opted to listen to my own music while studying. I believe that it allows me to zone out and focus on my studies more… although I do occasionally find myself following along to the lyrics instead of reading my materials. I had never heard of multitasking bringing down one’s IQ though. I do recall talking about how multitasking is not really possible in my psych 100 class. My professor had said that it was not possible because regardless of what you were doing, one of the activities that you were completing was bound to be compromised and of lesser value. Here is an article on that:

  3. Jose Ignacio Arango De Diego

    Your blog is completely fascinating and engaging. There is so much information that I didn’t know about the effects of music in the different areas of our brains while being involve in tasks such as studying. I also identify with this blog entirely because I can’t concentrate when reading or studying and at the same time listen to music with actual lyrics.

  4. Erin K Beatty

    I liked the ideas in this blog because I am curious about different ways to study and what helps. Personally, I find that I can’t listen to music while studying. It distracts me and I feel as though I’m not learning and taking in the material well. With that being said, I have heard that classical music helps retain the information and makes it easier to remember. With finals week coming up, I may have to try this technique.

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