Can listening to music help your memory?

When walking the popular study areas of the campus, you can see students listening to music while studying for upcoming tests and exams and tests. But does listening to music actually help your cognitive memory.

According to a study that was carried out by William R Bach, Kelly Bowman and Lauri A. Mohler, listening to slow jazz is able to improve the amount of words that had to be recalled during the three experiments that were performed. During the first experiment, the only variables that were considered in the experiment were that pace of the music and the type of music that was played. In this case, only  jazz and classical music were played , and the only differences between these variables where the tempo of the music, in this case whether the music was played fast or slow. In the second experiment, the majority of the first experiment was followed however, the introduction of a different form of the music that was played. It was found in the second experiment that since the form (genre) of music was changed from what was originally listened to while the test subjects were studying, there was a decrease of 9 percent in words that were recalled. In the third and final experiment, only jazz was observed as the music type that was played, along with the observed conditions being the tempo of the music that was played (whether it was fast or slow jazz). Ultimately, from comparing the results from the first experiment and the third experiment proved too little of a change, with the immediate word recall of slow jazz having a median of 14.0 words that were recalled with a standard deviation of 3.6 word correctly recalled, compared to the results from the third experiment in which for slow jazz on the same cue having a median of 13.8 words correctly recalled and having a standard deviation of 3.8. With the delayed recall of slow jazz music, the results from experiment 1 gave a median of 5.8 word correctly recalled with a standard deviation of 2.3 words correctly recalled, compared to experiment 3 where for the delayed recalled gave a result of a median of 5.2 words correctly recalled. Similar results can be seen in the results of the fast played jazz music, whether it was in in the immediate recall or the delayed recall experiment sections. However, on thing that I did notice about this experiment was that there was no control test that was conducted to see the average word recall without any music being played, either while the participants were studying the words or during the experiment.

Information about this experiment can be found herestudying-jpeg-900x600

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But how does listening to music affect test performance though? In another study that was conducted by Laurel Harmon, Kristen Troester, Taryn Pickwick, and Giovanna Pelosi, their results also point that music does not really affect how well you study. Their experiment was based around the idea of the “Mozart effect”, an idea that suggests that listening to classical music helps set the individual in a manner that is easier to absorb information.  In the first experiment , the tested how the test performance of 54 students that were divided into three groups, those that listened to Mozart, those that had listen to Billy Joel, and one group that did not listen to music while studying for the test. For the first experiment, it was hypothesized that those that had listened to Mozart would have scored higher than those that had listen to those that had either listened to the Billy Joel music or those that didn’t listen to any music while studying. The results from the first experiment showed that there was no significant difference that was found between the groups. For the second experiment, the participants were again divided into three groups, those that would listened to classical music, those that would listen to rock, and a group that would not listen to any music . For this experiment, the participants were given up to ten minutes to read a one page excerpt from a book and then given questions to answer about the except that they had read. The data that was collected did not support the hypothesis as the test scores did not show a significant difference in test score between the three test groups.  ( The study The Effects of Different Types of Music on Cognitive Abilities found here)


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So does listening to help study and memory performance. From these two studies it would seem that listening to music while studying or having to memorize something doesn’t help. However, it may be up to personal preference that people listen to music while studying, or that it helps block auditory distractions.


Balch, W. R., Bowman, K., & Mohler, L. A. (n.d.). Music-dependent memory in immediate and delayed word recall. Retrieved from

Harmon, L., Troester, K., Pickwick, T., & Pelosi, G. (n.d.). The Effects of Different Types of Music on Cognitive Abilities. Retrieved from


1 thought on “Can listening to music help your memory?

  1. Matthew Edward Simco

    This is an interesting topic that I feel like I have the unpopular opinion on. A lot of people use music as something to allow them to focus and memorize information, but I just cannot do it. Whenever I listen to music when trying to do work I just get distracted by the song and end up finding myself focusing on the song and not my work. The article linked below talks about why music is so beneficial to learning.

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