Many people turn to background music as a way to keep themselves focused on the task at hand. Students and office workers have particular concerns about which types of music will help them focus versus distracting them from their work. Lindsay Guion, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of GUION PARTNERS and Executive Publisher of Music Industry Quarterly (“MIQ”), examines the question of which types of music help with concentration and which are more likely to be distracting so you can create your playlists with productivity in mind.
Scientists from the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends that students listen to music while they are working. They cite the beneficial effects of music on stress levels, decreasing anxiety levels, blood pressure, and heart rate. Music was also found helpful for students who are taking tests, reducing their anxiety.
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine studied the effect of classical music on concentration. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI, they were able to see how music affects different parts of the brain. They found that music activates the parts of the brain that are involved with memory, attention, and making predictions of what will happen next.
They discovered that activity in the right side of the brain was much stronger than on the left side of the brain while study participants were listening to music. Classical music, such as that used in the study stimulated these areas for a positive effect.
The effect of popular music on concentration is less promising. In a scientific study, Mack T. Henderson found that popular music and classical music have opposite effects on concentration. Music with lyrics was associated with lower concentration because the brain tries to process the lyrics at the same time as the content of what is being studied.
When you are looking for music that helps you concentrate, you should consider several different factors. The tempo of the music should be at about 60 beats per minute. This helps people to remain centered rather than overly excited. Instrumental music is best, especially from composers like Mozart, whose works have been proven to enhance the spatial computation abilities of listeners.
Ambient music, including New Age songs, are also beneficial. These songs are calming and provide a restful background to the busy mind.
Nature sounds are another good choice for those who want to achieve maximum concentration. Often paired with ambient music, these natural sounds like crickets, waves, or thunderstorms help the mind relax.
Modern electronic music like Ambient Trance, Ambient House, and Trip Hop is beneficial to concentration. Listeners may find this music distracting because it is too relaxing. They may want to change to something more lively if they find their interest waning.
Any music with lyrics may be distracting, especially loud musical genres like rock and metal. Listen to these genres with caution when you want to concentrate. If you notice that your attention is flagging, try choosing a less active playlist.
It is a good idea to make playlists that are the same length as the amount of time you want to work or study. When the playlist ends, you will know that it is time to take a break. Don’t take time out of your work to create playlists. Instead, create them on your own time before you are ready to study or work.
Finally, it is wise to keep your music at a lower volume level. Keeping your music in the background will keep you from paying too much attention. If you find that you need to keep your music turned up to avoid distractions from ambient noise, you may find that a white noise playlist is your best choice.
Choosing your music carefully can be the difference in whether you concentrate fully on your work or whether you experience constant interruptions. Instrumental music is best, with classical and ambient music recommended most often. Lindsay Guion encourages music listeners to branch out into these genres if they do not commonly listen to them.