Music affects us psychologically, physiologically, emotionally and cognitively.
Fast food chains have long used music with a faster tempo to increase the speed at which people eat, whilst retailers typically play slower music to encourage shoppers to slow down making a purchase more likely. On a flight I took to Athens, the airline piped gentle classical music into the cabin as the passengers boarded, a simple technique to calm nervous flyers or hasty travellers.
Study is typically associated with silence and is actively enforced in designated study and exam spaces. Yet if used in the right way, music and audio can actually improve your studies. For example slow music can reduce anxiety by slowing our breathing, lowering our pulse and calming our consciousness.
Although silence can be desirable during study itself, it’s not a luxury all of us have. A noisy neighbour, housemate or the rumble of the street below can easily distract us. In these situations we can use music, binaural beats or sound effects to block out distracting sounds. Even if we have the luxury of a quiet study environment, most contemporary offices are open-plan so developing coping strategies to deal with noisy colleagues is a good practice to develop.
Use music to reduce anxiety
We learn better when we’re relaxed, so calming our mind and slowing our heart rate before we commence our studies can become a pleasant and extremely worthwhile ritual. In situations where we’re in a noisy environment, music can even help us focus.
But what is the right type of music to listen to? There is no single right answer – our own taste plays an important factor – but typically gentle nuanced music that has a slower tempo and listened to at a moderate volume (i.e. not too loud) can slow our pulse, lower our blood pressure and decrease levels of stress hormones.
You’ll also want to avoid music where the human voice is a key feature which rules out a great deal of chart music, past and present. It’s also worth pointing out that pop, R&B, EDM, guitar music and hip-hop are typically designed to engage and stimulate our brains so by their very nature, may distract us from our studies.
If we want to use music as an effective study tool, we may need to expand our horizon and look further afield than our pre-existing MP3 collection. Here are some suggestions that may help guide you into a meditative state and improve your study sessions.
- Contemporary classical and minimalism: Philip Glass – Metamorphosis
- Ambient electronica: Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works
- Classical piano: Erik Satie – Gymnopedie
- Traditional Japanese music – Yoshida Brothers
- Movie soundtrack: Once Upon a Time in America – Ennio Morricone
Use music to make you smarter
According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, listening to white noise can enhance connectivity between brain regions associated with modulating dopamine and attention.
The researchers found this enhanced connectivity in those participants with improved memory. If you’re not familiar with the term white noise, it’s the “sh” sound we hear when we turn on an un-tuned TV set – listen here.
Whilst this might sound a bit extreme, we can find white noise in our natural environment. The sound of waves breaking is a good example and as well as improving our attention, it can also help to drown out background noise.
Use binaural beats to help improve concentration
Unless you’re well versed in the language of sine waves and audio frequencies, a concise summary of the science behind binaural beats is difficult to distil but in short they use slowly changing audio waves, to tune and focus our brain (for the studious, a longer description is outlined in this article by Andrew Dobson).
It’s claimed that the right frequencies can help us do everything from reduce stress, lose weight or make us more attractive to the opposite sex – I must admit I’m sceptical of that last claim.
There was even a tabloid story that ran a few years ago about young people using binaural beats to get ‘digitally high’ (again I think this is something of an overstatement). Nevertheless the frequencies emitted by binaural beat recordings are certainly hypnotic and can lull you into a calm and peaceful zone.
There are various free binaural recordings which you can listen to on the web which I’ve listed below. They’ll seem a bit strange at first but give them five minutes and see how you feel. On top of this there are a plethora of paid for apps.
Why not create your own study playlist using some of the recommendations above and see what works for you.
“Bootylicious by Destiny’s Child is my victory song,” says KPMG 360° apprentice Leticia Nascimento. “I finish my revision session with this song (and normally I dance as well to celebrate).”
Tell us what your victory song is at YourAAT.
Read more on how to optimise your revision;
- How to stay productive throughout the day
- Study hacks to help you slay your final assessment
- 4 ways to remember what you learn
AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.