Music has filled our house for years. Both of our daughters play piano. Our youngest daughter sings. I used to play the flute in the high school marching band, my husband took a few lessons with an acoustic guitar. Creating music and listening to music is a vital part of our days. It elevates our mood, motivates and inspires. I listen to music when I run on the treadmill, earbuds blasting the latest Billboard Top 100 songs. And now with technology, our music libraries have grown. With free Internet radio selections like Pandora, Jango and Spotify, multiple genres and suggested play lists are at our fingertips. Clicking on album titles, songs or composers helps navigate to a preferred channel or playlist. And there’s even programs like Shazam, an app that can identify songs using your smartphone or tablet. Instead of asking, “What’s that song?” or looking up the lyrics, voice assistants like Siri, Google Now and Cortana can do this for us.
My online students often tell me that without music, they have trouble completing their homework. I can relate. Sitting at the computer can be tedious work. To break the silence with a back beat has the potential to move us forward and stay on task. For complicated projects, I prefer listening to classical music like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I immerse myself in the music and the work flows. But I have to be careful playing Vivaldi in the car — it has a negative effect on my gas pedal and I find myself speeding up when the windows are open and the music is loud.
The best type of music to listen to while studying is classical music. It increases positive cognitive functions while simultaneously being non-attention grabbing. It has no vocals. Words can be distracting. For example, if I am working and start listening to the lyrics of a song, I usually stop paying attention to the words on the computer screen. Sometimes students are unable to focus with music playing. They are distracted and have trouble multitasking when studying. Music can cause problems in even starting the assignment because it fractures their concentration — maybe they are singing out loud or even dancing!
But many students listen to music to alleviate stress and anxiety when engaged in complex cognitive processing, such as studying for a test, completing homework assignments, or while reading and writing. It’s beneficial for students to understand the role that music plays on cognitive performance. I encourage them to create their own “study playlist.”