Students like to listen to music and always ask in class, so it is assumed they want to listen to music at home while they study. The question remains, does listening to music while they work or study actually improve learning new material or is it distractive?
It has long thought that listening to music (instrumental) helps in study environments. We all have experienced that when we hear a song, it causes our brains to recall information or a time or event etc. Personally, I listened to instrumental guitar music when I studied at University and when I hear the music today, I recall the feeling of me studying, BUT not the information I was learning.
What does research say about listening to music?
The Mozart effect is the idea that listening to classical music (especially Mozart) increases memory recall and as such many study books, websites etc encourage the use of instrumental classical music to improve learning something new. However, when you look at the research, it doesn’t stand up!
In fact, it only helps to activate the brain for a short time when it comes to forming shapes or manipulating objects NOT remembering and making sense of complex learning material. It has been suggested that having the music play may help reduce the amount of auditory distraction (car noise, people talking etc) but not actually improve memory recall.
Research has shown that listening to music with NO lyrics (instrumental) only helps concentration during a task NOT actually improve the understanding of the task. It is the white noise effect. The music becomes white noise that is constant, rather than sudden distractive noises that would break concentration. I am an experienced learner and have instrumental music playing, but when I need to learn material that is really hard (Quantum Physics etc) I need to shut everything off and allow my brain the complete thinking power it needs to make sense of the information before I then use that information in a different way (more on this in another post).
What does this mean for the classroom or study space?
To decreases external distraction if the student is not good at focusing or is in a loud environment is ok, but it won’t help them learn complex material. So for repetitive tasks where the student is repeating a skill or drawing a graph etc listening to music may help, but for complex problem solving tasks, recalling challenging facts or learning NEW material, listening music would decrease their ability to effectively process and retain information. A more effective environment would be a calm and silent area in which to work.
Check out the posts that examine study tips and memory to see how you can maximise your memory recall and understanding. The key idea is to learn new material how your brain likes to learn coupled with frequent revision and test new information / skills often.
Mr Darin Carr