Listen while you work

By Arielle Maxner

Gabi Bustamante ’13, preparing to do her homework, turns on some music. The song could be anything; in one night, she’s played selections from artists like Cobra Starship and Neon Trees and also songs from Disney movies.

“I like to listen to alternative, rock and fast-paced classical music when I study,” Bustamante said. “Fast-paced music keeps me working as much as anything can.”

She finds that listening to music while doing her homework increases her productivity most of the time.

“It depends on how well I know the song,” she said. “If I know it really well, it’s okay. But if I don’t, I want to learn the lyrics and focus on them, instead of homework, so that can be a downside. In that respect, classical music usually works best, but alternative and rock are more fun to listen to.”

A study was performed in the early 1990s testing the link between music and memory retention. Commonly known as the “Mozart Effect,” the experiment was published in the journal “Nature” in 1993 by scientists at the University of California, Irvine. They found that listening to an excerpt of classical music by Mozart may have induced a short-term improvement on the performance of certain mental tasks known as spatial-temporal reasoning, an ability important in conceptualizing solutions in problems arising in subjects such as art, math and science. However, the true effectiveness of listening to music is undetermined.

Larry Zhang ’14 also frequently listens to music while working. Unlike Bustamante, Zhang doesn’t have a particular preference for what type of music he listens to.

“I like alternative rock, but I can deal with any kind of music,” Zhang said. “In general, it doesn’t matter what kind I listen to, as long as I like it. If I don’t like the music, I’ll be focusing on how much I hate the music the whole time.”

For Zhang, the music helps his concentration. It drowns out the surrounding environment, allowing him to focus on his work.

However, some students listen to music only for certain subjects.

“When my homework entails reading or memorizing, I don’t play music because it’s distracting,” Karen Kim ’12 said. “But when it’s just problem-solving, I listen to upbeat music.”

Conversely, Josh Lappen ’13 finds music beneficial, but mainly when he writes.

“[Listening to music] helps me write, but it’s no good for physics,” Lappen said. “But when I’m writing, the music can’t have words, or I’ll just end up writing the lyrics.”

Kim, however, does not find lyrics distracting.

“It’s the beat my ears catch, not the lyrics,” Kim said.

Matt Heartney ’12 shares Kim’s opinion regarding vocal music.

“It doesn’t matter if the music has lyrics, as long as you can turn the lyrics into part of the melody,” he said. “If you are paying attention to the lyrics, then you’re not using the music properly.”

Heartney primarily listens to music while completing “busywork,” saying that it makes the work go by faster.

However, others get distracted.

“When I’m doing homework, when I want to be productive, any kind of music distracts me,” Danni Xia ’12 said. “If I listen to my favorite song, I’ll start singing along. Even if I listen to classical music or music without lyrics, hearing any kind of music distracts me.”

Yet Xia does not need a silent environment to work.

“Music jumps out at me,” she said. “It doesn’t count as background sound. I hear it a lot more. If it’s just background sound, that’s easy to tune out. I can’t do that with music.”

Rhett Gentile ’13 also finds music distracting, but for different reasons.

“It does terrible things to my productivity,” Gentile said. “I tend to work slower and spend time choosing songs and whatnot, which is distracting and interrupts working. Orchestral pieces are really the best for trying to get work done, but even that slows me down.”

Music is sometimes used as a therapy to help induce relaxation, as music can help the brain produce melatonin, a calming substance, according to WebMd.

In that sense, it can help students relieve stress while they work. In addtion, music therapy may help improve long-term and medium-term memory.

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