Music has a way of permeating through empty corners and filling up environments with substance. It can help you relax, make you well up in tears, or feel alive. But can it make you more productive?
We use music to set the tone of our environment and our mood, whether we’re unwinding after work or throwing a party. But in an age when many of us spend our time staring at a computer screen, music has also become a mode of escape from outside distractions or dull tasks.
So how useful is music when it comes to focusing on your work?
Let’s take a look at the science behind music and productivity.
Does music make you more productive?
Teresa Lesiuk, an assistant professor in the music therapy program at the University of Miami, does research on the effect of music listening on work performance. According to Dr. Lesiuk’s research, those who listened to music completed their tasks more quickly and had better ideas than those who didn’t overall.
But there are some types of music that worsen productivity. Several studies have shown that popular music interferes with reading comprehension and information processing.
Based on these studies then, music can have a positive effect on your work. However, its effect on productivity depends on the situation and type of music.
So, what type of music doesn’t work?
When I work, I find it very hard to concentrate when people are talking. Similarly, listening to music with lyrics is almost as distracting.
It turns out I’m not alone. Music can be considered a form of multi-tasking, where the listener is switching back and forth between a task and the music, as opposed to the music simply playing a background role.
Once again, this depends on the type of music and the listener’s habits. Dr. Haake does research on music listening at work, and she identified certain factors that could determine whether music is distracting:
- Complex musical structure. Songs with a more complex musical structure, such as Frank Zappa’s “Muffin Man” can be more distracting to listeners when compared to songs with a simple three-chord structure, such as John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”.
- Lyrics. Lyrics can distract, as they cause you to focus on the message of the song and interrupt your train of thought.
- Listening habits. If someone is used to listening to music while working, it’s often more beneficial than distracting. The reverse is true as well.
- Difficulty of tasks. If a task requires more thought and focus, music can make it more difficult to work efficiently.
- Control. When music is imposed upon someone, it’s usually more distracting than if the person has a choice in the matter.
While it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario, there are certain types of music that are better to listen to while you work. Let’s look at their effects and how they impact you.
What Type of Music Works?
1. Classical music
When we think of classical music, composers such as Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel come up in our thoughts. In a study, seven out of eight radiologists found that baroque music increased mood and concentration on their work. If you’re looking for where to begin, try Vivaldi’s quick-tempo “Four Seasons”, or Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto.
2. Nature music
Listening to the sounds of nature can enhance cognitive function and concentration. Soothing sounds such as flowing water, rainfall, and rustling leaves work well, while jarring noises such as birdcalls and animal noises can be distracting.
3. Epic music
Epic music can make you feel like you’re doing something grandiose to change the world. It empowers and lifts you up. So if you’re feeling tired and uninspired during your work, try listening to some epic music to give you that extra boost of motivation.
4. Video game music
Music from video games is a great choice because the compositions are specifically designed to enhance your gaming experience. After all, it’s pretty crucial you dodge that fire, or skillfully maneuver your way through hordes of enemies. For starters, try the Bastion soundtrack, or one of the SimCity soundtracks, to name a few.
5. Ambient soundtracks
If you’re feeling stressed out at work, give ambient music a try. As Brian Eno, creator of Music for Airports says, “Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”
Other types of music
There’s a number of other types of music you can listen to during work, such as meditation music, blues, or jazz, to name a few. If you just want to get rid of your chatty coworkers or the nearby printer, use “white noise” to cancel them out.
Experiment and see what works. Soft and mellow may help you to focus on your work, while a high energy piece can keep you motivated.
And of course, there are those times when silence is golden.