We all have that one time when we want to listen to music but our teacher tells us no. Is it right for teachers to stop us from enjoying a tune while doing our work?
Before we dive into whether it is right or wrong for a teacher to stop students from listening to music, we want to know if music and work go together. Studies show that while there are some who find it hard to focus with noise in the background, there are many who find that music helps them concentrate while studying and working.
But not everyone agrees that music improves a study session. So what is the deal—does it help or not?
Music does not affect everyone in the same way, so the answer is not just a straightforward “yes” or “no.”
Listening to music can offer a lot of benefits including improved mood, increased motivation, boosted concentration and better management of pain and fatigue. For example, if you have ever grappled with a long, exhausting night of homework, your resolve to keep studying may have started to flag long before you finished. To fight through the tiredness, perhaps you promised yourself a reward such as the latest episode of a show you like or your favorite takeout meal. These are all great motivators for people struggling with fatigue and they are not the only ones. Research conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America in 2019 suggests that listening to music can activate reward centers in your brain, just like other things you enjoy. Rewarding yourself with your favorite music can provide the motivation you need to learn new information. And for those who prefer no sound while working, listening to your favorite songs during study breaks could motivate you to study harder.
Another benefit of listening to music is that it reduces stress and improves your mood. In a 2021 study by PubMed, patients in the ICU were reported to feel less pain and anxiety after listening to music for 30 minutes. Added together with the fact that a good mood generally improves your learning outcomes, you will likely have more success with studying and learning new material when you are feeling good and listening to music. Studying can be stressful, especially when you do not entirely understand the subject material. So if you are feeling overwhelmed or upset, put on some music—it may help you relax and work more effectively.
With this in mind, why should teachers prevent students from listening to music? Counselors are always emphasizing taking care of your mental health, so why should we be banned from listening to music when it has so many benefits? Furthermore, as long as the student has earbuds, they will not be a “distraction” to anyone, as teachers like to call it.
Still, even though music can help some students concentrate on their studies, it is not perfect and has its faults.
“Working memory” refers to the information you use for problem-solving, learning, and other cognitive tasks. You use working memory when trying to remember items on a list, steps for solving a math problem, or a sequence of events. Most people—those with a high working memory capacity—can work with a few pieces of information at a time. Research suggests, however, that listening to music can reduce working memory capacity. If you already have a hard time manipulating multiple pieces of information, listening to music could make this process even more challenging.
The bottom line is that teachers should give students the choice of listening to music or not during quiet times in class. Music can improve your mood and help you feel more motivated to tackle important tasks, but it does not always work as a study tool. Even people who love music might find it less than helpful when trying to concentrate. Choosing when to listen to music carefully can help you maximize its benefits, but if you are still struggling to focus, it may help to consider white noise or other audio options instead.