Poll – Do you Listen to Music while you Study?

A propos de nothing in particular, the other day I posted a little poll on Twitter inquiring whether or not people like to have music playing while they work. The responses surprised me, so I thought I’d try the same question on here (although I won’t spill the beans on here immediately. I’ve made the question quite general in the hope that as wide a range of people as possible (e.g. students, researchers and faculty) will feel able to respond. By “study” I mean anything that needs you to concentrate, including practical work, coding, data analysis, reading papers, writing papers, etc. It doesn’t mean any mindless activity, such as bureaucracy.

Please fill the poll in before reading my personal response, which comes after the “read more” tag.

Oh, and if you pick “Depends” then please let me know what it depends on through the comments box (e.g. type of music, type of study..)

My response was definitely “no”. I often listen to music while preparing to work, but I find it too hard to concentrate if there’s music playing, especially if I’m trying to do calculations.



9 Responses to “Poll – Do you Listen to Music while you Study?”

  1. The “depends” is age related. When I was young, music helped me to concentrate. Now I’m old it is a total distraction. Any ideas why anyone?

  2. I said no. I can work with instrumental music on, although I rarely do. Anything with vocals makes it impossible for me to focus on work.

  3. Leonardo dos Santos Says:

    It depends on my mood or level of concentration required. Most of my time right now is spent coding, which generally has some background music on. But when I discover a bug and depending on how pesky it is, I will turn the music off.

    • agbuckley Says:

      Same here. In most work (also a lot of coding), I find the ideas and problem solutions typically come to mind faster than fingers can be put to keys. I find the music helps with flow and focus. But when I get to a thorny, subtle problem that requires absolute concentration, the music goes off.

  4. It depends on several things.
    The complexity of the task at hand: more complexity usually requires more silence.
    Whether I have to use headphones, something which I dislike, but as I share an office and since the walls are thin… Conversely, music over headphones can block the outside world when it becomes too invasive.
    The type of music: music that is too emotionally charged is disruptive, so chamber music is more conducive to work than opera, baroque generally more so than the romantic period, etc.

    As mentioned, Bach’s music can rapidly become engrossing, and therefore distracting; Bach’s contemporaries (Telemann, Händel, Weiss) don’t have such an effect. And dare I say it? I also have a foible for the French harpsichord school. There, I’ve said it, I’ll show myself out.

  5. The depends in my case is dependent on mood. Sometimes comparatively soothing music, sometimes aggressive free jazz, sometimes silence is preferred

  6. Dark Matter (DM) Says:

    No one can work high concentration work like solving
    equations or say debugging a code. However, if the
    work environment is extremely noisy e.g. constant banging
    of door, noise from nearby kitchen, constant high decibel
    telecon, tea kettle going on and off every
    10 minutes, land owner outside,
    construction work in the building and smoke detector
    being tested nearby, than some form of music can
    keep you sane.

  7. Bryn Jones Says:

    It depends.

    Some activity requires intense concentration, so music at normal volume is distracting. Music with the volume turned low can be ignored as required.

    Music can help with work that does not require intensive thought.

    As for the inverse, when I need to do something but cannot find the energy or motivation, I listen to the last seven minutes of Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony. Then I feel I can do anything.

  8. Ryan Pepper Says:

    I find it difficult to work in the office I’m based in, because it’s open plan and at any time there might be 30-40 PhD students in there. I have some noise cancelling headphones which I use, and I often listen to music or Radio 4, but not very loud, and I don’t take it in at all when I’m concentrating anyway, it’s just to drown out talking.

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