We associate music with memories and our emotions. It can be a beacon of nostalgia and bring warmth to a cold heart. It can well up tears or even help you to express your anger. Music can create the overall mood for a social setting or a work environment. So with that in mind, it seems evident that music would also have the power to increase productivity. The question is, however, what does science say about music and productivity?
There have been several studies looking into this. Most of these studies have indicated that music can increase productivity. They also express that it can have a negative effect on one’s productivity too, depending on a few factors.
Repetitive work such as answering emails is almost always improved by listening to music. However, when the task requires a lot of creativity, music can disturb concentration.
Music with lyrics can be distracting, especially while working on language heavy tasks such as writing an essay. The lyrics can interfere with your thought process and slow down your pace.
That is not to say that music can’t increase productivity at all during mentally demanding work.
For creative tasks, it is best to stick to certain rules such as lyric-free, simple music. This will help prevent the music from becoming a distraction.
According to this study, music can interfere with learning. It may be best to enjoy the sweet sounds of silence if you’re learning a new skill or need to retain a lot of information.
In the past, I have taught in high schools that have a strict no headphone policy. As a result of this, I have had to get into many arguments with students. They pleaded they work more efficiently while listening to their own music.
According to a study by Dr. Anneli Haake, the students were right! If a person regularly listens to music while they study or work then they are likely more productive while they are listening. However, the reverse can also be true sometimes. Many people in the study that didn’t usually listen to music while working had a decrease in productivity.
We already know that listening to music you love can improve your mood. A good mood releases the brain chemicals Dopamine and Serotonin. These chemicals are important for reaching a state of flow. Therefore, listening to music you love can increase your productivity.
There are other schools of thought when it comes to music you love and work output. This study argues that when participants loved the music they were listening to they became distracted. It is easy to see why. It is sometimes hard not to sing along with your favorite tunes or stop to listen to the best part of a song.
It may be a good idea to listen to music genres you like but avoid your absolute favorite songs. These songs are likely to distract you.
The general consensus is that a dislike of background music’s genre while working will decrease output significantly. This is due to a decline in mood and a consistent draw of attention. We will recommend certain genres further down the article. Yet, If you hate listening to them it may be a good idea to skip trying them out for this reason.
The aforementioned changes in productivity make it difficult to have officewide music. Everyone has different tastes in music, so control is a determining factor of productivity.
As mentioned above music can sometimes be detrimental to productivity. This is due to the fact that it can become distracting. However, as I am sure we have all experienced while at work there can be much worse disturbances to your concentration.
Music with headphones is a great way to escape a noisy environment.
If you work in a busy office/home having headphones on can also prevent people from disturbing you. Those 'important' matters seem less urgent if they have to get you to rip your headphones off. In this situation, it’s obvious that music can increase productivity. There are even noise-canceling headphones to double down on this effect.
Ambient noise can be a good alternative in the above situation if you become preoccupied with music easily.
Excessive noise can hinder concentration as evident in this study. It is best to keep your music at a moderate volume while working. Another reason to be careful with the volume is that long exposure to extreme volumes can damage your ears.
The easiest to observe example of how tempo can affect focus is at the gym. The music blaring inside them is often high tempo and upbeat music. This causes listeners to feel more pumped up and motivated. It can be beneficial to listen to high tempo music for a similar effect when you’re having trouble finding motivation for work. This study even found that listeners performed better than their peers in an IQ test while listening to upbeat music.
There have been many studies to establish a link between certain genres and increased work output. These studies have yielded promising results across many musical categories. I mentioned earlier that music is best for repetitive tasks and in those cases you could listen to pretty much anything. The following genres are the best for more complex and creative tasks. Experiment with what works for you while you work.
This music ticks all the boxes for quality work and study music. There are no lyrics to distract language tasks, most songs have an upbeat tempo without being too extreme, and there is enough familiarity to avoid intent listening.
This study of 8 radiologists had them listen to baroque music. It indicated that their mood, output, and concentration were all improved. 8 is a very small sample size but there is also huge amounts of anecdotal evidence for the benefits of classical music. Just ask anyone putting headphones with classical music to their pregnant belly.
I am not talking about club bangers from Avicci or anything like that. But, there are many subgenres of electronic music that are great for productivity.
Try to stick to the ones that have minimal lyrics, don’t make your heart beat out of your chest, and are repetitive. Being repetitive stops you from becoming distracted by sudden changes.
Some examples of genres of electronic music that are good for concentration include trance, minimal house, D&B, and techno. It may be best to avoid the harder styles of dance music like gabba and dubstep. However, as mentioned earlier if your listening habits utilize these subgenres they may work for you as a study aid too.
Game design is an incredibly thought out process that centers around player engagement. The more time consumers spend playing a game the more money a game is likely to make. Therefore, the soundtracks are specifically arranged to instill focus in the users.
We can use that to our advantage by using the soundtracks while we are working too. The music is composed to be in the background and not to distract the player from the gameplay. That sounds perfect for concentrating on our work.
There have not been any scientific studies done on the link of lofi hip hop and concentration yet. However, the youtube radio station by ChilledCow titled “lofi hip hop radio - beats to study/relax to” has been one of the most popular stations on youtube for years.
Many users comment on the link between the increase in productivity and this style of music. This type of music also abides by the rules of minimal lyrics and a workable tempo. It has become an extremely popular genre. There are many lofi playlists on every streaming service. If you’re a hip-hop fan this is likely the best choice for you.
You may have a particular type of music that you love but it is stuffed with distracting lyrics and dynamic shifts. These features make for great active listening but aren’t so good for productivity. A good way to get a similar experience to your regular listening is to add the "ambient" modifier in your playlist searches.
Let’s use jazz as an example, it generally has many dynamic shifts that encourage concentrated listening. A simple youtube search for “ambient jazz” comes up with many playlists that have a jazzy vibe. The difference is, the intention of these playlists is to be in the background. The toned-down dynamic shifts and complexity make it much more appropriate for study.
You can use this modifier for pretty much any genre of music. Ambient rock, metal, djent, blues, electronica, or anything else you can think of.
Ambient noise such as nature sounds, rainfall, white noise, and binaural beats are also great. This is especially true if the main purpose of listening to music is to cut out office noise.
To answer the original question, yes! Music can increase productivity when used appropriately. It is important to remember that we are all individuals so experiment with what works for you. Try working while listening to music and record how much you get done. Try it again without music or with a different genre. Find what works for you.