Studying With Music: Benefits and Tips

college student studying with music

Do you enjoy studying with music? If so, you’re in good company! According to a survey from Grand Canyon University's (GCU) partner, Grand Canyon Education (GCE), 41.8% of students love to listen to music while they work toward their degree.1 But is music while studying really helpful to your academic pursuits, and if so, which genres of music should you choose?

Everyone has their own opinion and unique musical tastes, of course, and what works best for you might not work well for another student. In addition to exploring the following information about music to help you study, you should always pay attention to your own unique responses to various study aids.

In This Article:

The Many Benefits of Studying With Music

Studying with music certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but many students do find that it helps them concentrate and focus better on their work. But exactly how does listening to music help you study? If you’re one of the many who like to slip on headphones before diving into a textbook, you’ll be pleased to know that your habit can offer the following benefits.

Music to Help You Study Can Reduce Stress

Are you in the habit of turning on your favorite song when you’re feeling stressed out or down in the dumps? There is scientific evidence to suggest that music can indeed help reduce stress and improve your mood.

One study from the National Library of Medicine found that listening to music has a positive effect on the psychobiological stress system.2 Another finding from a 2021 study found that patients receiving medical care in intensive care units (ICUs) experienced significantly lower pain and anxiety.3

No matter how much you love your chosen field or enjoy your classes, studying can be stressful. It’s perfectly normal to feel some anxiety ahead of a long study session, particularly if you’re nervous about doing well on a test. If you find that music allows you to reduce your stress and improve your mood, then go right ahead and put on those headphones before diving into your work.

Studying With Music May Help You Stay Motivated

Doing well in school requires a substantial amount of studying. You may need a bit of extra motivation to tackle a tough assignment or get through a study session. This is another good reason to try studying with music. Being able to study while listening to your favorite music can be enough of a motivator to help you get to work.

In fact, research suggests that rewarding yourself with your favorite music can be just as effective for motivation as promising yourself a different sort of reward for getting through a study session. A study done by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that music can activate the part of your brain recognized as the reward center (or the nucleus accumbens), which can increase dopamine transmission that is associated with feelings of pleasure.4

Listening to Music When Studying Can Improve Focus on Your Work

Do you find yourself checking social media every five minutes when you’re supposed to be studying? Or perhaps you often text your friends when you’re supposed to be writing a paper for class. You may benefit from listening to some music instead.

A Stanford study found that when people listen to music, certain areas of the brain are engaged. These areas are responsible for enabling people to pay attention and make predictions based on learned information. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers discovered that classical composers unknowingly used musical techniques that optimize the way in which the brain can organize information.5

Playing Music When Studying Can Reduce Other Distractions

As a student, you’ve likely heard quite a lot of commonsense advice about improving your study habits. Students are often advised, for example, to create a dedicated study space that eliminates all outside distractions. Yet, it can be all but impossible to create a completely distraction-free study zone, particularly if you’re living on a busy college campus and you have one or more roommates.

Listening to music on your headphones while studying or working on class assignments can be a good solution to the problem. This way, you’ll only have to listen to the sounds that inspire and motivate you, rather than the sound of other people talking, sneezing or doing any number of activities. It’s helpful if you’re able to invest in a pair of high-quality headphones, such as noise-canceling headphones.

Genres of Music to Listen to While Studying

Now that you have some of the answers to the question, How does listening to music help you study? you might have another question: Is there a genre of music that’s best for studying? Unfortunately, there’s really no universal answer. That’s because every person has unique tastes and unique responses to various music genres.

It’s a good idea to experiment with a few music genres to find one or more that work well for you. You might also find that a few specific artists become your go-to study companions.

It’s important to note that the best study music for you might not necessarily be your overall favorite music. Let’s say you love singing along to the latest music by Beyonce, for example. If you allow yourself to get caught up in the emotion of the music and you start singing along, then the music might actually be detrimental to your study session. In short, the best study music for you is music that you enjoy, but that your brain won’t pay close attention to.

Try the following genres:

  • Classical music: Instrumental classical music can be great for studying because it may help you relax without overly distracting you. Consider giving opera a try, particularly if it’s sung in a language you don’t understand.
  • Instrumental music: Not all instrumental music is classical. You might enjoy the sounds of an acoustic guitar, for example.
  • Ambient sounds: Try both ambient music (it’s often electronic) and ambient sounds, such as brown noise and white noise.
  • Low fidelity (Lo-Fi): Lo-Fi music is a relative newcomer to the scene. It’s difficult to define, as it tends to combine multiple genres like dream pop and jazz. Lo-Fi music (readily available on YouTube) tends to offer a laidback vibe.
  • Jazz: If you like instrumental music for studying, but find that classical tends to make you feel sleepy, try some upbeat instrumental jazz instead. It can help you concentrate better while offering a pleasing rhythm.
  • Nature sounds: You might not be able to actually study next to a waterfall every day, but you could certainly listen to the relaxing sounds of rushing water. One potential drawback of listening to nature sounds, however, is that they might not be able to effectively cover up background noise.

Suggested Playlists for Study Sessions

Spending hours curating the perfect studying playlist isn’t really the best use of your time as a student, even if you’re working toward becoming a music teacher. If you find yourself taking too long to choose what to listen to, try using someone else’s playlists instead. The following are some good options to check out:

If music is your passion, you can combine your passion with purpose and work toward becoming a music teacher with a degree from Grand Canyon University (GCU). The Bachelor of Arts in Music Education-Instrumental: Brass, Woodwind, Percussion, or Strings degree program, which leads to initial teacher licensure, prepares students to confidently share their love and knowledge of music with the generations to come. 

At GCU, you’ll find a welcoming learning community and plenty of student resources to help you succeed. Complete the form on this page to learn more about our well-rounded degree programs.


1 Grand Canyon University. (2022, March 31). An Analysis of Study Habits, According to Students Across the U.S. GCU. Retrieved Feb. 2023.

2 National Library of Medicine. (2013, August 5). The Effect of Music on the Human Stress Response. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved Feb. 2023.

3 Miller, C., Patmon, F., Knapp, H. (2021, August 1). Music to reduce stress in hospitalized patients. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved Feb. 2023. 

4 Gold, B., Mas-Herrero, E., Zeighami, Y., Zatorre, R. (2019, Feb. 6). Musical reward prediction errors engage the nucleus accumbens and motivate learning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). Retrieved Feb. 2023.

5 Baker, M. (2007, Aug. 1). Music moves brain to pay attention, Stanford study finds. Stanford Medicine. Retrieved Feb. 2023.

Approved by the executive director of Library Services on April 27, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.