Does listening to music make you a better learner?

    There are certain things that just seem inevitable on campus: morning classes, endless rain, Pay for Print, fun with friends and the star of today, Music! Nowadays, music has become an everyday must-have for so many UBC students, including me. I bet you have seen people with headphones on nodding their heads walking jumpily along Main Mall, or those nodding their heads but falling asleep on the 99 B-line, or those dancing around promoting clubs and events in the Nest, and particularly, those busy studying for midterms at every corner in every library when you are desperately searching for a seat. Honestly, I have done them all, and the question often occurs to me: does listening to music actually help improve my performance in learning? Does it help studying at all? And, if so, what would be some great music to listen to? In this blog, I will explore the answers and share you my learning experience with music. Read on, it is fun. 

1. The “Mozart Effect” — Could (certain types of) music enhance intelligence?

KMUW Radio. 2015. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart… likely listening to #MyKPR!. Retrieved from  


To begin with, I wished to know if music can actually make one smarter, in any way. Many of you may have heard of the “Mozart Effect”: One version of this theory is that playing Mozart sonatas to a baby during pregnancy results in the baby being born smarter. Another version is that after listening to Mozart’s music one’s spatial temporal ability is improved for a while. So far, there is no scientific acknowledgement on smarter babies thanks to Mozart, while lots of research has been done regarding the latter. In conclusion, and I quote, (Jenkins, 2001), “An enhancement of spatial-temporal reasoning performance after listening to Mozart’s music for 10 minutes has been reported by several, but not all, researchers. Even in the studies with positive results the enhancement is small and lasts about 12 minutes. The effect varies between individuals and depends upon the spatial tasks chosen; general intelligence is not affected.” 

  In short, there is no good reason to count on our beloved classical composers’ masterpiece to work magic for your next assignment, and arguably I doubt it is feasible to specifically prepare the music before work just to capture that little bonus. About the specificity of Mozart’s music, feel free to explore further on your own. For now, I would like to consider other factors, such as if having background music playing could help learning at all? 

2. Background music – music playing vs other surroundings 

To play background music while studying or not to play, that is the question. Perham and Vizard did an interesting research (Perham and Vizard, 2010) on the matter in 2011. They tested serial recall performance under sound conditions including quiet, liked music, disliked music as well as steady-state (repeating number 3) and changing-state (random digits 1-9).

Figure 1: Proportion correct of eight‐item serial recall by position and sound condition (Perham and Vizard, 2010)

The result in Figure 1 shows that testers under quiet and steady-state (similar to constant white noise) sound conditions delivered more accurate answers in general, and not surprisingly, the worst performance was done in the changing-state (inconsistent noise) condition. However, neither the liked music group nor the disliked music group could clearly separate their overall accuracy from the changing-state group, which suggests that regardless of tester’s preference over the music playing, their ability to accurately and repeatedly recall information was affected as if they were exposed to a changing-state sound environment. 

Well, how do you like the conclusion? From my experience, it is natural for me to look for a quiet study space when I really need to get some work done. It also adds up– noise-cancelling headphones are becoming more popular on campus. Although I understand music can be distracting, I would never say music is a liability for studying as suggested in the research.  There is still much we do not know, only serial recall performance has been tested in the research. Also, how about the fact that I feel less pain writing essays with peaceful piano playing? And that I feel more focused to some readings while listening to Joe Hisaishi? The search must go on. 

3. Perception – All about that Mood, ‘bout that Mood, …

Figgis S. 2017. How music alters your mood. Retrieved from

  It goes without saying that music can change one’s mood, very effectively sometimes. Now it is also believed that music can even change your perception, according Jolij and Meurs from the University of Groningen (Jolij and Meurs, 2017). They ask testers to identify happy and sad smiley faces while listening to happy or sad music, and they find that testers not only recognize smiley faces more accurately with matching music playing, but also tend to identify a non-smiling face as the same type of the music they hear. The research results suggest that our current mood could influence our expectations and change the way we perceive the world. Also to note that music is a good means to achieve that. I am already remembering myself being frustrated thinking of coming due assignments, staring at my laptop and refusing to start. Then I would start a random relaxing guitar playlist and somehow began to work on it, maybe slowly at first, unwilling still, but usually the hardest step to take is the first one.

  In summary, listening to music before studying does not necessarily make you smarter, at least not as what you would expect.  Studying with background music playing could be distracting and may therefore sabotage your performance comparing to studying in a quiet environment. However, listening to music can adjust your mood and change your perception and expectation of, for example, assignments, in the moment and can give you the push to start doing it. 

  Now, knowing how music affects learning in general, what would be some recommended music for studying different subjects and materials? Here is to our next blog post, Campus Music Guide. 



      1.Jenkins, J. S. (2001, April). The Mozart effect. Retrieved from

  1. Perham, N., & Vizard, J. (2010, July 20). Can preference for background music mediate the irrelevant sound effect? Retrieved from
  2. University of Groningen. (2011, April 27). Music changes perception, research shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 14, 2020 from

      4. Jenkins, J. S., (2001, April). The Mozart Effect. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 94, 170-172. 

  1. Segaren, S. (2019, January 1). Does listening to music help you become a better student? Retrieved from

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