A & E

Music on the Brain: How Music Can Help With Focus


Graphic courtesy of Mary Guevara

I had a peculiar experience the last time I was doing trigonometry homework. I had a random Spotify playlist on in the background and I began working through the math. When I stepped away for a moment I realized I had done so much in such a short amount of time and I thought, “what just happened to me?”

The playlist was comprised of a genre of music called LoFi. I was unfamiliar with the style, but I liked the simple melodies and the lack of lyrics kept my focus on my task at hand.

I decided that I wanted to dive deeper into this topic and wondered if music can assist with studying or focus. After untold hours trying to understand what was going on, I realized I needed to speak with an expert.

Dr. Erick Gallun, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at Oregon Health and Science University and Research Investigator at the Portland Veterans Affairs Health Care Center. Gallun explained that the study of music and its effects on the brain is ongoing, and scientists have just scratched the surface of their understanding. It is comprised of overlapping fields of study in engineering, audiology, psychology and neuroscience. No one field possesses a complete answer to the question of whether music can help with studying.  

“The answer is sort of unsatisfying,” said Gallun. According to Gallun, sound does have an influence on the body and mind.  Scientists believe that certain music and sounds can synchronize brain waves, which can in turn help us perform tasks. 

Gallun described studies that show that as these brain waves reach the frontal lobe of your brain, they could cause Asynchrony. Asynchrony occurs when someone lacks a sense of time. “It can slow down what we perceive as now,” said Gallun.

After speaking to Gallun, I wanted to hear other people’s experiences with music and focus. One student I reached out to, Jessica Bishop, said that she listens to music while studying and that it helps calm her down. 

“I listen to the two albums Taylor Swift released in 2020,” said Bishop. “I like [them] because [they’re] just calming.”

Another Clark student, Noah Hoard, said that most music distracts him from his study flow, especially if it has lyrics or a strong melody. However, he said that LoFi music does help him focus. 

“I like to listen to LoFi jams on Youtube,” said Hoard. “I think it slows me down, but studying is more enjoyable.”

Hoard’s experience coincided with Gallun’s research about asynchrony. Slowing down “now” was what Hoard and I described feeling when listening to LoFi. 

Music can definitely affect your brain and body, although scientific study hasn’t produced enough results for us to definitively describe how. 

I can’t tell you with scientific certainty you should listen to LoFi study jams while studying for finals, but I can recommend it.

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