The Best Music for Learning is Your Own

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Quiet environments are (GILLETT, 2015) (Perham, 2017) usually favored when choosing a place to study but what happens when music is introduced? This is what many people around the world partake in when they want to study or get work done for that important project. Although we all have different musical tastes, is there a superior genre when it comes to optimizing performance or could it be that there could be a substructure that can be expressed in many different music styles? How does the environment we study in effect what we should listen to? Lastly, can there truly be an answer to this or must we personalize our approach to this matter to achieve the best results?

Let us first answer what results we are attempting to increase with the introduction of music. To do this, ascertaining what task is being carried out is very important. According to Crump, studies have shown that depending on how immersive a task is, meaning it’s creative complexity, then the range of music that is appropriate is much wider and begins to take a different approach (Crump, 2017). The more repetitive and monotonous a task is the aim of the music was to uplift the subject’s mood. It was shown that during such tasks, any music genre was recorded as improving performance as long as the music was described as something they would like (Crump, 2017).  On the other hand, when a task begins to ask more mental investment than music can increasingly decrease how productive you are (Lebowitz, 2016). There are various remedies to this issue which usually involve decreasing the complexity of the music we listen to. Many times, we may have heard to listen to music without lyrics because the words may take away some of the mental resources that we need to complete a task and instead use them to understand the words being sung in the song (Audio Reputation, 2018). This has many times favored instrumental, and specifically classical music.  This is what has led to the more commonly known “Mozart effect”. This has expressed itself in a wide manner of claims, from simply asserting an increasing improved productivity to claims of permanently increasing intelligence from prolonged exposure to Mozart’s music. While most of this has been disproved, music such as this can create a suitable environment for studying. It still manages to occupy our mind but not to such a degree that it detracts from most tasks that we undertake. Baroque music specifically manages to reach an optimum point when it comes to productivity. Other genres such as certain forms of electronic music and Jazz have been to show many of the same properties and as such can perform similarly to classical music. Going even further, natural sounds such as waves or wind have been shown in some cases to be superior to music in many scenarios(DeLoach, 2015).

Despite the differences that we can see between the genres, does that begin to change depending on the environment we study or work in?In several studies, noisy environments are the ones most benefited by the inclusion of music in the work process (Ciotti, 2015). In this case, the argument is similar to that of non-immersive tasks. Mood improvement seems to be the leading cause of the increase in productivity in this environment. Besides this, in all other types of environments, the same process from before follows through.

Despite the trends that some studies may find, many others do find interesting deviations from the norm that put into question what we knew before. This happened when a study(Lesiuk, 2005) found that in environments that do not directly engage with “verbal architecture” can actually improve when exposed to music with lyrics. Despite this being in direct opposition to what had previously had been found, this had been found to be true with a group of software developers that were observed during the study. This opens the possibility of separating music into what areas it might stimulate in the brain and to later pair it with tasks that are not interrupted in those specific areas of stimulation. Other variables have also been found to influence the effect of the music on productivity. One of these is how familiar the individual is with the song. Not only was the level of comfort reported increased but since those songs were no longer novel to the subject than they did not captivate the attention of their brain the way a less familiar song would. This, in turn,leads to fewer resources being devoted to listening and as such reduced the negative impact that the song may have had on attention and productivity.

An interesting find was that of video game soundtracks. These soundtracks undergo heavy investment by the part of the developers since they would be listened to throughout the course of the game. While no formal studies have been done on this topic, it is believed by some that the soundtracks of some games that relate to strategy, design,and creation may be well suited for creating an environment that promotes a great degree of concentration(Ciotti, 2015). Another interesting find is that songs that have slow changes in their tempo throughout the song have been found to elicit less attention and thus help the person listening to the focus more on their own tasks. This is to say that songs with large changes in them may stimulate the brain more than most individuals could handle while focusing on a separate task. Staying away from these songs follows along with other findings like that of lyrical songs that could extract from resources that the brain needs to operate fluidly through the task at hand.

Despite all this information that has been provided, it is important to mention that many studies on this topic contradict each other or provide very different conclusions. Nevertheless, we do see a trend towards music that surrounds or has surrounded us in our daily lives. There are many influences that can lead to this greater comfort that many of the studies spoke of. Music that we listened to as children. Music that we culturally identify with. This goes beyond genres that we might like, music that reminds us of positive moments may be the key to increasing our productivity.

Using myself as an example I can definitely see how this would be true. As someone who grew up in large part in Colombia to Colombian parents, I can often feel energized when particular popular songs from there or that have been popular there. This occurs despite the fact that I do not listen to them with great frequency. In Colombia, there is a great prevalence of tropical styles of music such as Salsa, Merengue, Reggaetón, and Bachata. All of these share the fact that they are music that is traditionally danced quite frequently. This in of itself makes the songs tend to have more homogenous tempos which as discussed earlier, can greatly improve the concentration provided by the music. Additionally, this type of music in many cases can be simply instrumental since that it is often used in many scenarios and events in Colombia. Furthermore, This type of music can personally benefit me even more because of my background. Since I grew up listening to this type of music when it was played either by my parents, grandparents or my aunts, it does bring back a sense of family and a sense of community within the rhythm and melodies of the songs which relates to the previously mentioned benefits of improving the subjects mood to prevent from stagnating during tedious tasks. The lessons learned from this can be applied to other music as well. Dance music can be further explored since ideally, this music would allow dancers to focus on the activity rather than the music. Also, searching for more ethnically similar music may bring great benefit to the subject by reminding them of the positive emotions associated with their families, home, or communities. Another example is that of when I hear certain songs that I associate with fun moments with my friends. This I find is the most helpful in group work environments. If everyone is listening to the same song, then a common mentality can be more easily achieved. Sinergy is the key here. In many work environments and project groups, a lack of cohesion can bring misfortune upon the group. This could end up being a lack of efficiency to even an inferior product at the end of the project.This present a large and new dynamic that could not only be deployed individually but also in groups. This has already been implemented in a few smaller ways such as the marching songs many militaries around the world use to synchronize their soldiers with the rest of the platoon or squadron. Finding out what about this helps unite groups will be very important in the future as a tool to improve collective work.These two areas are very important because they help us realize that the best music to produce what we need to at work or at school is what connects us to a positive feeling, whether that is family, home, a fun night and of course the genres that we normally would love but also of how we can tune our selection of music depending on how the dynamics of what we are trying to produce pan out such as whether we are alone, in a small group of friends or a larger group of co-workers.

Expanding somewhat on the previous topic, I have personally found that listening to Japanese music is extremely good for my study sessions and focusing on projects. This at least for me fills many of the criteria that we have explored. Not only does it unintentionally not provide me with any recognizable lyrics, since I do not speak any amount of Japanese whatsoever, but it also ties very much into my deep love for one of my hobbies. That hobby being anime. I have been consuming this content for very long and I have enjoyed every part of it. These songs despite only sharing the language have the power to elicit the positive and energetic feelings that I could associate with anime. Beyond this, since in Japan, there is a wide variety of genres and styles of music, I can further personalize and specialize my music selection for the task at hand. If I was doing a very repetitive task that would usually drain my energy pretty quickly, I would use an upbeat song to boost my morale, even going further to maybe including one of the themes from anime centered media to further those effects. If on the other hand I was doing something more creative or learning intensive such as studying, I could focus more prominently on characteristics like the tempo, volume level and even the amount of human voices in the song to further increase the effects of not understanding a foreign language. Even going further, as of late anime has become an increasingly popular type of media to consume and as such these same characteristics mat transfer to a group work setting as mentioned before to increase the possibilities of what could have been previously done as a group or a unit. These benefits may apply to the increasing group of people that consume more and more amounts of anime each day and as such this may have a wider effect. Using this approach, music that is optimized for each person’s personal prime performance can be reached with the aid of music that caters to their personal or collective hobbies along with other inherent benefits such as the language here, the tempo of dancing music or the relaxing and focusing characteristics of video game soundtracks discussed above.

In conclusion, many studies point towards several different areas in the structure of songs that may benefit our productivity or detract from it. Being mindful of properties such as volume level, tempo, the amount of lyricism may help individuals a great deal when choosing a song when choosing to study. Additionally, the environment in which you are working and the environment where you come from must have great consideration. Noisy environments may benefit simply by virtue of increasing one’s mood and ethnically identifiable music may aid in bringing further comfort in what may be uncomfortable work or a difficult new topic. Music that relates to several hobbies may aid in the search for further productivity especially if in a group setting many of them may share the same hobby and benefit from a greater synergy and achieve even greater team productivity and learning.