There is plenty of evidence linking music to our brains’ ability to absorb and remember information. Aside from the Spice Girls, the 1990s birthed ‘The Mozart Effect’ – a popular belief that smashing out the classical composers’ greatest hits would turn us into overnight geniuses.
While the media did over-hype the phenomena, there is still plenty of evidence in favour of cranking the tunes for study’s sake.
Dr Emma Gray, a clinical psychologist at the British Cognitive Therapy and Counselling Service in London, was commissioned by Spotify a few years ago to figure out the perfect study playlist.
Out of the test groups subjected to total silence, 50 decibels, 70 decibels and 85 decibels, it was the creatives in the 70 decibel range who out-performed their peers.
For science, humanities and language students needing to fire the left side of their brain to process factual information and solve problems like a boss, music with 50-80 beats per minute is ideal.
Dr Gray prescribes hits like Justin Timberlake’s Mirrors, Miley Cyrus’ We Can’t Stop, which are calming to the mind and conducive to logical thought, allowing the brain the learn and remember new facts.
English, drama or art students will benefit from emotive pop/rock anthems like Katy Perry’s Firework or I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction) by the Rolling Stones. They enhance creative performance and a heightened sense of excitement by firing the brain’s ability to process original, creative thoughts.
For the detail-driven among us, students listening to classical music with 60-70 beats per minute perform an average of 12 per cent higher on exams. Tunes with the melody and tone range of Beethoven’s Fur Elise or Vivaldi’s Spring from Four Seasons can help us study longer and retain more information by inducing a state of relaxation where the mind is calm but alert, the imagination is stimulated and concentration is heightened.
As with with all good science, there is always an ‘it depends’ clause around the question of just how effective music is when it comes to getting the old synapses firing.
A team lead by Ravi Mehta at the University of Illinois found that background noise helped to create distractions and boost creativity, but balance was key. Out of the test groups subjected to total silence, 50 decibels, 70 decibels and 85 decibels, it was the creatives in the 70 decibel range who out-performed their peers.
It turns out that a moderate level of background noise creates just enough of a distraction to break us out of our thinking patterns and push us into imagination mode, while still keeping us focused on the task at hand. This means an ambient soundtrack or the moderate-level background noise of a busy café would be the perfect audio space to nut out that genius idea for an assignment.
For those who like to take matters into their own hands, creating your own music is a veritable goldmine of positive effects when it comes to nailing exams.
Got an equation that you can’t quite commit to memory?
Memory research suggests within a month of reading your all-time favourite book you’re likely to only remember a fairly dismal two per cent of the text. However, laying down a sick beat and rapping that bad boy can make all the difference. It’s all tied to a history of humans passing down oral histories via song or chants.
Jonathon Sauer, educational entrepreneur and memory activist, and his musical partner Andy Bernstein, who raps under the name Abdominal, have already turned Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness into rap in order to help people better commit the words to memory.
So break out the headphones and let loose. It’s good for your education. Science said so.