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Can Classical Music Help You Focus?

Most students will sooner or later be wondering if there are certain tools that might help them to focus and concentrate better when studying complex subjects.

And one thing, that often comes up is listening to classical music while studying.

But is having classical music running in the background really helpful for your brain to better absorb the information that you’re studying?

Or will it just distract you?

Scientific research says that classical music can indeed help you focus better but not necessarily.

It differs from person to person.

The Mozart Effect

In 1993, a study came to the conclusion that listening to classical music, especially to Mozart, can raise your IQ and also benefit your cognitive abilities.

This was called the “Mozart effect”.

But over the last couple of years this has mostly been disproved.

Scientists concluded that the so-called Mozart effect only happened because listening to music can potentially increase a person’s dopamine levels (according to a different study).

Additionally, it appears that it’s also a good treatment for depression.

This means that listening and being exposed to classical music won’t necessarily make you more intelligent.

Although, you could definitely feel better and happier while doing it.

There has been conducted a study in which students had to listen for one hour to classical music in the background while following a lecture.

A test group was following the same lecture but without classical music in the background.

The study showed that those students who had classical music in the background were able to remember more from the lecture then the other group.

Attention Systems

In general, it appears that we have two attention systems:

  • one, that is very active and conscious and helps us to focus on the thing that we actually try to focus on
  • and another, that basically runs passively in the background, unconsciously, and simply picks up everything else that’s happening in our surrounding

This one is a lot more simple and connected to emotional processing.

At the same time, it operates a lot quicker than our conscious attention system.

And this could be a problem depending on what you’re studying and trying to focus on.

If it’s something that you find rather boring and are not interested in your unconscious attention, that’s picking up the classical music playing in the background, can easily start distracting you.

But this could also be the case if you have a general interest in classical music.

Then you might find yourself singing along with the melody you hear or otherwise interact with the music.

For that reason, the classical music you pick to play in the background should not be complex or have a huge dynamic range.

Suitable music could be light solo piano pieces, simple guitar music or slow orchestral music.

This way, the music won’t draw too much attention.

Personal Preference

But more importantly, it comes down to your personal preference.

For instance, you will unlikely be able to increase your focus if the music that’s playing doesn’t “speak” to you.

The music would most likely also need to mirror your “action”; if you’re sitting at a desk and studying with books and writing a lot, calm classical music might be the way to go.

But let’s say you’re working out at the gym where you also need to focus, mentally.

Most people will go for music with a fast tempo instead of Mozart.

Additionally, everyone’s music taste is different and everyone finds his inner peace with different kinds of music.

This can be classical music but can also be hip-hop, EDM or rap. So one style of music that works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for someone else.


Something else to keep in mind are songs with lyrics.

Our brain unconsciously pays more attention to human speech than music alone.

So if you’re studying, putting on songs with lyrics might be counterproductive.

This might be one of the reasons why people find classical music works well for focusing.

The question “Can classical music help you focus” is not an easy one to answer as it depends. Read more about it here

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Eric Chang

Piano and music blogger

Hi, I’m Eric. I’ve been playing piano for 15 years and wanted to share everything I have learnt with the world.

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