There’s no doubting that music is a fantastic discovery and is one of the most phenomenal aspects of human culture to date. It’s a great source of entertainment, it can be used for meditation, and it can be a way to bring people together. One of the more interesting applications that music can be used for is for focus and concentration.
Today, we’re going to address the idea of music being used to enhance someone’s cognitive abilities There is some research about the topic that we’re going to explore, and by the end of this article, you should know how you can use music to help you focus and concentrate better.
How music affects us
A lot of people listen to music when they’re studying or doing arduous tasks because it seems to make the time pass faster, but a lot of people don’t stop to consider that the music might actually be enhancing their ability to function. Some say that the background noise helps them focus by drowning out any other noises, but what’s the science behind this?
You’d think that having music playing in the background would just make things more convoluted. Shouldn’t it be more difficult to have to pick your thoughts out from a wave of music? How come some people think it’s more distracting not to have music playing?
There’s a bit of science behind the understanding of music and the reason that the brain prefers to have it instead of silence. To understand this, you need to know that there’s a spectrum of musical properties. Research has suggested that the brain prefers there to be a medium level of syncopation in music for the brain to be able to enjoy it.
Syncopation is the musical term for, basically, funkyness (but not in the sense that funk music is known for providing.) It’s the funk, the jive, the groove, the part of music that gets you into it. A lot of syncopation is what drives people to dance, though not all music needs to be ‘danceable’ to be enjoyed.
Simple beats, like the sound of listening to a metronome, might be good for keeping time but aren’t very good for keeping people entertained. Simple beats like that have low levels of syncopation and don’t drive the pleasure response that causes people to want to dance.
Music with high levels of syncopation, like jazz or electronic music, has seriously high levels of syncopation. It can be very intense, confusing, and even off-putting. Whatever it is, it doesn’t often cause people to want to dance, though it can still be enjoyed and appreciated by those who enjoy complex music.
Medium levels of syncopation are the part that get people focused enough to improve their studies, though.
- The brain isn’t great at taking in abstract information. It’s also not adapted to think about a single thing for a long time. It’s basically broke down into two attention systems – our conscious attention, which lets us focus on things that we want to, and the unconscious one, that directs attention towards things that our senses indicate are are probably important..
- The unconscious attention system is much simpler and also more crucial to our ability to survive. It’s linked to our emotions more than our conscious attention system, and not so much related to logic.
- While our conscious attention is focused on something, the unconscious system doesn’t just disappear. It’s still there, trying to be aware of anything that might be important.
- During times that your conscious attention is directed towards something that your instinct deems boring or dull – say, staring at a piece of paper for hours on end in an effort to gelean some information for your next test – the unconscious system gets even more focused.
- By keeping music on in the background at a medium level of funk, you’ll distract your secondary attention system enough that it’s not completely occupied by trying to detect extra information. This allows you to hone in on your conscious attention system and dedicate yourself entirely to the task at hand.
One of the things that you have probably noticed is that it’s much easier to get aggravated by some seemingly simple things when you’re trying to focus on something that’s not particularly pleasurable, or something that’s extremely important.
For example, if someone’s snoring when you’re trying to sleep, it’s easy to lose focus and go insane. Or, if you’re studying for a test, it’s easier to get distracted by somebody who’s sniffling because they have a cold.
Music is great in these situations because it allows you to block out these background noises without actually becoming a distraction itself. If you play some calming music at a reasonable volume that’s not so loud that it becomes a hindrance, no longer do you have to worry about Mr. Sniffles or Sir Snores.
What should I listen to?
While syncopation might be great for getting your body and mind to synchronize together, if you’re hoping to study, you’re probably going to want something a bit more low-fi.
In fact, some companies have begun doing work on noise that’s so low-fi it’s not even classed as music. Pink noise, a less obnoxious version of white noise, has been used in workplaces and has been proven to reduce the rate at which people get distracted, which would thus improve productivity.
It’s also important to note that music’s potet effect on your mood can have an impact on the way it affects your concentration. For example, if you’re listening to music you dislike, you’ll be much easier to distract. LIkewise, music has a pretty impressive effect on our overall mood and attitude. It’s suspected that melancholy or depressive music can leach our motivation and thus inhibit focus.
Video game soundtracks
Research suggests that video game soundtracks are some of the best for improving focus. I can attest to this personally as I’ve studied and worked to the soundtracks of my favorite games since elementary school. I’m talking about the epic, sprawling orchestrated soundtracks of expansive role-playing and adventure games, though.
Video games have their music composed to create atmosphere and complement the games, not to steal the gamer’s attention. That makes them ideal as having them as an accompaniment when you’re studying. This soundtrack has powered me through hours of studying.