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With Great Music Comes Great Responsilibity!

Beth Colquhoun ponders the age-old question of whether or not listening to music can actually help your studies...

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Image Credit: Interpreture - Spotify Study List

Blacklisted words: revision, exams, due date, dissertation.

It’s spring and although the blossom and baby ducklings are a beautiful backdrop to our towns; for students this is all a vicious, solitary time. Spring only spells the build up to exam season. So, the panic sets in and adrenaline rushes to the get smart quick schemes.

Playing your revision notes to yourself in your sleep after spending hours recording them into your phone. Highlighting every key point and realising the page is now luminous pink. Or steering down a different highlighter avenue and colour coding EVERYTHING. Did that really need to take two and a half hours? Yet, the decades old traditional habit for revision is, in fact, music.

Music might be the lure needed for procrastination.

Revising with the accompaniment of music may not be so much a harmonious orchestra, but more an experimental free jazz set. Now, nothing is entirely wrong with free jazz, but it can be hard to follow. Equally, the presence of music when trying to focus can make things hard to follow.

The music, as beautiful and catchy it may be, entices and entertains part of your brain when learning. Engaging in music uses the cerebellum and memory centres such as the hippocampus and frontal lobe, that would otherwise be active when studying in order to retain information. Blocking these pathways makes revising more difficult than it needs to be, and only elongates the entire process.

Photo: Vita Student Twitter1549

Whilst soaking up this week’s heatwave, I write this to the soothing sounds of Nina Simone. Her beautifully developed vocal range and melodic jazzy tunes have my foot tapping and my head bobbing. It would seem I am having a good time, and admittedly it is lovely.

Undeniably I am writing slower, and more prone to distractions such as the unexpected arrival of the Mambo Number 5 on my playlist, but greater than this, it is probably taking me twice as long to write this piece than it should.On the other side of the fence are the firm believers of music with revision.

Our love for music outshines anything else

I don’t struggle with procrastination, but my mind does wonder when studying. Music, therefore, acts a deterrent to these thoughts, keeping me motivated and working with momentum on would otherwise be a difficult trek. When the music plays my mind knows it is study time, yet to a more easily distracted mind this might be the lure needed for procrastination.

Evidently from experience the type and genre of music is a major factor in distraction. The Mozart Effect was a study in the late 1990s that linked to the improvement of spatial-reason after exposure to ten minutes of Mozart. For me, I would echothe stereotypical classical music listener a form of sorts of Stephen Fry. Channelling this persona has proved helpful before speeches, this is not permanent and before long you are yourself again and struggling with basic calculations – using your calculator for sums such as 2 x 3…

Photo: - Wolfgang Mozart1547

The solution here is to listen to yourself.


But only you can know how you study. When I was a young warthog in seniors’ school it was popular for all students to undergo a test that would formulate what brand of learning works best; whether that be oral learning, visual learning or auditory – one of our senses would be a stronghold to build our revision on top of.

My results?

As it turned out, I had equal scores on each faction of the learning spectrum, so where did that put me? It placed me in the wonderful section of the ignored students.

That being said, I started a long and timely process of trial and error before finding my revision style changed depending on my mood and emotion. Feeling like a spiritual guru, I had found that my study style would depend on the day, therefore, I would have different techniques in place to suit my mood. This ranged from sitting down with a text book and underlining notes to sticky notes making a Cavallini mosaic across the walls of my bedroom.

Unless we want to get all mystic yoga about things, music and revision can only be specified as a partnership both good, bad and ugly. It is up to us how we manage it. Music like everything else can become addictive, a crutch. But it is also freeing and joyous. It is up to us not to abuse music.

That feeling you get when you listen to a song that has been your alarm for the past few months. It’s almost song abuse. But we do it because our love for music outshines anything else. Although, with great music comes great responsibility.

Four tips for revising responsibly:
I. Take decent and lengthy breaks. A good time to relax and meditate on your work - and is
just as important as your revision!
II. Drink plenty! Snacks are also advisory.
III. If you’re easily distracted try music without lyrics or ease yourself into revision with music for the first half an hour!
IV. Don’t overwork yourself. Not everything has to be done today. Take it easy, stressing out only blocks
those memory pathways!


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