OPINION | Why classical music is best for studying

You have piles and piles of work to do, with no end in sight. It’s time to stop putting it off and start getting it done. Time to sit down with a snack, some atmospheric lighting and knock it all out. But — what to listen to?  

If you’re anything like me, a good study playlist is vital. I simply cannot be expected to work without some tunes. Additionally, if you’re anything like me, you like to sing along to your favorite songs when Spotify sends them your way. I find this distracts me from my work. 

The solution to this is to pick study songs with no lyrics, and while you’re at it, pick some of the most beautiful music ever composed.  

Studying can be a terribly dull affair, but beautiful music changes the tone of the experience completely. Imagine sitting in a cozy cafe, rain pounding at the window, while Frederic Chopin himself plays one of his Nocturnes right next to you. The music sweeps you away and before you know it, your math homework is done.  

I’ve heard it argued before that classical music is boring, and while that makes me sad, I understand how long pieces of quiet music would make someone sleepy instead of fired up.  

For one thing, study music should not be more distracting than studying. I find classical music strikes a nice balance between lo-fi and music with lyrics — the music has enough variety to keep me interested, but not without taking away from the task at hand.  

Also, I have exciting news: Not all classical music is quiet! 

Ever listened to the first movement of Beethoven’s fifth? “Dance of the Knights” by Sergei Prokofiev? “Winter” by Vivaldi? If you’re feeling too calm in general, a string quartet by Dmitri Shostakovich will not only wake you up, it will stress you out!  

For people who like calmer, steadier study music, Debussy has some piano pieces that are light and ethereal without intruding on your focus. For people who need fast music to motivate them, try any of the above. Mozart is good for working at a rapid but consistent pace, without necessarily being too loud or too quiet.  

Just a couple underappreciated composers that aren’t white males include Clara Schumann, who wrote some lovely and emotional piano pieces sure to inspire you as you write a paper, or Florence Price, a composer of color with four symphonies and numerous concertos under her belt. I recommend the second movement of her third symphony. There are many more out there who deserve love, waiting for the inclusion of their music on your playlist.  

Besides the beauty and variety classical music offers, it has long had an association with academic performance. There is a limit to this, as according to Britannica, claims that listening to Mozart makes you smarter have long been refuted. That doesn’t mean it can’t help your long-term memory and focus.  

A study at Baylor University had 50 students complete a math lecture while listening to 15 minutes of recognizable classical music. They then played the music for half of the students while they were sleeping, and the students who listened to the music as they slept performed better on a test on the lecture the next day by 18%.  

The study concluded that “students can leverage instrumental music — which they already commonly pair with studying — to help prepare for academic tests, an approach that may promote course success and persistence.” 

Make your studying more beautiful and more fruitful with classical music. Check out the composers above — if you like what you hear, give them another listen when your focus isn’t divided.  

Photo by Taylor Villalpando.