The Psychology of Music and Success as a College Student

By Mike Simmons

Back in grade school, I can remember my father lecturing me not to watch television while studying, yet I find myself and millions of college students, relatively, doing the same thing my father warned me of; listening to music while studying.

student-listening-to-musicWith the millennial generation concerned with what they want at a moment notice, a lot of students are becoming susceptible to their own catalog of sounds while going about their daily lives.

Opting out of the natural sounds of birds on a spring day, the buzz of colleagues and teachers in the halls, or the fortune of silence in order to foster deep thought.

I even found myself listening to lyric-less audio while reading in order to drown out the noises around me.

To some, people allocate much of their time to headphones. Such as keeping them company while alone (working in front of a computer is a perfect scenario) or multitasking with headphones and a task in front of them to pursue a vested interest in music.

Vijay Iyer, a New York jazz pianist with a background in physics and music cognition, mentions the driving force behind the consumption of music while studying (or working) is connected by the yearning for synchronizing our actions through emotions.

As humans, we take great pride in the work we put out in school or the workplace and music stimulates the necessary feelings to create something great into actions and feel good about it.

Of course, there are drawbacks. Certain genres of music benefit more than others while studying and listening to music. For instance, music that is lyric-less, repetition-less, and arranged with acoustic instrument can optimize a student’s cognition and longevity of their study session.

Otherwise, most genres of music takes away from the student’s concentration and even forces the brain to stop thinking critically and go into a sub-conscious train of thought.

So, for the students who believe tracks from the Billboard top 100 will inspire them to retain more while cramming for a midterm exam will be disappointed. Classical music and American jazz prove to be formidable choices to study with.

Though music can aid students in a realm most can identify with, writing. Music has the ability to promote creative thinking and help one reach its peak. For those familiar with writer’s block, listening to music can push the block out of that dead-end and unravel a bouquet of words.

But listening to music while studying doesn’t account for forging content, rather it combines the pieces of contextualized thoughts and puts it into conception.

This is a common myth among current college students. That music will trigger some deep-unconscious cache of memories of covered material in lectures and translate into ink on paper. Music is a supplement, not a catalyst.

In the grand scheme of things, academia cannot definitively weigh the positive and negatives of listening to music while studying.

Mark Jude Tramo, a musician, prolific songwriter, and neuroscientist at the Harvard Medical School, says there is insufficient knowledge that music helps people master other skills like reading or math.

While growing up with music instruction has proven to improve literacy and mathematical skills, motivation is the underlying cause for concern for students who practice listening to music while studying.

Motivation depends on self-esteem, self-efficacy, and aspirations to generate positive cognition while studying, which is the ideal condition for studying.

Rather, listening to music while studying has derived itself from social media oriented members of the millennial generation.


The power of music: its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people, by Susan Hallam, Institute of Education, University of London.

Music on the brain: Researchers explore the biology of music By William J. Cromie, Harvard University Gazette.

Enhancing Creativity Through Sound and Music by Stephen Smith.

Mike Simmons is a web enthusiast and writer who loves all things education and college. He is the chief content writer for eCollegeFinder’s Blog specializing in all the latest educational news.  You can find him on Google+.

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Additions by site author Douglas Eby :

The top image, according to Google image search, is associated with this article: How to rock your way to higher grades By Timothy Mullaney.

Susan Hallam is co-author of the book Improving Behaviour and Attendence at School.

Music for Learning CDAudio CD Music for Learning by The Arcangelos Chamber Ensemble.


Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks.

Tune Your Brain: Using Music to Manage Your Mind, Body, and Mood by Elizabeth Miles.

The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit by Don Campbell.


Oliver Sacks on music and the brain.

One of the impacts of music indicated in some of the research is its ability to shift mood. Here are a couple of related articles:

Sian L. Beilock says high ability students may be most susceptible to performance pressure. [Facebook post] She is a professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Chicago. This is an audio excerpt from her presentation at The Science of Thriving virtual conference.

Stop being run by your feelings By Morty Lefkoe. “When you experience that you are your feelings, you are totally at the effect of them. They seem to pervade your entire being and there seems to be no escape from them. When you experience that you have feelings, but they are not who you are, you make a clear distinction between ‘you’ and ‘your feelings.’”


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