Music for studying: effects of music and the perfect playlists

Written by Hannes Wagner, Feb 17, 2022

Do you prefer studying with music in the background or in complete silence? If you’re used to studying in silence, here’s a tip: Apparently music can help us with studying and Mozart’s work makes us smarter. Popular music platforms are flooded with playlists for concentration and studying. But to what extent are these effects scientifically proven and how can you create the perfect playlist to study with concentration for hours on end? We’ll answer those two questions for you today.

The effect of music on studying

Music has a mood regulating and motivating effect. That’s for sure. But can it help us to study more efficiently and make us smarter?

What does science have to say?

Science has not yet agreed whether music makes us smarter and whether it helps us to study. Some studies verify the positive effect, some studies refute it.

Maybe you’ve even heard of the “Mozart effect” before. But listening to Mozart doesn’t make us smarter and doesn’t enhance our performance. And that goes for every kind of music. In 1993, researchers discovered that participants scored higher on IQ tests after listening to Mozart. What entailed a Mozart boom at first was refuted quickly, since it cannot be proven that the music was the reason for the better results. That’s exactly why science cannot prove that music makes us smarter or helps with studying.

However, scientists can observe an increased release of endorphins and activation of different cerebral regions while listening to music.

Improved performance through music?

In this way, music can help with studying and enhances performance. When we feel good, for example by listening to music, we’re more motivated. This motivational boost can enhance our performance. Furthermore, the endorphins brighten our mood, which helps us stay motivated for longer.

Studying with music

So, if you want to study with music, we’ll now answer the question of which music is best for studying. The answer: music that you like!

What do you have to keep in mind?

The most important aspect to consider is you. In the end, it all depends on your personal preferences and needs. You won’t enjoy studying if you listen to music that you hate. Neither will you stay focused more easily if you’re listening to slow music when you’re already tired. All the scientific recommendations can be helpful, but they do not apply to everybody 100%.

Therefore, you have complete freedom in your choice of music. However, there are some aspects to keep in mind:

  • Very emotional music that makes you want to sing and dance along is not great for studying since it distracts you too much.
  • If you’re trying to learn something by heart, especially vocabulary, instrumental music is better because the lyrics won’t distract you.

Create a playlist

If you would like some music for your next study session, it would be advisable to create a playlist beforehand. Creating your own playlist has advantage that you can choose music that you enjoy. The neurologist Eckart Altenmüller explains that we feel good when we listen to music we like. This way, we can perform and study better. A premade playlist allows you to focus completely on studying. It would pull you out of your study flow and concentration, if you had to choose the next song every time.


There is a lot to consider when it comes to the pace of the music, since it has the biggest influence on our body. While slower songs calm us down, quicker songs stimulate us. You can take advantage of these effects. For example, you can use quicker music to wake yourself up when you’re already a little bit tired.

The behavioural psychologist Dr Emma Gray has formulated very specific recommendations regarding the pace. She argues that slower rhythms affect our left hemisphere (logic) positively and quicker music stimulates our right hemisphere (creativity). Based on this hypothesis she recommends the perfect pace for different fields of study.

According to this, you should listen to music with 50-80 beats per minute if you’re studying strongly logical fields like mathematics, physics or biology. The slower music stimulates your left hemisphere and helps you comprehend and remember complex facts better.

If you’re studying arts, the researcher recommends music with 145bpm, since this pace activates your right, creative hemisphere. Therefore, creative thinking is encouraged.

For students of human sciences songs with 80-145 bpm are perfect. The combination of logic and creativity activates both hemispheres.

The neurologist Eckart Altenmüller disagrees with this allocation of pace and brain area. On the contrary, he argues that music activates and connects all parts of our brain. Therefore, you can try out Emma Gray’s recommendations, but don’t let them limit you.

Music genres and styles

As mentioned, you should choose music that you like. But we still want to give you some music tips and inspiration, so that you can create your perfect playlist!

Classical music

Even though the Mozart effect was refuted, classical music still has a dominant position. Classical music is especially popular because the pace is just right. The key Major has an uplifting and motivating effect. Also, there are no lyrics that could distract you.

Here are some tips for classical music:

Piano music

Piano music is also really popular. Here you have endless options since most songs have a piano version.  That means that you can, for example, use piano versions of your favourite songs. Another idea would be piano versions of film soundtracks.

Here are some ideas for piano music:

Acoustic guitar music

If you prefer guitars to pianos, you can definitely try acoustic guitar music. There are not only guitar composers, but also acoustic guitar versions of most pop songs.

How about some guitar music for your playlist:

Electronic music

If you only think of electronic music in clubs, you’re missing out on a big part of electronic music. Electronic music can also be great for studying if you’re into it. Just try it!

Here are some playlist with electronic music:

If you need a study break to take your mind off and want to listen to great music with amazing pictures, here’s a STUWO tip: Take a look at our Youtube channel and check out our videos. They’re amazing for your ears AND eyes.

Hopefully, you can create a perfect playlist for your next study session with these tips. But not only the music is important, but also the right study environment, therefore we have 15 practical gadgets for your home office. In your STUWO dormitory you also have learning lounges and community areas where you can study with headphones for hours on end! Here are some more tips on studying efficiently!

Good luck!


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