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The Best Background Music During Quiet Work Sessions

Whether studying, writing, or just reading, I like to have some quiet music playing in the background. My preference is instrumental jazz. Whatever your preference is, studies show that listening to background music while working causes listeners to reduce their level of stress and anxiety.

The Mozart Effect

In 1993, the science magazine Nature published an article by Frances Rauscher, Gordon Shaw, and Catherine Ky. These three researchers wondered if listening to Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major affected abstract spatial reasoning. One test group listened to the music, a second listened to verbal relaxation instructions, and a third worked in complete silence. The results showed a positive effect on the people who listened to Mozart, but this effect was temporary. 

When the general press got hold of the results, there was a rash of articles that flatly stated that listening to Mozart made you cleverer. Indeed, in the late 1990s, the then governor of Georgia said that the state would provide each newborn Georgian with a CD of classical music. Listening to music doesn't make you more intelligent, but it does hone your focus, allowing you to be intelligent.

Do's and Don'ts

Background music helps students relax while concentrating on their studies, but there are some caveats to the type of music played.

  • The music should be instrumental. Lyrics can be distracting and have the opposite effect to what you intend. This is because your students will focus on the lyrics and pay more attention to the music than their work.
  • Play the music softly; too loud, and it will be a distraction to your class and others.
  • Studies suggest that music in a major key enhances brain function and concentration. However, music in a minor key may better suit introverts and help with complex tasks. If you use music regularly, it is a good idea to vary your playlist and see what works best.
  • Don't change the music too often. The best thing is to keep the same music or playlist during the study period. A change of tempo or style can be distracting. But do have a variety of music on deck for your next study round.
  • Although we are concentrating on music, ambient sound like rainfall can be helpful too.

Ideas To Get You Started

Mozart Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major

This is the piece that started the Mozart Effect bandwagon. It is a beautiful work that lasts around 24 minutes. It can be a little loud at times so it's best to keep this one on low volume for optimal effect. 

Brahms Compilation

Over 3 hours of music composed by the violin and clarinet make up this gentle, sweeping score. Its length means you won't have to worry about changing the music.

Soft Jazz

YouTube is a haven of unintrusive, coffee house jazz. This is where I go when I am working. In fact, I am listening to it right now. Again, there are over three hours of music here. Some videos even have rain noise in the background. Just type "Soft Jazz" in the search box for a wealth of options.


A particular favorite, Bach, is an excellent choice for chilling out and studying up. If you use YouTube as your source for background music, you might want to ensure that your students can't see the screen. Although the videos I suggested have static screens, some might find the screen distracting while working on their assignment or test.

Classical Compilation

This mixture of favorites includes work by Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, complete with Bach wearing headphones and studious black glasses. If the image is too distracting a visual, you can use Spotify's library for a wide selection of suitable music.

Final Thoughts

It's a proven fact that music can help students study. This finding seems to hold true for students of all ages. It soothes and relaxes all while improving concentration. It is worth repeating that choosing the right music is fundamental. AC/DC might be a great band, but they're probably not the perfect accompaniment to a study session. 

The watchword is "quiet." It also seems true that many students find complete silence very intimidating, and having soft music in the background creates a warm atmosphere. You and your students will find that they are more productive and willing to work when music is being played.

Written by Stephen Tomkinson
Education World Contributor
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