Music has long been known to have profound effects on the brain. Listening to the right tunes can provide mood-altering effects, and can even create a better quality of life for those who use music to destress.
However, a growing pool of research shows music's effects on the brain go even deeper than mood, as it has been proven to increase cognitive abilities. For those who learn to play an instrument, music's benefits on the most important organ in the human body goes a step further by improving memory.
Believe it or not, listening to certain types of music can help you learn. Here's how.
Not only does music help learning abilities, but it increases focus in listeners, according to a Stanford University study. "In a concert setting, for example, different individuals listen to a piece of music with wandering attention," Vinod Menon, the study's senior author and an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said in a press release. "But at the transition point between movements, their attention is arrested."
As listeners pick up the subtle differences found in music, their attention to the melody and their environment increases. "These transitions between musical movements offer an ideal setting to study the dynamically changing landscape of activity in the brain during this segmentation process," neuroscience graduate student Devarajan Sridharan further explained.
Stanford's results may also reveal how some people are able to overcome the "cocktail party problem," as co-author of the study Daniel Levitin coined it, "how it is that we are able to follow one conversation in a crowded room of many conversations."
Music can also help retain learned information, according to Johns Hopkins University. The esteemed college suggests incorporating music into a classroom environment to create a positive learning experience and improve memory while increasing attention.
"In active learning experiences [in which music is played while studying or learning a new concept] music creates a soundtrack for a learning activity," Chris Boyd Brewer explained in his book Music and Learning, an excerpt of which is published on the university's website. "The soundtrack increases interest and activates the information mentally, physically or emotionally. Music can also create a highly focused learning state in which vocabulary and reading material is absorbed at a great rate. When information is put to rhythm and rhyme these musical elements will provide a hook for recall."
Incorporating music even further into the learning experience helps focus and retention. Any former elementary school student can likely recall the various chants and hymns used to remember things like the ABCs. Songs like "The Wheels on the Bus" allow students to work on memory retention in the classroom, while unique raps or melodies can provide a way to remember information learned in a new, exciting way.
Whether it's playing some classical music while cramming for finals or trying out a new playlist while learning a new program or concept, try giving music a listen next time you want to learn. It could make for a harmonious studying session.