For many students, a study session doesn’t start until they pick their perfect music playlist. After all, when you have a mountain of classwork to power through, a solid soundtrack can provide a much needed energy boost and dose of motivation.
Fortunately, Spotify is making it super easy and affordable for students to access the music they love by offering three months of *Spotify Premium for only $0.99. However, with great access comes great responsibility. With over 30 million songs to choose from, finding the right tunes to study to is often easier said than done.
Listening to music has been shown to positively impact our mood, blood pressure, and heart rate. However, research also indicates that the type of music that would be most effective in improving your focus and attention largely depends on what you’re doing. For instance, the same music that would help you get through a tedious, repetitive task like responding to emails might distract you when you’re trying to study for an exam.1
You’ve probably listened to music while working. Maybe when you were a teenager you turned the music up to almost unbearable levels and tried to do your algebra homework, only minimizing the volume when your parents insisted.Now you may put on headphones and turn up the tunes to drown out the chatter of coworkers and help you focus on that project you really need to get done.
In recent years, several companies have created music that is specifically designed to improve focus and concentration. Brain.fm and Focus@Will both claim that listening to their music will give you laser productivity and boost your overall levels of focus. Focus@Will even claims they can boost your focus by 400%.
Additionally, Spotify, Apple Music, and other services have specific “focus” playlists, with songs designed to improve concentration.
And while Spotify and Apple Music don’t claim to have science behind their playlists, Brain.fm and Focus@Will do.
Do these services actually work? Is their real, legitimate science behind their claims? How does focus music even work?
In this post, we’re going to do a deep dive into the science of focus music. We’re going to examine the science and see how music and the brain interact. We’ll close with some action steps to take.2
What is Entrainment
There is one more bit of science behind focus music: entrainment. It is believed that brainwaves can be synchronized to external sound waves, such as music. In other words, as the brain is exposed to repeated sound waves over a period of time, the brain waves will become synchronized with the sound waves.
This synchronization is called entrainment.
If brainwaves and sound waves can be synchronized, it follows that listening to certain types of music can lead to certain brain states (sleep, relaxed, focused, etc.), because each brain state has a particular brainwave pattern.
Entrainment in particular is behind the music produced by Brain.fm. They note (and this is a bit technical):
A low-frequency oscillator generates amplitude modulations in the low-frequency range (<20 Hz). For example, beta modulations (12-18 Hz) are used to stimulate attentional focus, as beta-band activity is related to the maintenance of the current cognitive state. Thus, entrainment of beta oscillations helps listeners keep their attentional focus for a longer time period.
In other words, the music follows a particular pattern that mimics the brain waves present in a focused state. After listening for some time, the brain waves become entrained to the music, helping you get focused.
Music, Creativity, and Emotion
There is also some evidence that music can stimulate creativity. As one study notes:
A high level of noise may cause a great deal of distraction, causing individuals to process information to a lesser extent and therefore to exhibit lower creativity. A moderate (vs. low) level of noise, however, is expected to distract people without significantly affecting the extent of processing. Further, we reason that such a moderate distraction, which induces processing difficulty, enhances creativity by prompting abstract thinking.
In other words words, low levels of noise (think music or coffee shop), can lead to abstract, or “sideways” thinking. This kind of thinking often leads to creative solutions that otherwise wouldn’t have been found.
Additionally, a study in France found that students who studied with classical music on in the background scored significantly higher than those who studied in silence. The researchers believe that the music put the students in an aroused emotional state, which led to more effective processing of information.3
Relax to music algorithmically generated based on GitHub events. Some users think this is a great alternative to Brain.fm, some doesn’t.Free • Open SourceOnlineSelf-Hosted
Focusmusic.fm provides music to help you focus. It’s an easy to use productivity web app that plays soothing but upbeat music to help you keep your mind on work. Some users think this is a great alternative to Brain.fm, some doesn’t.FreeOnlineAndroidiPhoneGuGood for focus, although brain.fm has more options if you’re looking to take a nap or meditate.
Focus@Will has tens of thousands of hours of unique brain music to help you control your ADD.
Get in the productivity zone with GetWorkDoneMusic.com, a free and intuitive music player designed to help you focus.
Gnaural is an open source programmable auditory binaural-beat generator, implementing the principle described in the October 1973 Scientific American article “Auditory Beats…Free •
Coffitivity recreates the ambient sounds of a cafe to boost your creativity and help you work better. Our coffee shop sounds are supported by science and backed by a community of creative people using the app every day.
Generative.fm is a collection of endlessly unique ambient music pieces composed generatively for continuous play without repetition.Free • Open SourceOnlineSelf-HostedRelaxation
Music to get work done.Free
Loffee is a one stop application for your Lo-Fi needs, with music for focusing to music for setting the vibe on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
iAwake’s unique approaches to audio session design entrain our nervous system, by combining traditional entrainment methods with newer applications based on the latest scientifically backed music.
These spotify playlists is an aggregate of all brain and focus music compiled on Spotify.
But if you’re stuck on a problem and you’re looking for creative inspiration, taking a break to listen to music or engage in idle “mind wandering” may allow the brain the freedom it needs to “dredge up” new ideas or insights, he says. He also cites research linking mind-wandering to creative inspiration.
In those cases, what type of music should you turn on? “I think that will vary a lot depending on the individual,” Beeman says. “For most, I think something that’s pleasant and familiar—not so novel that it’s distracting—would be helpful.”