We often listen to music to get in the mood and focus. But what’s the best music for concentration and productivity? I checked 30 scientific studies on who’s better – Eminem or Freddie Mercury, does classical music make you smarter, how lyrics work, and a lot of other stuff.
It’s the first post in series about music and cognitive abilities. And today’s question is – what genre would help you achieve the highest level of cognitive performance?
What genre is the best
And the short answer is – it doesn’t matter. There’s almost no difference in what you’ll listen to – Billie Eilish, Mozart, or AC/DC. The only thing that matters to your productivity is what genres do you like. It’s that simple. You could finish here or stay with me, so I’ll explain how it works, based on research results. Also, I’ll talk about minor differences like lyrics.
And yeah, if you thought that the best genre is classical music, it could work. For you.
But I promise that most stuff you heard about classical music and increasing IQ – is just rubbish. You could argue with me in the comments if you want.
There was research in 1993 that reported an improvement in mental tasks after listening to classical music. It led to the so-called “Mozart effect”. The problem is that results were popularly interpreted as an increase in IQ, while the original research didn’t state anything like that; except a 15-minute boost to folding paper and solving mazes.
But, the commercial wave already started, so we got tons of articles, books, and even government programs with taglines “classical music makes you smarter”.
After that, we got multiple disproofs from renowned universities, the military “brain music” program, and a lot of other stuff, which won’t fit in this post. To provide more details, I’ll make a special post about classical music and productivity and add the link when it’s ready.
For now, let’s get back to genres and why they don’t matter.
How our brain reacts to music
The first factor is brain connectivity. There’s an internal circuit in our head called the default mode network. It affects our mental ability a lot.
And, based on the research from Wake Forest Medical Center, listening to the music you dislike makes it poorly connected, while your favorite music makes it most connected. The investigators picked 21 people and asked them to listen to music they liked and disliked from different genres: classical, country, rap, rock, and Chinese opera. During that, they were scanning participants’ brain activity through magnetic resonance imaging.
These brain scans showed a consistent pattern: genres didn’t matter a lot, the listener’s preferences had the greatest impact on brain connectivity. Especially on memory and internally focused thought, the essential parts to be productive.
The second factor is – how dopamine production is affected by listening to music. And, if you don’t know, dopamine is a crucial neurotransmitter that, in simple words, makes you happier, motivated and improves your cognitive abilities. This time, I picked the research from the University of Barcelona, Montreal Neurological Institute, and a couple of other ones.
So, the researchers divided 27 participants into three groups. The first got a substance to reduce dopamine signals, the second got a substance to increase dopamine availability, and the third got a placebo to make it fair.
Then they were asked to listen to music.
- The first group had real troubles with experiencing musical pleasure.
- The third group showed regular results.
- But people from the second group were even happier than usual while listening to the same tracks.
The study showed that the music you like makes your brain release even more dopamine. So, you could be happier, more motivated, and concentrated just because you listen to it.
Do lyrics make a difference?
Still, as I said before, there’re some differences between genres. And the most important one is the lyrics. It’s pretty obvious, yeah, our brain tends to focus on human speech. In everyday life it’s ok, but vocals could be annoying if you try to concentrate on something.
It was confirmed by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health that human speech is the most disturbing source of noise. They were testing different acoustic environments in 11 companies. And, based on responses from 700 employees, quote:
“Human speech is the number one cause of reduced productivity”.
Does it mean, for example, that instrumental rock is better than rap for your productivity? In general – yeah, a bit. But specifically for you – not really, if you’re ok to listen to the track multiple times. The idea behind it is: if you really like the music, the more you listen to it – the better it feels.
I caught myself quite often listening to the same song or album on repeat for multiple hours or even days. And, if you got used to (or remembered) the lyrics, it will not distract you as much.
Let’s follow with proper research – one from American University in Washington DC. They did an experiment where the participants were listening to twelve random musical tracks. The first half of participants listened to them once, while the second – listened to the same tracks but five times on repeat.
Both groups rated their emotions after listening to the music, but the second group started rating from the third listening. And the main difference is that the second group rated their emotions with much higher intensity than people who listened to tracks only once.
It could sound obvious: if you don’t like the music – you’ll hate to hear it five times in a row, right. But it proves that familiarity with a piece of music increases the emotions you feel. And it works our way, because there’s no need for a complex playlist if a single song or album could keep you productive for quite some time. Or if you need a little bit more variety, you could try some advanced repeat playlists, like “On repeat” from Spotify.
Let’s do a quick summary on how to get maximum concentration out of your music.
- First – listen to the genres you love, they’ll help you to concentrate better. It’s totally ok if you don’t like lofi or classical; indie rock or country, or any other genre – are more than fine.
- Second – if your music has a lot of lyrics, try to reduce the number of tracks. The faster you get used to words, the better your chances to get things done.
- Third – try to avoid using shuffle or radio mode while thinking hard. The less predictable is the music, the more attention you spend on it. On the other side, if your work is repetitive, shuffling through music will help to keep your mind fresh.
There will be another post on reasons to listen to music while working, if the link is not there – it will be there soon.
Aaaand yup… That’s all for today, it’s a late night outside, time for me to sleep.
Feel free to like this post or follow my social media accounts, it makes a difference. If you want more — check my other posts. And, if you have questions or something to say — let me know in the comments. Have a good night.