Girl reading book listening to music

The Sound of Study: Five Playlists to Boost Your Productivity

Written by Sophia Klomparens

It’s 10PM. You have a midterm tomorrow, and you’ve barely started studying. You settle into your desk, open your books, and flip through your notes. How are you going to get all this information into your head before your test? If you’re like thousands of other college students, your solution is to pick up your headphones and open Spotify.

Many students listen to music in order to increase productivity while studying. Lots of research supports the idea that music helps you concentrate (like this article, this one, and this one, for starters). But that still doesn’t answer the question of every college student with a deadline and a pair of headphones: what kind of music is best to listen to while studying? Should the songs have lyrics or not? How fast or slow should the songs be?

There are lots of different answers to that question, because everyone’s studying style is different, but one thing is clear—some kinds of music are better for studying than others. That’s why I’ve created five different Spotify playlists for different styles of studying music, along with the reasons why they’re so good for concentration.

1. Music at 60 BPM

Apparently music with exactly 60 beats per minute is perfect for reducing distractions and increasing focus. (Don’t ask me why; science proves it!) The relatively slow but bouncy rhythm also relaxes your body and reduces stress, so your late night study session will be calm and focused rather than chaotic and anxious. This playlist includes classics like The Sound of Silence by Simon & Garfunkel or Tiny Dancer by Elton John, but it also features newer artists like Kelly Clarkson and Alessia Cara. If you’re the kind of person who can’t study to music with words, try listening to this playlist to relax your brain before you actually start studying.

2. Sounds of Nature

Sometimes the best study music isn’t music at all. Research by the Acoustical Society of America reveals that listening to nature sounds can not only boost your concentration on a task, but also make you feel more positive about your work environment. If you get distracted by music, with or without lyrics, you might find the sound of a bubbling river or singing birds more soothing. Or if it’s a nice day outside, try taking your homework outside for a change. My Spotify playlist definitely doesn’t compare to the real thing.

3. Music Without Lyrics

I’m an English major, which means I get distracted by words. That’s a good thing when I’m reading a book, but not when lyrics are keeping me from concentrating on Chaucer. Luckily, there are all sorts of songs that don’t have lyrics. I’ve included some of my favorite instrumental music in this playlist, from the soundtracks of Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy to the gorgeous scores of Adam Young. If you enjoy the beauty and drama of a good orchestral score, you’ll love studying to this playlist.

4. Music with Background Lyrics

Sometimes you’re in the mood to hear singing, but lyrics will distract you. That’s when you pull out all the “in between” music—songs with lyrics in another language, or that blend in with the instrumental background. Some of my favorite Dan Forrest pieces fit this category, along with several songs by Enya. The mostly unintelligible lyrics of these songs make them easy to tune out while you’re focusing on your homework, all while reducing distractions.

5. Chill Music with Lyrics

Maybe you’re one of those people who doesn’t get distracted by lyrics while studying. (Some students really do study better with lyrics, although studies suggest that it’s pretty rare.) If you’re like me, you prefer music with lyrics for bigger tasks like collecting research, writing papers, and putting together large projects, rather than focus-intensive tasks like reading books. Either way, you need a playlist of fun, chill songs to get you through that annotated bibliography. This playlist is just upbeat enough to keep you energized but chill enough not to distract you too much. If you feel like getting up and dancing to the music after working for a while, go ahead. You’ll focus even better after moving around.

There you go—five brand new study playlists to listen to as you hit the books. These playlists should keep you occupied for a while, but if you run Spotify for twelve hours straight during finals week and need even more music, be sure to check out Hillsdale College’s brand new Spotify channel. Now get back to work, and happy studying!

Sophia Klomparens, ’21, studies English and Latin. Most days you’ll find her in AJ’s drinking coffee, obsessing over the Aeneid, and listening to unreasonably angsty music. If you ever want to have a passionate discussion about Virgil, let her know—she’s running out of people who will listen.

Published in October 2020