Sometimes I browse the www.psychologytoday.com website because there inevitably is an article about music that will show up if I browse long enough. Today’s browsing found this one: Does Music Help Memory?
The article explores the conjecture that listening to music while studying helps one remember better what’s being studied.
Whether or not this is true, well… depends.
Results indicated that people with more musical experience learned better with neutral music but tested better with pleasurable music. The opposite was true for people without music training.
If you have musical training, then the thinking is that listening to non-neutral music (music you enjoy, in other words) while studying is a distraction, and as we all know, distractions are not good. If you have musical training (and I think I can vouch for this on some level), when you’re listening to music, you don’t just listen, you analyze. You try and figure out what the music is doing: what was that chord progression? What’s the drummer doing there? Is that a bassoon or an oboe? Ooh, that was an interesting key change! Did we just briefly change time signatures there?
And so on.
If you don’t have any musical training, then your brain (or so goes the theory) isn’t using up so much bandwidth doing analysis of the music, and more effort goes into loading what one is studying into the brain.
And that makes sense to me. I listen, on occasion, to songs on my personal Spotify playlist while I’m at work, and I’ve wondered whether or not this is a distraction for me.
And so I moved on from that article to an article over at www.thedailybeast.com: How I Write: James McBride, The New National Book Award Winner For Fiction.
Given that I’m writing for my blog, I’m always curious what other writers have to say about their methods and practices when it comes to putting ideas to paper. And I come across this Q&A exchange (edited for brevity’s sake, emphasis is mine):
Q: Since you’re a musician, is there anything you like to listen to while writing?
A: No, I don’t listen to music when I write. I go through periods listening to specific types of music. Because I’m a musician, listening to music is…it’s a bit like work for me. A little bit. So I don’t listen to any music at all. I don’t mind cacophony when I write. I grew up in a house with a lot of kids, brothers and sisters. So I don’t mind a lot of talking, yelling, playing. I can tune most of that out.
So I just found it very interesting that I would find this article about whether listening to music while studying (or, by extension, working where the work is largely one of mental effort) is helpful or not, and then almost immediately find another article — purely by accident — in which the findings of the first article seem to be confirmed by someone else’s comments.
So, all you trained musicians out there: by virtue of your training, you have removed yourselves from the company of those who can enjoy listening to music that you like while you study.