Music – Does It Help Or Hinder Productivity?

Are you working from home now? Are you hearing lots of sounds and noises that are alien to your workplace… kids playing, neighbors arguing, dogs barking?

These and similar noises can kill productivity. As an antidote, many of us like to crank up the music as ‘white noise’. But is it? Or is it just another distraction?

And then there is the question of headphones, earbuds or speakers. Does it make any difference?

Let’s dive in and answer a few of those questions:

Music – help or hindrance?

Both! Que? Yes, it isn’t the music that determines whether it’s an aid or a hindrance to focus… it’s the type of music.

“Music has the potential to take a person from the Beta brainwave state to deeper Alpha, and then Theta brainwave states, depending on the music,” according to Dr. Masha Godkin, a professor in the Department of Marriage and Family Sciences at Northcentral University.

“Music activates both the left and right brain at the same time, and the activation of both hemispheres can maximize learning and improve memory,” says Dr. Masha Godkin.

Picking the right genre:

Most of us have a favorite genre. Do you favor rock, country, jazz or classical?

We all have a favorite music genre but will it help you focus?
We all have a favorite music genre but will it help you focus?

According to Godkin, it’s good to stick with classical music. One reason this genre works well is that there are no lyrics to distract you.

Lyrics tempt you to focus on the music rather than the task at hand. Songs with lyrics also tend to have a persistent beat that demands attention.

Music has been proven to effect our mood, blood pressure and even our heart rate. We knew this long before science studied the effects:

Music soothes the savage beast.

Playwright, William Congreve – 1697

But it certainly wasn’t AC/DC Congreve had in mind. In fact, the best music to focus with is that which will keep you awake but won’t cause you to start tapping your feet to the beat.

Spotify, Prime or Apple Music?

It makes little difference where you get your music from but you need to avoid random mixes. Instead, create a playlist of music for concentration. And because you should get up out of your chair at least once every 30 minutes, build your playlists accordingly. When the music dies, you’ve earned a break.

As an alternative to the usual streaming options, you might want to also consider Brain.FM. I only subscribed to Brain.FM a couple of months back but I’ve found it to be a positive – and inexpensive, experience.

I’ve been a fan of binaural beats technology as an aid to meditation for many years and I suspect that is also the technology behind Brain.FM.

Brain.FM offer a free trial and that link gives a free month if you decide to subscribe.

Speakers, headphones or earbuds?

If you are listening to your own compilations, it probably makes little difference. What is important is comfort.

Speakers will not cover other, external noises as well as a headset or earbuds. And speakers can’t be used if you choose to follow the binaural beats path.

Between earbuds and headsets, I definitely prefer a good headset with lots of soft padding and active noise cancellation. These needn’t cost the earth.

In fact, I was very disappointed with my expensive Beats which deteriorated very quickly. After reading a stack of reviews, I bought a set of Bluedio at a quarter of the cost and have not been disappointed. Both sound and build quality are excellent!

Choose your music…

When it comes to creating the best focus music playlist, here are some genres and tips to consider:

  • Classical
    You may not want to go to a symphony concert, but the soothing sounds of classical orchestra music has been demonstrated to increase mood and productivity. That makes it great for focus.
  • Consider Tempo
    Music with 60-70 beats per minute like Beethoven’s Fur Elise appears to help students to both study for longer periods as well as retain more information!
  • Spa Music
    The sort of ambient sounds that you would expect to hear on a soundtrack during a spa treatment can help you relax however, they may not help you stay sharply focused!
  • Nature Sounds
    Like ambient music, the sounds of babbling brooks, birds, wind and rain are very calming and make great background noise without sending you to sleep. You can create your own mix on a free plan with Noisli
  • Electronic Music
    New Age and ambient EDM music are a good choice for those who don’t like classical. Remember that music with few or no lyrics is best. 
  • Listen To COVID-19
    OK, it sounds weird but CV-19 really has been mapped musically and it’s surprisingly pleasant to hear!
    One of the distinguishing features of SARS-CoV-2 is the crown, or corona, of spikes on its surface. Zoom in to those infinitesimal spikes further and they’re made up of chains of proteins, looping and folding over one another.
    In an attempt to understand this new pathogen better, musician and engineer Markus Buehler and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have assigned each protein and structural form a musical equivalent.
    The result, generated by artificial intelligence, is a surprisingly soothing musical score that Professor Buehler said revealed detail that microscopes couldn’t. 
COVID-19 Symphony

And a word about volume…

Keep it down! Don’t drown out your own thoughts. Remember, whatever you choose to listen too, it’s supposed to be in the background!

What are your thoughts? Music or no music? Headphones, earbuds or speakers? We’d love to hear.



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