Studying for Finals? Let Classical Music Help

Works by Bach, Brahms, Mozart and others might improve sleep patterns and reduce stress.

Allison Engel, USC News

As a season of cramming and finals approaches, students can get help with a healthy and free study aid — classical music. Studies recently looked at classical music, which showed that listening benefits the brain, sleep patterns, our immune system and stress levels. So helpful when facing those important tests! Read more …

University researchers in France, published in Learning and Individual Differences, found that students who listened to a one-hour lecture where classical music was played in the background scored significantly higher in a quiz on the lecture when compared to a similar group of students who heard the lecture with no music. The researchers speculated that the music put students in a heightened emotional state, making them more receptive to information. “It is possible that music, provoking a change in the learning environment, influenced the students’ motivation to remain focused during the lecture, which led to better performance on the multiple-choice quiz,” they wrote.

Research from the Duke Cancer Institute implies that classical music can also lessen anxiety. Researchers gave headphones playing Bach concertos to men undergoing a stressful biopsy and discovered they had no spike in diastolic blood pressure during the procedure and reported significantly less pain.

But make sure you are listening to classical music, because not all music aids blood pressure, a University of San Diego study found. Scientists there compared changes in blood pressure among people listening to classical, jazz or pop music. Those listening to classical had significantly lower systolic blood pressure when compared to those listening to other musical genres or no music at all.

Classical music helps you relax even when you don’t pay attention to the music, a Russian study published in Human Physiology found. Children who listened to classical music for one hour a day over a six-month period exhibited brain changes that indicated greater levels of relaxation — even when the children were not asked to pay attention to the music.

If test anxiety causes sleepless nights, classical music can help soothe insomnia. Researchers at the University of Toronto found that tuning into classical music before bedtime helped people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Works by Brahms, Handel, Mozart, Strauss and Bach were effective sleep aids because they use rhythms and tonal patterns that create a meditative mood and slow brainwaves, the study found.

So what selections do classical music experts favor for listeners trying to absorb new information? KUSC host and producer Alan Chapman suggested pieces that are more restrained to provide a nice aura in the background. Skip over large orchestral pieces, particularly those with a dynamic that ranges from whispers to booming cannons. “The 1812 Overture would not be a good study aid, unless you were studying to be a demolitions expert,” he observed.

Chapman suggested choosing solo piano pieces, perhaps Mozart sonatas or French piano music by Poulenc, Debussy or Fauré. Mozart string quartets are also good for the regularity of phrase structure in classic period pieces. Guitar and lute music are gentle enough to study by because of the enjoyable, dulcet tones. Try Bach lute suites, Chapman suggested. Elizabethan consort music from the late 16th century, played on viols, was intended to create a pleasant atmosphere at court without demanding attention and is another good candidate for music to study by.