Forget Mozart: Studying doesn’t need classical music backdrop


By Shawn Cooke / A&E Editor

Some subscribe to the belief that classical music can boost intelligence — the “Mozart Effect.” I’m not here to bust myths, but, when it comes to studying, I’ve almost always favored rock bands over symphonies — and it’s made life impossible.

The life of an avid music fan can often mirror that of an alcoholic, complete with an unrelenting internal voice. “You can have one more,” it whispers, unclear as to whether it refers to just one song or another full album. Much like any other addiction, music can assert itself into any situation, especially those, like schoolwork, which demand the utmost productivity.

Studying for finals and writing term papers can be challenging enough as it is, but the temptation of Deafheaven, Run the Jewels or “Blank Space” tugging at your eardrums can only make matters worse. Any album with strong visceral demands does not blend well with studying, but, unfortunately, they can provide the most catharsis. Clearly these are not the most optimal choices for study music — if studying is intended to be the primary focus, that is.

Numerous studies have been conducted on the cognitive benefits of classical music, and some have questioned the Mozart Effect’s validity. While consensus on the issue is fuzzy at best, few dispute that classical music presents a superior study option to its vocal pop, rock or rap counterparts. But going to the symphony isn’t necessary for a successful study playlist.

Several contemporary electronic and ambient artists are just as effective when trying to lock in for a finals’ week cram session. Oneohtrix Point Never and The Haxan Cloak are two of the best current examples of drone and dark ambient music. Some of their material, particularly The Haxan Cloak’s, can be downright terrifying, but it still serves as urgent backdrop for studying. Whereas ‘90s electronic pioneer Aphex Twin’s more mellow work (particularly the Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2 collection) pares away sounds to their bare minimum, leaving a tasteful undercurrent of background noise.

Some post-rock acts may also be strong options for a study playlist. Instrumental, guitar-driven band Explosions in the Sky’s (and sometimes their genre antecedent, Mogwai) songs shift between soothing lullabies and towering emotional anthems — often in the span of one sprawling ten-minute track. Many of Explosions’ songs have the power to give ordinary tasks an extraordinary sense of purpose, which can either be a motivating force or simply overwhelm the studies.    

Icelandic trio Sigur Rós specialize in an ethereal brand of post-rock, which can sometimes be mellow enough to accompany your reading and studying. Since nearly all of their tracks are sung in an entirely made-up language, Hopelandic, the lyrics are rarely a distraction — and render sing-alongs nearly impossible. But like Explosions, song selection is crucial, since many tracks contain widescreen and awe-inspiring moments that demand a minute or two to stop and reflect.

And, if none of these artists can improve the studying process, then it may be time to do the unthinkable: take off the headphones.

Or, find a new major.