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There are many of us who enjoy whiling away the hours at work with our headphones on or turning up the volume on the home stereo while we study, but is it a good idea?
Does music make us focus or is it just an unnecessary distraction that we’d be better off without?
And will everyone benefit from music and work or just a select few?
The first step in the process is to ask, why is it that we like music at all?
After all, most animals don’t fashion instruments or play the drums.
And nobody grooves to the beat of a metronome, which could, in theory, be termed a form of music.
Well, laboratory experiments suggest that if we want to enjoy the music, it must be “syncopated”.
And it needs to be sort of medium level syncopated, not enough syncopation and you have our metronome and too much?
Then you have high-level jazz which is definitely an acquired taste and not one shared by most people.
Rock, metal, funk, disco, pop, etc. all occupy this middle ground and for that, we are grateful.
But though we know why we enjoy music, it doesn’t tell us why it might help us focus better.
And the answer to this seems to lie with how we pay attention.
Basically, there are two forms of human attention – conscious, that is we have to choose to pay attention, and unconscious, which happens whether we like it or not and we’re not always aware of it.
And many things we do and have to put conscious attention to, such as work or study, may be necessary, but they’re not all that pleasurable.
In fact, they’re often downright unpleasant and boring.
Music seems to be something of a way to cheat this system.
We feed the unconscious system with happy making music and it overrides the conscious, bored, system.
However, you can’t just throw on any old music and expect it to make a difference.
This is why the ersatz muzak of a million fast food joints often starts to drive the workers there insane.
The good news is that research shows that there is one good way to select the music you want to work to and for it to provide focus.
Pick music that you like.
So, for example, the author can work very well to death and black metal because he likes it, whereas you, the reader, might not like it very much at all.
If you don’t? Well, you probably won’t focus very well.
But if you had your favorite blues record playing? You’d be ready to rock, metaphorically speaking.
It’s probably best to avoid music that you like which depresses or brings you down, though, nobody works that well when they’re sobbing on their desk remembering their father because they opted for Mike and the Mechanics’ Greatest Hits.
We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention one of the oddest things about the best music to work to.
If you can’t think of anything that you love to listen to, then maybe you should be opting for video game music?
There is some theory that suggests that video game music is engineered to get players to concentrate on what are, essentially, fairly mindless tasks for hours at a time.
So, if it works for video game tasks, why wouldn’t it work for the filing or the photocopying?
Well, we don’t know if it does but it certainly can’t hurt to try can it?
And you better hurry because video game music is quickly disappearing to be replaced with music from the music industry at large.
Which is just code for “hip-hop” and if you like hip-hop that’s fine but if you don’t, it’s not going to help you work.
So, there you have it, music can help you focus more effectively and it might be best if you brought some video game music into work with you.