There is nothing worse than getting to the office or gym and realizing you forgot your headphones. Music helps make your workout more bearable, it can help boost your enthusiasm for cleaning the house and Spotify has even created the ultimate productive playlist for the office. But does music actually make you work faster and study harder? Some research says that it actually might not. In fact, it may decrease your concentration and just distract you.


Unfortunately, the human brain is not very good at multi-tasking, especially when you hear a good song that makes you want to start dancing. When you look at the science behind why we like listening to music, it all comes down to hormones. Whether you’re listening to a hard beat or the opening chords of an instrumental track, each will have a unique effect on your brain. Music triggers the release of the pleasure chemical, dopamine. When you stumble across a new song that you love, even more dopamine is released and you get even more pleasure. This is why listening to music you like makes a task like cleaning the house seem more enjoyable.


Things are a little different when you’re trying to learn something new. If you’re studying or working on something that’s more complicated, your brain requires more focus and mental energy to apply that knowledge. In a study by the University of Wales, adults listening to music while performing complex tasks actually didn’t do as well as those not listening to music. So when you’re tackling a complex project or studying new material, it may be best to press pause.

On the other hand, Dr. Teresa Lesiuk has done extensive research on how music affects workplace performance, and she has found that those who listened to music completed tasks faster and came up with more creative ideas than those who worked in silence. “When you’re stressed, you might make a decision more hastily; you have a very narrow focus of attention,” she said. “When you’re in a positive mood, you’re able to take in more options.”


That’s what the researchers tell us, but we were curious what a musician had to say about the matter. We asked singer/songwriter Juliet Piper for her take on the issue. She told us, “Music has a way of making daily, mundane tasks seem much more effortless compared to when the room is silent. My focus immediately shifts from the laundry I’m folding to the catchy lyrics or the melody of the song I’m listening to. It’s a small yet significant difference.” She went on to say, “Songs always move from one note to the next, much like the way we move from one task to another. Aligning ourselves with music’s forward motion, even subconsciously, can ultimately result in higher levels of productivity in our day-to-day lives.” When we asked her what she turns up to get things done, she said nothing beats Top 40 songs. “Uptown Funk is responsible for ALL of my productivity this year!”


So, should you be listening to music at work? If you’re good at what you’re doing, music works. It lowers tension and stress, but if you love it too much, you might risk getting distracted by singing along to the lyrics. Generally, instrumental music, or listening to music that you’ve heard before with little or no lyrics, will provide optimal focus.


If working in silence sounds like torture to you, you’ll be happy to hear that a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that if you’re tackling a creative task, the noise from a coffee shop is usually enough to do the trick. White noise like quiet chatter and the whiz of the espresso grinder creates enough of an audio distraction that allows you to think more imaginatively. So while music helps you breeze through simple tasks and gets you through that tough workout, when it comes to tackling a new challenge, it’s best to kill the tunes until you know your stuff.

What music keeps you productive? Talk to us in the comments below!