I can’t believe it’s that time of year again! When students at varying levels are preparing to knuckle down and immerse themselves in the world of exam revision and stress.. Well at least that’s how I remember it!
It comes with memories of terrible hay fever, missing out on fun, trying to study whilst sunbathing, and ultimately peering at books for hours on end.. Am I making you feel worse?! Well it was worth it in the end, as I got to University, did an amazing course and became a Chartered Physiotherapist. In the process, made and kept some excellent friendships and basically had a ball! None of which, in my case, would have happened without some seriously hard work..
So I’m interested to find out more about how music can help the art and skill of studying with success.
Boost Exam Revision Motivation
Sometimes the subject we are trying so hard to learn, is not something that thrills us! Especially more so at school, when a broader range of subjects are still compulsory. Anything that can help make the process a bit more enjoyable has got to be good surely? It certainly would improve your mood?! Perhaps alleviate boredom?! However, there seems to be a growing trend to believe that if selected well, listening to music while studying can be beneficial.
Certainly there were subjects that I really found a chore, and often they were the ones I found most difficult as well! But work has to be done, and personally I found that having music on, as well as my devoted mum bringing me endless snacks and drinks, helped to get through the revision process. If you are not careful, it can become a distraction instead, so choosing the playlist wisely is important! It has been said, that listening to music while trying to learn something new is not a good idea. But theoretically studying for exams, and even most homework/ coursework, should be a revision of concepts already learnt in lessons.
Selecting Playlists for Studying
However, listening to music without lyrics is thought to be least distracting, especially for English language subjects, involving writing and reading. If your mind starts following the lyrics of a song, then I think this applies to you!
What we need here, is music to help you work!
Instrumental music may be less likely to distract or take up valuable “brain-space.” When trying to memorise things in a certain order, it may be better to switch off background noise to maximise the short-term memory potential. I cannot argue with the fact that silence may well be the best scenario for some and particularly for when new and difficult concepts need to be learnt, but there has to be a little give and take around revision periods. It can be a tough-time for young people!
Ideas for playlists:
- Classical music is an obvious choice for instrumental music, picking something more on the quiet side like Debussy, Chopin, Mahler or a collection such as Smooth Classics.
- Modern day composers might interest you more, as they might use recognisable “classical” aspects in terms of instruments and overall sound, but often with electronic edge it just has a more current feel to it. We used to call this Ambient Music, I get the impression this is not the term now, more electro-acoustic? Try Olafur Arnalds or Michal Jacaszek for this. When studying or trying to focus, I enjoy Ambient music with a slight bias towards Chill-Out in reference to my Ibiza-loving days. For this I recommend not getting too “dancey” as you will be literally getting out your seat and turning up the volume instead of working! If you are streaming music then look for playlists under focus or concentration, and even soundtrack for study.
- Soundtracks to TV shows or films are popular.
- Pop instrumental playlists might work for you. Personally I can’t get on with the lack of vocals, and I’d prefer to listen to something that was written as an instrumental.
- If you just can’t get on with the above suggestions, it might be worth trying some acoustic albums by your favourite bands or singers, asking your parents if they can recommend anything that is not too stimulating, but might inspire or motivate you to keep going? You might be surprised that they have some good ideas to offer! After all, the majority of the world’s successful artists would report to have been influenced by their own parent’s music collection. In the days before the internet, this was often all that people had access to!
Music and Maths
Music has long been rumoured to have links with developing Mathematical brains, but disappointingly, there is not a vast amount of evidence to prove this.
There are approaches out there for developing musical skills, which can be modified to help children learn and understand fractions and other mathematical exercises. The Hungarian Kodaly Method, for example, features a system whereby students learn how to speak and sing rhythmic patterns using sounds/ syllables of words. It is possible that we could turn this around and use mental pictures of the musical notes to work out fractions too. I suspect that this requires a dedicated teacher, but if you are struggling with maths, you might be able to fall back on some of your musical training, or vice versa?!
Exam Stress Relief
I think that both listening to music and playing musical instruments have a tremendous role here.
I recall that on exam days, my method of controlling my nerves (terrible nerves!) was to play music in my bedroom, really loudly, just before I left the house. I would dance or sing along and it served to lift my mood, relieve some adrenaline and somehow set me up to march out the door with my head held high! Don’t tell your parents you got the idea from me 😉
A few classics that stick in my memory for this kind of feel-good stress relief, are:
- The Doobie Brothers “Listen to the Music” – get up and sing along, feels so good!
- Fleetwood Mac “Go Your Own Way” – AMAZING drumming!
- Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – no comment required
- The Fatback Band “Spanish Hustle” – my eardrums were almost bursting this was so loud! WAIT for the bongo solo! And the trumpet solo with the theme building underneath is just SWEET, like jazz-trance music before it’s time!
I also enjoyed my band practices during this time. Sometimes practicing pieces at home helped, but since I was studying music, this was also very much linked to my exams and perhaps didn’t give me the mental break that playing with other people did. My friend and I used to load up one of our trusty second hand cars with instruments and sheet music, and head off to the practice sessions on a Friday afternoon/ evening. It was good to get away from the books for a bit. Not only that, all our fellow band members were going through exams too, as well as University applications etc. We got some comfort from each other, but mainly just enjoyed playing some awesome music and having a laugh! A little of freedom, during a time that was mostly scheduled towards passing exams, was both necessary and loved by all!
Use it as a reward!
It’s known that regular exercise boosts concentration, so maybe schedule in a favourite song to actually get up and dance every hour or so, get the blood pumping! Or maybe before a difficult task, treat yourself to a really good song, jump around and get the endorphins releasing to boost your mood. Again, if you have time for a little walk, I find that listening to some what-I-call nondescript music, really helps my imagination and creative brain come into action.
Keep going for your dreams
Studying and getting through exam-times can be really hard. It’s good to remind yourself of the things you are good at, and what you are hoping to get better at. These exams might be the very thing that lead to you towards your ultimate goals, and they might end up being totally insignificant. We’ve all been there, and I think I would advise looking after yourself, get good sleep, eat well, take breaks and exercise and as a Physiotherapist, I would like to add that you should sit at a proper desk and suitable chair with back support too! If you don’t know what exercise to take, do a little yoga or Pilates sequence from You Tube! It is really good to stretch out and exercise your muscles to prevent aches and pains from studying.
Keep doing fun things with family and friends to keep you grounded and calm. Never compare yourself to others because we all have something unique about ourselves and to offer the world, and as long as you try to do the best that you can, you will ultimately have no regrets in life.
If you have anything to share about keeping on track with your studying, and beating exam stress, or thoughts about music in general, I’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below.