How music affects productivity – both positively and negatively

Marija Kojic

Last updated on: February 21, 2024

Some claim that listening to music improves your mood, but hinders your performance on cognitively demanding tasks. But, others say that music helps us complete tasks quicker and with more creativity.

So, what determines whether music improves or hinders productivity? And more specifically, how each type of music affects productivity?

Five factors that determine whether music improves productivity

Complexity – Complex music is more distracting.
Lyrics – Music with lyrics hinders concentration.
Habits – If you’re used to working to music, then it helps.
Task difficulty – Music hinders performance on more complex tasks.
Choice – If you choose to listen to music, it distracts you less.

Some music is better for productivity than other

Simple music, with a three-chord structure is great for repetitive, low value work (example: Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama, The Animals – House of the Rising Sun, Led Zeppelin – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, John Denver – Leaving on a Jet Plane, Van Morrison – Brown Eyed Girl)

Baroque classical music is great for improving work lives and accuracy (examples: Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivald, Claudio Monteverd, George Frideric Handel, Gregorio Allegri)

Sounds of nature are great for improving mood and cognitive abilities (examples: rainfall, rainstorms, babbling brooks, waves, rustling leaves)

“High power” music is great for motivation when you want to feel powerful, dominant, and determined (examples: Queen – We Will Rock You, 2 Unlimited – Get Ready for This, 50 Cent – In Da Club)

Video game soundtracks are great for making you feel like your work is a game you have to go through (examples: Twilight Princess Legend of Zelda, Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed III, SimCity soundtracks, Super Smash Bros)

Mozart’s music is great for improving abstract reasoning ability (examples: Sonata for Two Pianos in D major, K. 448, Symphony No. 41, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Overture to the Marriage of Figaro, Piano Concerto No. 21)

Instrumental music is great for focusing on difficult work (examples: meditation music, techno, dubstep, calm soundtracks, piano music)

Ambient noise is great for boosting creativity and problem solving (examples: distant cafe chatter, sound of outer space, dryer, washer, how music affects different types of work)

How music affects different types of work

Upbeat music without lyrics improves productivity on repetitive tasks
Example from research: Workers working in an assembly line feel more alert and focused while listening to upbeat music without lyrics.

Relaxing, repetitive music improves performance on cognitive tasks
Example from research: High-school students had better reading scores while listening to a repetitive synthesizer piece.

Harmonious, meditation music also improves performance on cognitive tasks
Example: Students score better in regular IQ tests while listening to Koan, a type of meditation music.

Up-tempo music (including certain classical music) improves mood and motivation before cognitive tasks
Example from research: Undergraduates scored better in IQ tests that require creativity, when listening to up-tempo Mozart music than slow Albinoni music.

Familiar music improves creativity on creative tasks for children (while music they don’t know hinders creativity).
Example from research: Children listening to their favorite children’s songs made more creative drawings than those listening to classical music they don’t know.

Popular music with lyrics hinders focus on reading comprehension and other complex tasks
Example from researches: Billboard Magazine’s (2006) top hit singles, such as Natasha Bedingfield’s Unwritten, distracted people from complex tasks and reading.

Christmas music causes cognitive fatigue and hinders employee performance
Example from research: People working at shops during Christmas have to tune out Christmas music, unless they want to be mentally drained and unable to focus.

Quiet classical music during a recorded lecture can make listening and learning more enjoyable
Example from research: Students who heard music played during class lectures earned higher scores on an exam than students who did not.

Music you strongly like or dislike makes you more distracted
Example from research: Workers who strongly disliked or liked music played in the background felt less focused.



Author: MarijaKojic

Marija Kojic is a productivity writer who's always researching about various productivity techniques and time management tips in order to find the best ones to write about. She can often be found testing and writing about apps meant to enhance the workflow of freelancers, remote workers, and regular employees. Appeared in G2 Crowd Learning Hub, The Good Men Project, and Pick the Brain, among other places.

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