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The Effect of Music on Cognitive Performance

January 6th, 2017 · No Comments · music and the brain

The effect of music on cognitive performance has been known for years.  When I was in music school, many years ago, I was required to know thousands of pieces of music!  We had to know operas, symphonies, sonatas, string quartets and more,  so well that the professor could “drop the needle” (we still used vinyl back then!) at any place in the music, and we were required to identify the composer, the work, the movement, and write several paragraphs about the piece.

I actually thought it was kind of fun, and had a pretty good ear and memory, but at one point, late in my Junior year, I came up with a method that I believed would make identification foolproof!  I decided that with the pieces that were most difficult to remember and identify, I would only listen to that piece in a certain room of the house.  When I heard that piece on the exam, I would immediately picture the room and would know…this is Prokofiev’s 5th symphony, slow movement, etc.  It really worked beautifully!

The study cited here appeared in the online journal, Inquiries, in 2013, V5, No 9.  It was taking a look at the Effect of Music on Cognitive Performance.  The abstract tells us:

“Listening to music for relaxation is common among students to counter the effects of stress or anxiety while completing difficult academic tasks. Some studies supporting this technique have shown that background music promotes cognitive performance while other studies have shown that listening to music while engaged in complex cognitive tasks can  impair performance. This study focuses on the impact different genres of music, played at different volume levels, have on the cognitive abilities of college students completing academic tasks.”

The amount of research that is coming out now in the field of music psychology is fantastic.  The power of music to affect people positively and beneficially is so amazing and we have known that anecdotally for thousands of years!  Only in the last few decades have scientists begun to document empirically how this works and how MUCH it works!  One day, music may again be a part of every physician’s solution!


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