Have you ever played music in the background while you were studying? If so, you probably do so to help you focus. Many can find themselves using music in this way, particularly utilizing classical music. In fact, I’m sure you’ve had someone in your life tell you to use classical music no matter what task you are engaging in. In the study “Background Music and Cognitive Performance” conducted by University of Dayton, it takes other aspects into consideration to determine what effects classical music can have on cognitive functioning.

In this study, procedures were standardized as many studies previously done regarding music’s effects on tasks did not have this aspect, making it difficult for this concept to be fully supported by evidence. The cognitive tasks measured were spatial and linguistic processing at both a high and low difficulty. The participants consisted of 28 men and 28 women, 56 in total that were again split into the two task groups. The music used consisted of classical music excerpts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with a no-music or silence control group. Reaction time and the percentage of correct responses were measured in both conditions for comparison. The linguistic processing task was a letter matching task. The participants had to determine if pairs of letters were the same or different based on their type(vowels and consonants) or physical properties. The spatial processing task had the participants look at histograms that varied in height and rotation; the participants were to determine if the histograms were the same heights. Both of the tasks above were timed and each participant had the same amount of time allotted for them to respond.

The results showed that in the spatial processing trials, the average response time increased when the participants were given more difficult tasks but decreased when music was playing in the background. In the linguistic processing trials, the response time decreased with the difficulty of the task but the accuracy of the task increased when music was playing in the background. To summarize, music increased the speed in which participants could identify histogram heights and decreased the time it took participants to match letters in this study. Because of this, we can see how music can affect different tasks and what music was used to produce them.

Knowing what we know now, here’s four tips to use music for cognitive tasks we do in our everyday lives.

  1. Manipulate background music with adjusting the headphone volume to block external stimuli, but not too loud to avoid hearing loss, to enhance focus and concentration.
  2. Analyze external stimuli that may guide you unconsciously and auto-drive instinctive music listening habits that directly impact your thoughts and feelings.
  3. What might you be avoiding or perseverating on, and name the associated mood and desired music. If it’s an unsettled mood, adapt a Music Medicine Pill™ to your [private] mental health environment, shift your mood positively, regularly, and experience emotional fluidity with enhanced resilience. You can do this as you are walking to an appointment, driving in the car (observing good driving habits), or while working on a project. Learn how to create your own Music Medicine Pills in the Music4Life Music Medicine Boot Camp.
  4. Use private listening space to apply music like medicine because it could be good medicine for you and bad medicine for someone else.



Angel, Leslie & Polzella, Donald & Elvers, Greg. (2010). Background music and cognitive performance. Perceptual and motor skills. 110. 1059-64. 10.2466/pms.110.3c.1059-1064.  Accessed 8/12/22 at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/46422531_Background_music_and_cognitive_performance#:~:text=Studies%20have%20shown%20that%20background,effects%20on%20cognitive%20task%20performance.&text=In%20conclusion%2C%20it%20is%20proposed,background%20music%20during%20cognitive%20tasks.

Today’s article was written by our Guest Bloggers:

Erika Gonzalez, MT-BC and

Judith Pinkerton, LPMT, MT-BC