Can listening to music really make you smarter? The answer is yes. Psychologist Howard Gardner, whose theory on multiple intelligence is widely accepted by academics around the globe, proposed that not only could music help boost intelligence, but also that musical intelligence is its own kind of gift. Gardner presents musical intelligence as mastery of rhythm, harmony, pitch and timber, which are also major components in other intelligences (rhythm for kinesthetic/bodily intelligence and harmony in interpersonal). Music doesn’t just strengthen the general intellectual component of your brain; it also affects you in unique ways.
That’s great news if you’re like me and you love music. But what kind should you listen to, especially for putting your brain to work? Obviously, this is a matter of taste. It’s not a one-size-fits-all system; your friend might do well with country music, for instance, whereas you might react poorly to it. Let’s look at different types of music and find out what you can rock out to when studying, working on a project, or otherwise.
Before we get into the most popular genres, let’s revisit that last point about how music affects everyone differently. This is something with which you have, unquestionably, lots of experience. A song your siblings love might set your ears on fire, and a song that is billed as a love ballad might make you feel sad. That’s OK. The thing about music is knowing which artists and tracks help put you, keep you, and transition you, out of—and into—different moods. Once you recognize that, applying certain songs and genres of music to your academic goal will feel like a breeze.
With me, in the mornings, it’s usually something upbeat like EDM, or it’s the total opposite—classical jazz. I am not a morning person, so usually I need something buoyant to get me motivated for my first period. But other days, I’m already amped up, maybe worried about something—a test, a difficult class, or the principal observing my classes. Jazz is what I need to calm me down, so that I can start on my best foot first thing in the morning.
What about you? Answer some of the following questions below, and you might find yourself making a personal playlist!
Questions to Help You Find Your Brain Tunes
1. What kind of music makes you feel like you can do anything you put your mind to?
2. What songs help you relax?
3. What songs help you let go of things; what distracts you?
4. What songs do you listen to when you’re sleepy?
5. What songs do you want to play for your friends before a big game or other school event?
6. What songs make you feel grateful?
7. What songs make you think about new ideas or points of view?
8. What songs can you absolutely not do anything else while listening to?
Genre Inventory – What’s Best for You?
You can think of each kind of music and when it helps you best. If you can figure out what songs you should listen to while doing math, as opposed to science, you’ll be more productive and, dare I say, enjoy tasks for school. My personal takes on popular music genres are below, but ask yourself: what about you? How do you respond to these different genres? What studies and projects are best aided by each type of music?
Hip-hop: Great for getting pumped up, energized, proactive, ambitious. This is what I want to hear before sitting for a major test.
Rap: Similar to above, but personally I get distracted by lyrics (especially if heavy duty reading and writing are involved). So even better for my brain is…
Techno / EDM: Faster paced music (trap especially) keeps me going and feeling good when I have tons of schoolwork to plow through. No cons for me here except that my wife hates it.
Rock (pop): Mostly for when I want to unwind, honestly. I personally know rock is what I’m putting on when school is out!
Rock (punk): Gritty and edgy, this music is great when I have a difficult task ahead that I need to grind out or pull an all-nighter on.
House / Electronic music (no lyrics): I prefer this to transition from something (like lunch to class or vice versa) or, if the songs are very slow paced, when stretching after a workout and needing to unwind at the end of the day.
Classical: Beethoven and buddies epitomize the complex; classical is great for background music, group work and I can talk with people with it on. I’m not distracted by it at all.
Pop: This makes me feel carefree, mellow and relaxed. Hard or repetitive schoolwork doesn’t feel so bad with this on.
Country: Weirdly enough, I feel like I can relate to historical individuals and events better with this music on. It gives me a different perspective on America. Otherwise, I can’t stand it.
Any music with other languages in it: Obviously phenomenal if listened to before the class of said language, also good for review after.
Instrumental versions of songs: This is a way to hear songs I love but which I know would distract me while studying or working in class.
So the real question is, what music do you find to be your friend (or foe) for studying and getting schoolwork done? We would love to hear how you think music can enhance your intelligence. What genres/tracks are your go-to? Comment below: