Should You Listen to Music While Reading? Does It Help?

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Do you wonder whether you should listen to music while reading and if so, what are the benefits? Well, you’re not alone. For years already, there have been different opinions on this.  Fortunately, more and more research is being done in this field and researchers have reached a consensus on most aspects.

Generally speaking, you can listen to music while reading. Music creates a good mood and a reader-friendly environment. It also helps you focus better. Listening to music while reading also helps in a noisy environment. However, don’t listen to music if you need to memorize what you are reading!

In this article, we shall explore this topic in further detail. We’ll look at what are the most recent findings and conclusions in this regard. 

In the discussions, we’ll also take into consideration the influence that music has on an individual when reading and how it varies from person to person!

So, let’s get started!

Is it Possible to Read with Music in the Background?

It is possible to read while listening to music. According to a study by Belmont University, it is “normal” for creative, “right-brain” people to read and even study while listening to music. For some people, listening to music acts as a stimulus and often enhances productivity.

Thus, it is possible to read with music in the background.  In fact, there are many instances where you are reading while hearing background music whether you want to or not. Sometimes, you don’t even realize it!

If for example, you read your book while waiting in an airport lounge for your next flight, there will most probably be music in the background.

The type of music in public places ranges from Christmas Carols to classical music. In many cases, it is ambient music. In other words, the music is specifically intended to serve as an accompaniment to other activities and consists of repetitive instrumental melodies.

So yes, you can read with music in the background.  The question, however, is whether it is good for your reading to have music in the background.  Your personality, as well as the type of music that is played, plays a role in this.

Benefits of Listening to Music While Reading

caucasian man reading book and listening to music with headphones

Let us first remember that readers experience the effect of music while they read in various ways.

And, while some people often enjoy listening to nice ambient music while reading, it is not suited for everyone. There are people who prefer not to hear any music when they read. If you are such a person, you might change your mind and habits after reading this article!

Let’s look at three of the most important benefits that the experts have reached a consensus on –

1. You Read Relaxed

For people who prefer to listen to music when they read, the first and most important benefit is that generally speaking, music can improve your mood and make you more relaxed.

When you are in a good mood and relaxed your reading performance is normally better than when you are stressed. 

2. Music While Reading Enhances Your Cognitive Performance

Research has shown that another important benefit for readers is that when you read while listening to music, the music improves your cognitive performance. 

This, amongst other things, means that music enhances your ability to recognize previously encountered patterns, as well as their abstract application.

Your ability to recognize word patterns and to think abstractly is enhanced. Therefore you read faster and you comprehend more when listening to music while you read.

3. Music Improves Focus in Noisy Environments

If there is a lot of noise around you when you try and read, you won’t be able to concentrate on reading unless you have exceptional concentration!

The first obvious choice for such a situation would be to move away from the source of the noise so that you can continue reading. But, sometimes, that is not possible.

If you often stay in a noisy environment, perhaps in a house near a busy street or around construction sites and train stations, chances are you will have a lot of disturbance from the noise around you.

Listening to music in such situations can help reduce the effect of this outside noise and create a soothing environment to read!

Obviously, merely playing some instrumental music in the background won’t help the case. But, you can invest in noise-canceling headphones like the Sony Over-the-Ear Headphone (on Amazon).

There is a lot more that you can do! For a full guide, check out my other article on how to improve focus through reading!

What Kind of Music Should You Listen to While Reading?

A beautiful asian woman reading book and listening to music with headphones

Not all types and genres of music are good to listen to while reading. And not all readers are influenced by the different types of music in the same way.

That said, here are a few genres of music that you could listen to while reading –

1. Instrumental Music

When you listen to instrumental music your brain doesn’t have to try and make sense of the lyrics of a song and simultaneously comprehend what you are reading.

But the instrumental music should not be fast-paced music like lively marches or fast hip-hop rhythms – it must be music that calms you, whether it is classical, jazz, or ambient music.   

2. Classical Music

Remember how I mentioned the research that indicates that music can put you in a good mood? The same research study has found that instrumental classical music is the most effective in creating a good mood for the listener!

Other studies concluded that your reading comprehension is better when you are relaxed and in a good mood. Thus, to listen to instrumental classical music while reading, your comprehension can be enhanced. 

3. Jazz

As jazz also lacks lyrics, it is another choice of music to listen to while reading. According to a senior professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University, William R. Klemm, music is good for reading because of its stress-reducing capabilities.

4. Ambient Music

Ambient music is intended to serve as an accompaniment to other activities. It consists out of a variety of repetitive instrumental melodies. A well-compiled recording relaxes you and provides a relaxed environment suitable for reading.

Compile your own series of ambient music to play when you read. Use “soothing” instrumental music you like and play it every time you sit down to read.

Drawbacks of Listening to Music While Reading

Unfortunately, there are also drawbacks to listening to music while reading.  Let’s look at two cons.

1. Vocal Music Can Distract You

When listening to vocal music while you are reading often has the result that you absorb less content of what you are reading than you normally do.

It is because the brain simultaneously listens to the content of the lyrics and processes what you are reading. Comprehension of what you read is even lower if you are listening to rap.

2. Loud Music is Counterproductive

Loud or agitated music can have adverse effects on reading comprehension. The idea of listening to music when reading is to create a reading–friendly and relaxed reading environment.  Loud or agitated music doesn’t fit this description!

Is it Better to Read in Silence or With Music?

Generally speaking, reading in silence is the most effective way to read. However, if a silent reading environment is not accessible, then listening to music when reading is a great way to isolate yourself from the outside noise.

Furthermore, certain “right-brain” may find that listening to music when reading is a more productive way of reading.

If you experience that you read slower or with less comprehension when you listen to music when you read your book, then you should read in a place where you can read in silence.

The problem, however, is that in an urban environment it is difficult to get a place with no background or white sound. Street sounds can be very distracting and then is soft background music sometimes the solution to help you to concentrate on your reading.

There is no right or wrong. Our goal is to try and be as efficient as possible. Thus, it is best to try both methods of reading to see what suits you the most!

Should You Listen to Music while Studying?

beautiful student woman listening to music when reading and studying

There are definite benefits to listening to music while studying. Research suggests that students who listen to music in the background while studying generally tend to have better reading comprehension. They are able to concentrate better and study for longer periods of time!

If you are reading through study material to get the bigger picture or background information but you don’t have to memorize content, all the benefits discussed in this article regarding listening to music when reading will be applicable.

And apart from these general benefits, there are specific extra benefits when you listen to music while studying.

It has been found that background music while you study can improve your reading comprehension and your ability to learn the material. Many students report that they concentrate better when listening to music while they are studying.

Music can also increase your energy levels. When you are studying the music in the background can energize you to keep on reading and studying longer.

But while music is a great motivator for “normal” background study reading, almost all research has shown that problem solving and memory recall tasks like memorizing content are performed better in silence than with any kind of background noise or music.

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