Music’s ability to alter moods is well documented. We can find comfort, motivation and inspiration in the music we listen to, and this is one of the reasons why we form such a deep connection to music we love.

Despite this, the debate rages about whether music is good for focus and productivity, or whether it simply serves as a distraction.

I used to be a freelance writer and in my personal experience, some good background music was a fantastic help in keeping me motivated, and in a rhythm of productivity.

If I worked without music, I’d find that I became mentally fatigued much quicker than I would if I had music playing. I also found that the music made it much easier to tune out from the outside world, and focus on the project I was working on with tunnel vision.

But this is just anecdotal evidence. So what does science tell us about background music’s effects on productivity?

The science

A University of Birmingham study called ‘Music – An aid to productivity‘ by J.G. Fox and E.D. Embrey found a definite link between listening to music and an increase in productivity for those who were completing repetitive work, such as data entry.

The participants’ performances improved with the music, and the researchers even suggested that using music in industry could have solid economic benefits, being such a powerful way to improve productivity.

So that’s pretty clear – but what about more mentally taxing jobs, which require brainpower and creativity?

A recent study found that 88% of participants performed better when listening to background music while performing various mental tasks, including maths problems and abstract reasoning.

More mistakes were made when there was no music playing in the background, and proofreading speed was improved by as much as 20%, when the workers were listening to dance music!

Dr David Lewis, from Mindlab International who conducted the experiment, said that music was a powerful tool for improving their ‘mental state [and] emotional state’ of a workforce.

Unfortunately, it’s not all rosy. Your favourite tunes may serve as something of a distraction, because they are likely to feature vocals. Vocals have been shown to be distracting, as, in the same way it’s hard to ignore a conversation that’s taking place around us, our brains find it harder to tune out of the lyrics in a song.

Understanding and processing the lyrics requires extra brainpower – especially if they are unfamiliar to you, and this can be distracting.

Research from Cambridge Sound Management, found that 48% of office workers were distracted by music which featured intelligible lyrics.

For this reason, we would always recommend instrumental music for working and focussing – but then again, we would say that!

In my opinion, this is largely a personal issue. If listening to music is going to improve your mood, then you’re going to approach your work in a happier, more focussed way.

If you’re simply putting on songs as another way to procrastinate, and are wasting time dancing and singing along, the opposite may be true.

Try out our album of instrumental background music for just £4 – it’s vocal free and great for working to!