Can Listening to Music Improve Productivity? 

Ian Richter

26 November, 2019

Because music is such an abstract art form, the way we listen to music is very subjective and what puts one person in a focused state can be completely distracting for someone else.

A woman in hi-tech listening to music while she works on her computer
Photo: Christina @


Since so much of our work is done on devices that offer full media capabilities, it’s not surprising that music has become an integral part of the work habitat for a lot of people. Finding a quiet space to work at a coworking space is essential for those who prefer complete silence when a high level of concentration is needed, but listening to music while performing certain tasks is also very popular and can be a great way to overcome the midday slump and stay productive.

Because music is such an abstract art form, the way we listen to music is very subjective and what puts one person in a focused state can be completely distracting for someone else.

There have been a number of studies into the music-productivity relationship, but at the end of the day, it really depends on personal preferences. There are, however, a few generalizations about listening to music while working that will ring true for a lot of people.

  1. Go instrumental. Because work will often involve reading and writing, music with lyrics will sometimes add mental noise, causing distraction more than focus.
  2. Choose something you know. While exploring music is great, if you really need to concentrate, music that is familiar to you will let you get in your groove without grabbing too much of your attention.
  3. Watch the volume. Music at high volumes can be good for inspiration or to get you pumped, but for tasks requiring focused concentration, keep the volume at a moderate to low level.
  4. For learning sessions, try silence first. Music has been shown to help people perform tasks faster and more creatively, but for high-level learning, the brain needs clarity. While learning, try silence before turning to your tunes.
  5. Match the tempo. Tempo is measured in bpm, or “beats per minute”. If you’re looking for a relaxed ambiance to help you focus, pick music with a fairly slow tempo of 60 to 80 bpm. If you’re looking to blast through some repetitive tasks as fast as possible, try something more upbeat.

Which Music Genres are best for Work?

Again, this is a very subjective issue and even though a certain type of music might be best for your concentration, if you’re not into it, it’s not really relevant. Here are some popular genre choices for work and why they’re likely to help your productivity:

Classical Music

Classical music is of course subdivided into a lot of styles, but because a lot of it is instrumental it can be a great source of work-suitable music. Classical music has an excellent balance of harmonious themes and complex ideas which makes it both relaxing and stimulating at the same time.

Electronic Music

Talking about “electronic music” doesn’t really mean much since there are so many sub genres out there today, and there are more being created as you read this article. That being said, a lot of today’s electronic music is purely instrumental and the ambient and more downtempo house and techno variants can be great to work to.

The layering involved in electronic music creates rich and intricate textures while still being minimalistic, allowing you to stay focused. The rhythm of most electronic music can be great for giving you that push to keep going while not distracting you with unnecessary information.

Soundscapes / Noises from Nature

If you’re mostly looking to drown out distractions, then listening to background sounds can be a great idea. Again, this really depends on personal taste. How about working to the sound of gentle waves crashing on the shore? Or maybe you prefer rain pattering against a window?

If you can’t answer those 2 questions, then here’s something to give a try — is a really fun online soundscape mixer of sorts. Just click on the sound source and choose how prominent you want that sound to be with the volume slider. You can create your own soundscapes both for boosting productivity and for relaxation.

Video Game Music

This might seem weird at first, but it makes a lot of sense. Video game sound designers realize that players will play for long hours and will want to stay engaged and entertained at all times. Video game music has come a long way since the Mario Bros. theme (not that there’s anything wrong with that masterpiece). Today’s video game scores are very well produced and cover a variety of genres, depending on the type of game they’re composed for.

Let Your Ears Guide You

While we’d love to see some more research on specific correlations between musical experiences and productivity, so far many studies on the topic show that music can have positive effects on work purely from the fact that it makes people feel good.

It’s simple but understandable — the ability that music has to improve moods already helps people get things done more efficiently, more creatively and with better results, making it an excellent complement to exploring how to improve productivity with coworking. So, all that remains is to let your ears guide you to a more enjoyable and productive workday.

Looking for some top-notch tunes to get the creative juices flowing? Try one of our own home-brewed Mindspace mixes here.

To further enhance your productivity, consider creating an environment that harmoniously integrates music into your coworking space. Recognizing the significant role of workspace improvements and productivity, including how standing desks increase productivity, improved productivity with workplace design can be achieved by incorporating comfortable and ergonomic furniture, creating designated areas for focused work, and enhancing the overall atmosphere with inspiring decor.

About the author

Ian Richter is a content writer, musician, music producer, and music therapist.

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