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Cramming for finals? What the research says about studying with music



File: Conductor Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Classical music may help students cram for finals, according to researchers.
File: Conductor Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Classical music may help students cram for finals, according to researchers.
VERN EVANS PHOTO

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We’ve all heard about the many brain benefits of classical music — think about the Mozart Effect, for example.

But does listening to Bach or Vivaldi really help with test prep? 

Peter Webster is vice dean for the Division of Scholarly and Professional Studies at USC’s Thornton School of Music, and he says it depends on the music — and the listener.

"Some people will find that [music] distracting. Others, though, who sort of enjoy listening, let’s say to a Mozart opera or something, might find putting that on in the background might in fact encourage their study skills," he said.

Webster says one key to determining whether classical music will help or hurt you is to think about how exciting your brain will find the music. 

Researchers know the brain lights up when music is played – creative thinking and analytical processing are activated. But new music can easily distract you – stealing your brain power away from that physics study.

But if it’s a piece you know well and find soothing, Webster says it's more likely to help you take in information.

There's no lack of classical music sources — on air, online and by satellite. But since KUSC gave us the idea for this story, we'll plug the classical music station at 91.5 FM in Los Angeles, which also has its own app.