Many people believe that listening to lofi music while working or studying can help improve productivity.
Is this just a coincidence or does lofi music work some kind of magic on our brains keeping us focused for longer?
Many argue that the soft beats and sounds of lofi music make it the perfect soundtrack for studying, however, research investigating the true impact of lofi music on studying and productivity is not extensive enough to prove conclusively that lofi music improves concentration or memory.
Whether lofi music is good for studying and truly works as a study or work aid appears to depend on the individual.
Personally, I have found that lofi music works wonders and helps me get through the most mundane tasks, on other days however I need absolute silence.
So what is going on here?
I really want the answer to this, because if music can offer some enhanced memory function or just stop me from procrastinating this would be like discovering a superpower!
What is lofi music?
Lofi music stands for “low-fidelity” music and by definition is music that has imperfections, flaws, hums, or buzz.
If you have ever heard an old vinyl record play, this would be classified as “lofi music” as it will have a very mellow hum to it or noise from the mechanics of the record player and dust on the record.
In modern music, lofi music has become associated with “chilled beats” and more popular music genres such as “lounge music”, therefore if you are a bit confused as to what lofi music actually is – don’t worry you are not alone.
Today the term lofi is used interchangeably between the original definition of “low fidelity” music with noise and imperfections and what we would generally call “soft music” or chillout music.
As Spotify playlists such as “Lo-Fi Beats” has become so popular, many will be referring to chilled beats or “soft music” when talking about lofi music in 2021.
Does lofi music help you recall facts?
When studying, one of your main objectives is to recall facts and learn but does lofi music actually help with this learning process?
Thankfully, the effects of lofi music on your ability to remember have been investigated and the results published with some interesting findings. 
A research and white paper titled, “The Effects of Low-Fidelity Music and Font Style on Recall”  which helps answer this question can be viewed on ResearchGate.
Although the research completed aimed to investigate the effects of both music and font on recall, they actually used lo-fi music in their research, both with and without lyrics.
Focusing on the music only aspect of the research, here is a summary of what they did:
- They had 207 participants which were undergrduates.
- They were tasked to memorize 15 words in 30 seconds.
- They had to memorise the 15 words when one of these three background music types were playing:
- Lofi music with lyrics
- Lofi music with non lyrics
- No music at all
The results showed that music significantly affected memory recall.
Participants listening to lofi music with no lyrics scored significantly higher on the recall tests. Yeah!!!
Does lofi music with lyrics help you study?
It appears that listening to music with lyrics while trying to read can be bad for your productivity.
Personally, I have found this, as I cannot read and comprehend a sentence while music with lyrics is playing in the background.
In a 2015 study completed by Perham and Currie, titled “Does listening to preferred music improve reading comprehension performance?” , music with lyrics was shown to impair reading comprehension.
It was claimed that the words in the reading task and verbal lyrics found in the music, (which your brain was trying to take in at the same time), reduced the capacity of your working memory.
Music with lyrics having a negative impact while studying is further commented on by Clifford Nass, a professor at Standford University, who stated in an article for USA Toady that “Music with lyrics is very likely to have a problematic effect when you’re writing or reading,”
What I find really interesting about Professor Nass’s comments is that he goes on to say that music with lyrics “Probably (has) less of an effect on math, if you’re not using the language parts of your brain.”
So in other words, if you are reading or trying to comprehend sentences, listen to music without lyrics. If you are studying math, then music with lyrics is not such a problem.
To me this makes perfect sense – I cannot listen to lyrical music and read at the same time – my brain does not know which words to take in!!
Is just lofi music good for studying or will any music work?
It makes sense that lofi music is so popular for studying, as it is often “softer music” without lyrics so therefore is less intrusive and will allow the brain to focus on the task at hand and not get distracted.
However, it appears that any music can be used for studying, and it depends on the individual.
There have been quite a few studies on background music and its effectiveness in improving a student’s learning, for example, the paper “University students’ use of music for learning and well-being: A qualitative study and design implications”  touches on this subject.
However, the specific genre of music has not been deeply addressed so for now, listen to the music you love!
Top tips for using music as a study aid:
I have followed the following steps while studying for my Degree and Masters’s and they have really helped me achieve my goals.
- Do not use music with lyrics if you are reading or learning text.
- Pick a genre you love
- Choose repetive music with repeting loops, for example, lofi music or EDM.
- Treat yourself to a musical break and mind wander
- Listen to music before you study to get your brain in gear.
1. Do not used music with lyrics if you are reading or learning.
The research has shown that listening to music while trying to read or learn text will reduce your ability to recall the information.
The lyrics of the song and the text on the page is too much for our brains to process at once, so it is best to avoid music with lyrics in this case.
2. Pick a genre you love
Listening to music you love while studying will get you excited and happy, resulting in better levels of productivity. You can learn to love your subject while loving what you listen to!
3. Choose repetive music with repeating loops
Your brain is always listening. Picking simple music with repetitive loops will allow your brain to benefit from some ambiance but not be too distracted.
If the music is too complex, your brain will tune into the music and stop focusing on your study!
4. Treat yourself to a musical break and mind wander
Mind-wandering is the art of just letting your brain turn off for five minutes and thinking of nothing in particular. Many would describe it as daydreaming.
Persoanlly I really believe in this “daydreaming” state.
As a child, I was told to stop daydreaming in class but as an adult, I find it really beneficial to just turn off and stare out the window for a few minutes, without thinking of anything in particular.
I like to treat myself to musical breaks, where I will put on 5 minutes of music and just daydream. I find this really cleans out my brain and allows me to refocus well when I come back to my work.
5. Listen to music before you study to get yourself in gear
I really need to get myself focused before I study or work. I can’t just turn up and get on with it!
Listening to some inspirational or upbeat music before you start your task can really help you get in the zone. I like to use music to help me visualize what I want to achieve.
When I get excited enough, my mind will automatically turn to study and focus. The music just gets the brain in gear!
The importance of noise in lofi music
As mentioned previously, lo-fi music originally refers to “low fidelity” music or music with imperfections such as hum, noise, and buzz.
Many researchers believe that the hum, buzz, and noise of low-fidelity music and records can have a calming effect on the brain.
Below is an example of one of my own lofi tunes. If you listen carefully on high-quality headphones such as DT-990s, you will hear static, hum, and buzz, particularly on the intro.
For commercially produced tracks I would normally remove any noise and hum, but as this is for the lofi audience, I have left this present.
It has been claimed by multiple blogs online that the noise, hum, buzz, and general imperfections of lo-fi music appeals to our brain.
That these lofi musical imperfections and sounds appeal to the creative side of us and the flaws make us love the music as we are hearing the artist at work. It is unpredictable.
That this unpredictable music keeps our brain alert and engaged so to speak.
I have looked and looked for academic papers backing up this claim and I have yet to find solid research to confirm this.
I think it is worth mentioning, however, as I do agree with this theory. So many of us love vinyl records but in reality, we shouldn’t!
With affordable and highly produced glossy albums with hi-fi sounds available, why would we choose low-fidelity sounds? But we love this vinyl lo-fi effect and vinyl sales are in fact soaring! The warmth and analog feel of vinyl appeal to us in a way that is hard to capture in words.
For some of us, our brains seem to really like lofi music!
For me personally, I think the warmth of lofi music keeps my brain engaged while working and studying and I am going to keep it playing away at low levels in the background.
1 – Casumbal, Kyle Jeshua & So, Matthew & Ng, Anneliese & Guzman, Francesca & Fernandez, Nina & Chan, Chloe. (2019). The Effects of Low-Fidelity Music and Font Style on Recall. 10.13140/RG.2.2.31182.41286. – Perham, Nick & Currie, Harriet. (2014). Does listening to preferred music improve reading comprehension performance?. Applied Cognitive Psychology. 28. 10.1002/acp.2994.  – Hu, Chen & Wang. (2021). University students’ use of music for learning and well-being: A qualitative study and design implications. Science Direct. Volume 58, Issue 1,