Harmonizing homework: An investigation of student music consumption

Illustration courtesy of Gordon Johnson

CARL NELSON | OPINION COLUMNIST | canelso1@butler.edu

Music is and always will be a crucial part of my life.

Whether I’m studying, chilling with my speaker on in my room, walking to class with my headphones, or bumping tunes in the car on the way to Chick-Fil-A, I always find time to listen to music. I constantly see fellow students with their headphones in, or listening to music with a speaker out on the mall, but I wanted to explore what students are listening to, and when they are listening to it.

For me, I can really listen to anything at any time, except if I’m cramming for that test I didn’t get around to studying for. In that case, I have to listen to some instrumentals to keep focused. But in general, my music consumption is pretty broad. I may start off the day with some chill alternative or pop, then switch to some hip hop next time I put the headphones in. As I’m writing this I am listening to the new Bekon album, “Get with the Times,” which has quickly become one of my favorite albums to just throw on and enjoy in any scenario.

In order to get a better understanding of my peers’ music consumption, I made a survey and sent it out to a few different student groups, like the Butler 2020 Facebook group, as well as a few GroupMe chats I’m in. I realize this isn’t an all-encompassing survey and that a large portion of our student body is being left out, but I thought it would be interesting to take a sample of the school and analyze what people are listening to, as well as when they are listening.

After reviewing the survey responses, I found that in general, almost all students use music everyday for different reasons, but many use music as a tool to help stay focused while studying or working on something. This didn’t really come as much of a surprise as I rarely see students without headphones in when they are working on their laptop or buried in their books. I don’t think you will ever find me doing homework without listening to some type of music to keep me from getting distracted.

What I found interesting though, was the variation in the genre of music students listen to while studying.

Classical music ended up being the most popular genre students listen to while studying but there were plenty of other responses that go against this trend. Besides alternative, the other most common response was the “other” category. I got a bunch of different responses ranging from no music, to indie, to different types of instrumentals.

One genre someone submitted was lo-fi hip hop or hip-hop instrumentals. This relatively new style of music can be found on YouTube as long mixes or live streams. I found these lo-fi hip-hop beat mixes and pages last year in the spring semester and it has since become my favorite genre of music to listen to while studying.

The question I posed prior to this was if the responder thinks that music helps or hurts their overall productivity and focus. Out of the 83 responses I got for this question, an overwhelming 69 out of 83 participants, responded that for them, music helps their productivity and focus.

Even though I expected this type of response, everyone uses music differently. Music isn’t a one-size-fits-all medium, and what works for one student may be extremely detrimental to another.

I talked with junior clarinet performance major Nolan Cardenas about his music consumption, and how his use may be different than non-music majors.

Cardenas went through his weekly schedule and explained that he is surrounded by music at almost all times. Whether he’s practicing his repertoire in his free time, is at one of the three hour practices with the full orchestra, or is at choir practice, Cardenas is constantly listening to or performing music.

Knowing this, I expected him to say that he needs to listen to some sort of music while he studies, but it is actually the opposite.

“Being a musician, I am an extremely active listener. I can’t listen to music while I study because I am constantly thinking about the beat patterns, harmonies or other musical aspects that would normally go over the heads of other ‘passive” listeners’” he said.

Cardenas told me that when he isn’t in class or practicing his music, he enjoys getting a break from “classical” music, and prefers listening to atmospheric electronic dance music, or acoustic guitar.

“Having a trained ear, I am always listening for the beauty in whatever music I have playing. So, in general, I try to listen to music that is just pleasing to listen to” he said.

Similarly, it’s very hard for me to get anything done if I’m listening to a song with lyrics that I know well. If I am very familiar with the song, especially a hip-hop song, I will focus more on the beat and the lyrics than I will on what I want to be saying in the next sentence of my paper.

And though I may not be playing these songs while I’m studying, there’s nothing better than jamming out to a favorite song in the car or in the shower, singing or rapping every word.

I talked with Evan Ayers, a junior education and math double major, about his music consumption. Ayers said he listens to music at least 3 or 4 hours a day and listens to a wide range of genres. Depending on what he’s doing he can only listen to certain genres of music. Similar to me, Ayers is a big fan of hip hop and takes a lot of time to find new artists, albums or songs that he puts into playlists and keeps in his rotation.

“I like listening to instrumentals, and jazz while I study, I try to avoid music with words or songs that I listen to all the time,” Ayers said. “I’m an active listener when I play music, so I get distracted from work easily when I listen to songs I know well.”

The last question in the survey was, “What is your favorite genre of music to listen to while not studying?”

The majority of responses were for hip hop/rap but there was also quite a bit of variety. There were responses in every category and a few students submitted some other genres not listed in the options, including, indie, electronic funk, ska, and erotica.

I looked up erotica because I had never heard of that before and was curious, but for anyone wondering it’s pretty much just chill, EDM beats.

Even though this survey showed most people use music to help with focus and productivity, we use music for so much more than keeping ourselves from getting distracted in Starbucks.

Whether it’s listening to that old jam that brings back great memories, or putting on that slow song that will help you through whatever is going on in your life, music is something we can all turn to and benefit from.

After writing this article, I have gained a different perspective on students’ music consumption and realize that we all have very different relationships with music. From the JCA students who work with instruments and music every day, to the chemistry student who loves cranking some heavy rock when doing their stoichiometry, I realize that even though we may use music very differently, most of us rely on it to help us through the day.

So grab your headphones and keep jamming.


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