Does Listening To Music While Writing Help Or Distract?

Jacob Grandstaff
3 min readOct 6, 2022

Today, most people listen to music when they write.

Scientific evidence and expert advice tend to recommend against it. But because it’s accepted that that’s what people do nowadays, many instructors don’t bother trying to dissuade.

That’s a mistake.

We often become comfortable with giving in to what we like. Other times, we want so badly to be accepted and liked that we back down from even the slightest constructive criticism.

Listening to any kind of music while studying or writing can waste time and dull creativity. It’s a form of multitasking. Our brains are not hardwired to multitask. We can…and do. But it doesn’t mean it’s healthy or as productive as it would be if we arranged our lives so that we don’t have to.

Some monotonous, busywork-like aspects of writing require so little neurological exertion that listening to music speeds us up. Trevor Mahoney finds that EDM helps him type faster and more efficiently.

Any form of research, memorization, or brainstorming, however, can be slowed by musical distraction.

Writing coach Amy Isaman researched the effects of music on concentration and productivity. Nearly every study she found shows that reading comprehension decreases when we listen to music with lyrics. Research also shows that music more easily distracts introverts.

It doesn’t mean we should stop listening to music altogether while we work — only that we should be pickier in our selection.

One study Isaman found shows that ambient noise can increase productivity. This explains why Starbucks became so successful.

As an extrovert, I function better when I’m around other people. I enjoy working in public — like in a park or a coffee shop — as I find the ambient noise calming and creatively stimulating. Ambient noise becomes distracting, however, once it reaches a certain pitch or when multiple conversations — even quiet ones — start up within earshot.

That’s when loud music comes in handy and works its magic. Ambient-blocking music allows extroverts to still be around people while zoning out.

Jacob Grandstaff

MA in History; Mostly culture, trends, and occasional rants. History blog: