How music affects the brain at work

We know what you’re thinking: Who actually works in a modern office space without listening to music? If you work at an office, it’s rare to see someone braving the day without AirPods or noise-canceling headphones.

Whether you’re listening to podcasts, your favorite work playlists, the “chill hip hop beats to study/relax to” YouTube channel, or you’re one of those weirdos who listens to nothing in their headphones, putting sounds down your ears while working has surprising benefits and drawbacks.

Cut Off New Music Friday

Novelty runs the music world. That’s why at the end of every week, Spotify and Apple Music change their layouts to emphasize New Music Friday and why rappers come out with new songs every week. Speed and freshness is the dominant language of music today. And whenever we introduce something foreign into our craniums, our brains release dopamine. That goes the same for new music.


This is not to say that you shouldn’t listen to new music when working. But introducing new sounds into a work routine could overwhelm and distract. Indeed, one of the best times you should whip out the headphones for New Music Friday is when you’re completing a repetitive task. Numerous studies have demonstrated the use of music during repetitive tasks in some cases increasing efficiency.

Familiarity in certain music also plays a factor in concentration in productivity. One study found that when participants listened to music they were familiar with, certain regions in their brain lit up, specifically emotion-related and concentration regions. When in doubt, go with the same ol’ playlist you know inside and out.

Ambient Music vs. Music With Lyrics

When it comes to music with lyrics and singing, however, studies have found that ambient, instrumental music is better suited for play during working hours. This can also go beyond ambient music in the background. White noise sources played softly in the background (around 70 decibels) have been found to improve creative processes in some cases while anything over 80 decibels affected creativity.

The Best Combination

Everyone has their own quirks when it comes to distracting themselves from the drudgery of work. But no matter your listening preferences, we know that ambient music with few lyrics or music you’re familiar with during a repetitive task is the best recipe during work hours. Or just pull the headphones-with-nothing-on move. No one bothering you may also work wonders for productivity, but the jury is still out.

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