The short answer is: yes. Children, particularly those with learning or attentional difficulties, may benefit from using music to cover up distracting sounds in the environment or handle the stress of completing academic work; however, the type of music and the type of work your child is doing likely impacts its utility. Research is somewhat inconsistent, as the type of activity, individual student’s learning profile, and genre/intensity of music all tend to play a role (Mathei & Kelly, 1999; Dolegui, 2013; Legutko & Trissler, 2012; Furnham & Bradley, 1997; Cockerton & Norman, 1997, Smith & Morris, 1977). Generally, research is more supportive of the use of background music to increase productivity for students with learning differences or attentional difficulties. In terms of the type of activity, while a more cognitively demanding task may be less appropriate for background music, when background music is selected carefully and used consistently, it may be effective for a wide range of academic activities (Legutko & Trissler, 2012).

How do you know if it will work for your child?

If your child is having difficulty filtering out distractions, you may notice that he/she tends to turn on music or the television when attempting to focus on academic work. You may also notice that your child often requires movement in order to focus on the task at hand, which is indicative of difficulty attending to the material. Children who have trouble initiating and/or sustaining attention to their work often move in their chair, have specific seating preferences (tending to prefer a place more facilitative to movement, requiring them to use their whole body or to balance/stabilize themselves). These students may move around the room while they are working. They may also learn better when they have the space to spread their work out and are able to interact with the material (e.g., highlighting while reading). If you notice that your child exhibits these learning habits, or if your child benefits from them when introduced, music may also further help your child concentrate on his/her work.

What types of music and assignments are best?

Using background music effectively requires finding a balance between covering up the unpredictable, nonrhythmic environmental distractions while also avoiding creation of a new distraction from the volume or specific type of music being played. For children with attentional difficulties or different learning needs, intermittent, unpredictable noises in their environment may need to be eliminated entirely in order to stay captivated by their academic work. Unfortunately, this level of quiet may not be feasible. For some children, insulated earmuffs or white noise may be an effective way to tune out background noise. For many, complete silence and white noise are also distracting, in which case music may be a viable option. Music may be necessary in order to mask random environmental sounds with a more neutral, rhythmic sound. Research has shown that listening to a preferred type of music or otherwise stimulating music negatively impacts performance (Smith & Morris, 1977). The issue with preferred music may lie in the student’s attention being rerouted toward the lyrics or emotional connection with the music. Research has shown that classical music may help students concentrate and learn more effectively (Legutko & Trissler, 2012). Aside from musical genres, other calming sounds (e.g., ocean waves, rainfall) may be effective. For quick assignments (e.g., worksheets with minimal linguistic processing), many types of music may be helpful. When completing activities requiring higher-level thinking or writing, while music may still be of use, it will likely depend on the type of learner involved, as well as the musical genre and volume (Legutko & Trissler, 2012). It may be beneficial to try different types of music with a less-taxing assignment first. Once an effective genre has been found, see if this continues to be effective during a more difficult assignment. To find a solution that works for your child, keep in mind that the most appropriate choice of musical genre may differ from your child’s personal taste, and the music should instead be selected based on the most favorable outcomes. Additionally, while research has shown that students benefit from consistency, if background music is too distracting for complex tasks, you and your child may have to select the tasks in which background music is to be used. Finally, keep in mind that an appropriate volume is necessary to cover-up environmental sounds while minimizing the potential distraction of the music.

When can this technique be used?

In addition to homework time, as long as your child is willing, his/her school may accommodate this preference by allowing your child to listen to music while completing independent classwork, tests, or in-class essays. While your child may be hesitant to “look different” at first, if this truly helps your child concentrate, he/she may want to consider advocating for this accommodation. Many children and adolescents enjoy music, and others may advocate for the same accommodation once your child takes the lead!


Cockerton, T., Moore, S., & Norman, D. (1997). Cognitive test performance and background music. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 85(3), 1435-1438.

Dolegui, A. S. (2013). “The Impact of Listening to Music on Cognitive Performance.” Student Pulse, 5(09). Retrieved from

Furnham, A., & Bradley, A. (1997). Music while you work: The differential distraction of background music on the cognitive test performance of introverts and extraverts. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 11(5), 445-455.

Legutko, R.S., & Trissler, T.T. (2012). The effects of background music on learning disabled elementary school students’ performance in writing. Current Issues in Education, 15 (1). Retrieved from

Manthei, M., & Kelly, S. N. (1999). Effects of popular and classical background music on undergraduate math test scores. Research Perspectives in Music Education, 1, 38-42.

Smith, C.A., & Morris, L. W. (1977). Differential effects of stimulative and sedative music anxiety, concentration, and performance. Psychological Reports, 41, 1047-1053.