Music can make you more productive

But it has to be the right music for the task

Shefali O'Hara
4 min readOct 15, 2019


Cat’s Fantasy by Shefali O’Hara

Music and Studying: My First Experiments

I first read about music and the brain back in junior high. This was way before parents were playing Mozart for babies.

I was intrigued. Would music help me do better on tests?

As the eldest child of Indian immigrants, this was of monumental importance. My parents were not happy unless I brought home an A… An A+ was really what they expected.

I tried studying to different types of music but didn’t notice an improvement in my grades.

So I forgot about it, until years later, at MIT.

An Experiment with Fraternity Guys

In a psychology class my sophomore year, we had to do a research project. I told my two partners about my earlier experiments with music.

“That sounds really cool,” said one of my team-mates, a slender blond. “But we’d need a lot of test subjects for the results to be meaningful.”

“That’s not a problem,” said my other team-mate. “I’ve got plenty of fraternity brothers who’d be happy to help out, as long as we feed them.”

It turned out that the blond came from a well-off family and had no problems buying free pizza for our test subjects.

It’s remarkable what a motivational tool that is for college students. In addition to the frat guys, we managed to get several other friends to sign up. We now had enough for three test groups of 30 subjects each.

Designing the Test

We decided we needed to test how music affected performance for different types of activities. Part of our test would focus on standard academics but we also added a physical component.

Then we selected two musical virtuosos — Led Zeppelin and Bach.

Our test would have three segments and each group would perform the test while listening to a different genre of music. The control group would do the test in silence.

Music can enhance performance



Shefali O'Hara

Cancer survivor, writer, engineer. BSEE from MIT, MSEE, and MA in history. Love nature, animals, books, art, and interesting discussions.