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Walking to Your Own Beat: Why We Listen to Music All Day

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Devin Jinadasa started his morning like many other students at UAlbany. He stepped out of his dorm to head to class, reaching for his phone so he could listen to some music on the way. To his dismay, his headphones weren’t with them.

He felt around in his pocket, desperate to find his earbuds. They were nowhere to be found. He was already late to class. It didn’t matter. He stopped mid-step and raced back to his room to get them.

“I listen to music all the time,” the sophomore explained. “Like, whenever I’m not in class. It’s like a soundtrack to my life, so it’s easy. If I ever forget my headphones, I immediately turn around and run back just to get them.”

It’s everywhere on campus. Nearly everyone is plugged into some tunes on their way to class. With streaming services such as Apple Music and Spotify, finding your favorite music is now easier than ever. The question to ask is, why do we love listening to music so much?

A 2013 psychological review by the Cognitive and Systematic Musicology Laboratory of the Ohio State University School of Music says that we have three general reasons to listen to music: the first being to regulate mood, the second being for self-awareness, and the third was cited as an expression of social relatedness.

For many students, the reason seems to be the first one.

“I listen to music because it usually helps me focus my energy and emotions during the day,” said UAlbany sophomore Fred Wieneke. “It relaxes me and helps me fill silences that I don’t want.”

One 2013 study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine suggests that music does help to relieve stress. A group of participants were exposed to one of three conditions: relaxing music, the sound of rippling water, or no sound at all. All participants were then exposed to a standard psychological stress test. Those who listened to music consistently recovered from the stress much faster than the others.

For Wieneke, who has a 27-hour Spotify playlist made for getting places called “Songs to Cruise To,” music is enjoyable for most activities. “I usually listen to more active music when walking between classes and then at night, while working and reading and relaxing, I usually listen to more jazz and instrumentals,” Wieneke explained. “It’s a nice way to express myself without necessarily using my own words.”

Some don’t share this sentiment, such as sophomore Kaitlyn Dickson. “I basically listen to music when I walk to class or in the car. I can’t do it when I’m studying, that’s distracting.”

Is it a good idea for students to listen to music while studying? It can depend on many factors such as the type of music, the student’s academic ability, and how musically-trained the listener is, according to a collection of studies and research reports. For some students, it really helps them focus. For others, it’s a distraction.

A 1993 study in the British science journal Nature, led by Frances Rauscher, popularized ‘The Mozart Effect,’ which found that students who listened to Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D-Major experienced a temporary increase in spatial reasoning abilities.

While many have debated the validity of this experiment, the concept that music can increase focus still exists in the psychological field.

Regardless, it is clear that tuning in to music can be an essential part of life.

“I don’t know what I’d do without it,” Jinadasa said. “I need to listen to some music to get through the day.”

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