How to Focus

Does Music Focus Your ADHD Brain? Or Just Distract It?

Does the ADHD brain crave sound or silence when focusing on a task? Is one type or genre of music best for concentration? According to ADDitude readers, the need for background noise varies.

Background Noise vs. Silence
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Music’s inherent rhythm and structure soothe the ADHD mind and keep it on a linear path. However, background noise is actually an impediment to focus for some people with noise sensitivity; for them, sound can serve as a distraction all its own and silence is golden.

So does music actually improve focus for ADHD brains? We asked ADDitude readers to share their preferences for (or against!) background noise and how it helps (or hinders). Read some of our favorite responses below and share your experiences in the Comments section below.

I have always needed music in the background to make me feel present and grounded. It wasn’t until a very recent ADHD professional training that I had an ‘aha!’ moment explaining why. In short, the ADHD brain is always looking to solve a problem and music is always feeding that through the rise of a song to its resolution. A familiar song allows our brains to see a problem and then anticipate its solution, giving us just enough stimulation to feel present and focused on a task.” — Julie, Michigan

“The pandemic forced me to work from home, and that has been a blessing for my easily distracted ADHD mind. I struggled to concentrate in the open office environment because I was unable to tune out everyone else’s conversations while I worked, even when wearing earbuds to play music. I work best with either silence, or soft music that doesn’t have words or even a familiar tune. If it’s a tune that I know, I find myself trying to follow along with it either aloud or in my head, which messes with my concentration on the task at hand.” — An ADDitude reader

“If I’m doing something tedious that requires little thought, I need an audio book, podcast, or something I can sing along to. I need to engage my verbal brain, or I get too antsy and wander. If I need mental focus, only instrumental beats (classical, electronic, hip hop) will do so I can engage verbally with my work but still feel like time is passing.”
An ADDitude reader

[Get This Free Guide: Music for Healthy ADHD Brains]

“Once I am in focus mode, I prefer silence and get annoyed by distractions. I usually need to start out with the TV on but mute it when I am focusing.” — An ADDitude reader

“There are times where I like music, other times where I want to enjoy a good audio book, and still others where I want nothing more than to watch TV. Then again, there are those times where I simply can’t take any of those things. My tastes are fluid just like my ADHD brain!” — An ADDitude reader

“I work best with a small level of soft and familiar music – the lowest volume my headphones offer. It helps me focus by removing any background noise (dishwasher, washing machine, people outside or around me). For me, the key to focusing is playing only familiar music/noise so it does not distract me from my work.” — Carrie, Indiana

[Read: 9 Tips for Blocking Out Noise]

Silence. Definitely silence! I have two young children and, as much as I love them, when I drop them off and get to my home office, it’s bliss. It’s funny because my husband also has ADHD and cannot work without TV or radio background noise. Needless to say, I can’t focus when he’s working from home, too.” — An ADDitude reader

My whole life I have needed something playing in the background. Music while working, a TV show while studying, a podcast while cleaning. It wasn’t until I started medication a few months ago that my ability to work without something happening in the background started to change. Even now, cleaning, driving, and getting to sleep are still virtually impossible without the background noise to keep me focused.” — Amanda, QLD Australia

“Music. I need music. Like wine pairings, I have curated playlists for getting things done. For the mundane tasks of everyday life (laundry, sweeping, cleaning, vacuuming), I jive to bluegrass. The rhythm and strings have me hopping with my mopping.” — Diana, North Carolina

“Overall, my level of brain resources dictates how much background noise I want. If my brain is whirring away, I use music to tap the brakes. It’s the equivalent of distracting a toddler with a rattle, so that I can stay on track at work.” — An ADDitude reader

Podcasts help me keep track of how long I’ve been doing something and keep me from hyper-focusing on something that isn’t important right now. This is especially helpful in the mornings when I’m getting ready for work because I’m tired and my meds haven’t kicked in yet, making it easy to get distracted.” — Shannon, Massachusetts

“I have some music designed to help concentration. No words, just music. One of them requires headphones due to differences in R/L channels. Others don’t require headphones. I have found over time that they become familiar and are a cue to my brain that it is time to focus and complete some work.” — An ADDitude reader

“I do much better when I am listening to music rather loudly. It limits my brain from focusing on multiple things other than the music and the task on hand. When my environment is quiet, my mind wanders to various things and not on what I need to be doing.” — Nicole, Kentucky

“I work best with multiple (controlled) sources of noise. I like to listen to an audiobook or podcast in one ear with my earbuds, and music through speakers for my other ear. This gives me plenty of fun things to focus on while I plug away at my numbers. I liken it to plopping a child in front of the TV so I can get some dang work done uninterrupted!” — Cori, Ontario

Background Noise and ADHD: Next Steps

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