Homework & Studying

Music That Focuses the Brain

Research suggests that the soundtrack to your child’s homework should comprise these 21 songs, proven to change the electromagnetic frequency of brain waves for optimal focus.

Music for the ADHD Brain
Music for the ADHD Brain

If you want your child or teen to retain more when cramming for a test, or to have laser-like focus when completing homework assignments, crank up the study music.

Research indicates that music strengthens areas of the brain that, in a child with ADHD, are weak. Music strengthens the auditory, visual/spatial, and motor cortices of the brain. These areas are tied to speech and language skills, reading, reading comprehension, math, problem-solving, brain organization, focus, and attention challenges.

But not any music will do. Only certain classical music builds a bigger, better brain. Listening to jazz or pop doesn’t have the same beneficial effects. A study conducted by Donald Shetler, Ed.D., of the Eastman School of Music, found that kids who listened to classical music for 20 minutes a day had improved speech and language skills, a stronger memory, and greater organization of the brain.

Another study, done by Georgi Lozanov, M.D., a psychiatrist and educator, showed that some classical music pieces change the electromagnetic frequency of brain waves to about 7.5 cycles a second. This is called the Alpha Mode, wherein the brain focuses optimally — perfect for studying for a history test or completing a homework assignment.

I used classical music to help my five sons do well in school. I played classical music in the background from the moment they got home from school until they started homework. My boys were better able to focus and concentrate when classical music was playing, especially my son Brandon, who had learning challenges. He eventually went on to graduate from college with an A average.

[Free Download: Music for Healthy ADHD Brains]

Sounds of Success

Music can be used to improve kids’ understanding of specific subjects, such as science, the alphabet, numbers, literature, math, and U.S. history. I suggest the CD Sing a Song of Science, by Kathleen Carroll, which contains songs about layers of the earth, weather, energy, matter, and other topics. This CD is a must if you are teaching your child science concepts.

Alphabet Operetta, by Mindy Manley Little — in which the alphabet is sung in jazz, blues, and rock and roll styles — is a great alternative to the regular “ABC” song. Little also produced My Favorite Musical Numbers, catchy tunes to help kids master numbers.

Bad Wolf Press, started by lyricist John Heath and composer Ron Fink, creates education musical plays that can be used in the classroom or at home. There are tunes on several subjects — literature, science, math, and U.S. history.

For kids who need help mastering math facts and spelling words, certain types of music are ideal. Any time you set something to rhythm, a child will remember it. Tunes with a strong repetitive beat — something that you find in rap music — work best. I promise you that kids won’t find it boring to listen to.

[How Music Unlocked My Son’s ADHD Brain]

The CD Baby Dance has songs with strong, repetitive rhythms — pieces by Vivaldi, Mozart, and Haydn. Try the following approach when teaching math facts or spelling words: Sing a math fact or a spelling word to the song as you clap your hands or stomp your feet for emphasis. For instance, sing, “Two times four is eight. Repeat.” “Country is spelled c-o-u-n-t-r-y. Repeat.”

To amp up the brain benefits of listening to music, sign up your child for music lessons. The string bass, woodwinds, and percussion instruments are good choices for a child diagnosed with ADHD and LD, because the child can stand and move while playing them. Let her choose her own instrument. If she decides on drums, don’t worry. Just buy earplugs!


Music to Learn By

The following pieces of music were scientifically tested by Dr. Georgi Lozanov and found to help children and adults concentrate and focus better. It takes 15-20 minutes of listening for the electromagnetic frequency of the brain to change to a mode suited for learning. Remember: These pieces should be played as background music.

Johann Sebastian Bach
Brandenburg Concertos
Fantasia for Organ in G Major
Fantasia in C Minor
Prelude and Fugue in G Major

Ludwig van Beethoven
“Emperor” Concerto for Piano, No. 5

Antonio Vivaldi
The Four Seasons

Johannes Brahms
Concerto for Violin, D Major, Op. 77

Arcangelo Corelli
Concerto Grossi, Op. 2, 4, 5, 8, 11, 12

George Frideric Handel
Water Music
Concerto for Organ in B Flat Major, Op. 6, 7

Joseph Haydn
Concerto No. 1 for Violin
Concerto No. 2 for Violin
Symphony No. 101 (The Clock)
Symphony No. 94 in G Major

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Concerto for Violin No. 5 in A Major
Symphony No. 29 in A Major
Symphony No. 40 in G Minor
Symphony No. 35 in D Major
A Little Night Music

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Concerto for Violin, Op. 35
Concerto for Piano, No. 1

[“Mozart Helped Me Focus My ADHD Brain.”]

Updated on March 14, 2019

8 Related Links

  1. I don’t study music, but I’ve always considered metal (when done right) to be very similar to classical. I’m not suggesting you go out and buy a ton of Megadeth and Slayer for your ADHD kid to replace Beethoven, but I know I do find some metal conducive to my own ADHD brain.
    Here’s a few things I found on the web.

    https://mic.com/articles/87385/science-reveals-something-surprising-about-metal-fans-and-classical-music-lovers#.0aofdjE5L

    http://www.vancouversun.com/entertainment/Rock+Amadeus+Classical+heavy+metal+music+share+energy+passion/8170367/story.html

    http://www.metalinjection.net/latest-news/metal-science/science-proves-metal-fans-and-classical-fans-are-identical-personality-wise

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/22/heavy-metal-extreme-music-calmer_n_7636534.html (“Apparently, Ozzy Osbourne may hold the key to happiness.” Anybody who’s ever listened to “Crazy Train” can tell you this.)

    There’s a few I left out because I disagree with them (they either take a preconceived fear-based view, or a view of superiority over metal), but I will post them here just for the sake of completion.

    http://www.talkclassical.com/14378-metal-classical-what-connection-15.html

    https://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-10-heavy-metal-music-negative-impacts.html

    1. I agree. Certainly not all metal, but music with a Metallica flavor has always suited me when studying, reading, or just to relax. I have always felt they had a symphonic sound certainly created from classical music

  2. Video game music is also a proven concentration aid. Video game music is designed specifically to enhance immersion and engagement with tasks that may otherwise be considered boring.

  3. Before I join the chorus of “Classical might work for some people but I prefer…” I think two things that many kinds of music have in common, and reasons they can help us focus, are structural familiarity and emotional direction.

    By providing emotional direction, I mean that music influences our emotions, and if we choose music that evokes a positive, optimistic state of mind, or that we associate with those feelings, it can help set the conditions for productivity.

    What I mean by familiarity is that many kinds of music contain a patterned structure, which is both a basis of setting up and then fullfilling the listener’s expectations (returning to the chorus, recurrence of a theme) and a context for novelty (variations on a theme, embellishments of a melody, improvisation over a familiar or recurring harmony). The mind knows what to expect, either from having heard the music before or because it can figure out the patterns as they come up. But predictability is also boring, so some novelty is important in getting the brain to think forward. It has to ask the question, “ok, I was expecting to hear X, but I heard Y instead, what is going to happen to resolve the tension between what I was expecting and what I got?”

    Constantly figuring out the patterns is what holds the brains focus. If the patterns are more difficult to decipher, the listener has to consciously focus more, or loses interest because it’s too much work. If the patterns are too easy, the listener gets bored and the mind wanders. Specific study of music helps with this kind of pattern recognition, but the human brain good at this naturally, which is also why we create music that contains patterns.

    The right balance of predictability and novelty can allow the brain to be fully engaged, or in the case of background music, engaged and focused “enough” that this focus can also be directed at another mental task.

    For me, at times when I need to focus on a project in a busy noisy office, for example, I listen to jazz from my own collection. Jazz is filled with patterns of all kinds, the rhythm tends to be bouncy and forward-moving. Having spent most of my life listening to it and studying it, it makes sense and I have positive emotional associations with it. It keeps my mind moving forward, blocks out the conversations in the room that would otherwise suck my focus away, keeps my emotions positive, and since I own the tracks and have heard them before, I don’t have to pay close attention to avoid ‘missing anything’. I enjoy classical music to work to as well, and based on the pattern aspect it’s no surprise that the baroque-period (Bach, Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Handel) works best. But Jazz makes me smile more.

  4. My teenage daughter and I both have ADD-Inattentive type. I’ve tried classical (and actually like listening to certain artists) and unless it follows a distinct rhythm, it actually make concentrating harder for me. No idea why since “all the studies say” that it should help. Alternatively, I just discovered that guitar legend Dick Dale’s stuff can focus me so much that in the past three weeks I’ve caught up on work AND cleaned my desk (even inside the drawers. No, really!)

    I also agree with the following statements:

    “Jazz makes me smile more.” – Chet Baker helps me concentrate (especially “Chet Baker Sings”) yet I can’t listen to Glenn Miller as he’s my dad’s fave, dad’s got dementia, Glenn brings back great childhood memories with a healthy dad, blah blah blah. No fun to be working on a project and someone finds you in your office sobbing to “String of Pearls”.

    “I do find some metal conducive to my own ADHD brain.” – 100% yes. Bonn Scott AC/DC, too, as well as The Ramones early albums.

    and

    “(a) Metallica flavor has always suited me when studying, reading, or just to relax.” I think Metallica helps a lot because it blocks everything else out and is consistent – like white noise. Metal Noise. I have a white noise/pink noise playlist on Spotify, but dang…sometimes ya need some good tunes to get your happy on. My kid introduced me to Billie Eilish recently and her music works to help BOTH of us concentrate.

    There’s so much music out there – Here’s to hoping everyone can find something that will work for them, young, old, classical-loving or not-so-much.

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