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The Heat Beat: The music of Phoenix Radio and beyond: A teacher’s tips on music and school work. 

September means back to school for students attending local schools, and for many who attend online. And back to school means back to studying and completing homework assignments. While it is conventional wisdom that music should be turned off during homework and study time, there are ways to use music to enhance learning in every subject.

Forget music that studies show enhances learning and play the music that helps you concentrate. 

Studies over the last thirty years have indicated that listening to classical music while studying leads either directly to improved performance on tests and assignments, or does so much for concentration, stress-reduction, and mood improvement, it cannot help but benefit a student. This benefit may be greatly reduced, however, if the student either associates classical music with something other than studying, such as going to sleep or attending a concert at their school, or if they simply dislike classical music. 

Instead of simply playing the music published studies suggest you play while you study, play the music that truly helps you concentrate on your work. For some people, that may be classical music. Other students may find it easier to concentrate while listening to anything from country to rap to Jazz. Just make sure the volume is conducive to studying. Music that is played too loudly can be distracting, regardless of genre, while music played too softly can cause you to focus on trying to hear the music and detract from your studies. 

Use music to help you cope with unpleasant emotions that may come up during the school year.

Anyone who has taken more than a session of a single class knows that school does not always play out the way it does in brochures and promotional videos. It is certainly not always smiles and cozy dorm rooms and study sessions that will turn into warm memories once the exam is done. School can be stressful. There will be people you do not like there. You may become angry or upset over a grade, or a coach’s remarks about your performance during an after-school activity. In those situations, hiding out by yourself and playing the loudest, most forceful, angriest music you like can help you get those feelings out without lashing out at somebody else and causing further trouble in school. If you find that this type of music only makes you angrier, take the opposite tactic and listen to the most soothing, gentle music you enjoy. 

Music can serve as a prompt for other types of work.

Copying lyrics directly, using large portions of a musician’s song in your work without permission, and copying cover art without legal permission are never permissible. These are copyright violations and examples of academic plagiarism. But it is neither cheating nor stealing others’ work to be inspired by that work. 

If you are struggling to write a paper for a social science class, find some music about social issues and social justice to listen to while you work. Students who just cannot sit down and write a paper about a topic for their written composition courses may want to listen to music that addresses a similar topic, or an artist who often addresses a similar theme. 


If you are struggling to stay focused on a certain time period in a history class, take a break from the textbook and learn about the music that people listened to during that time. 


Students who struggle to focus in history classes or lessons or courses on the history of another subject are typically not bored by the material itself, but by the way that it’s presented. History is too often taught as a series of dates and names and names and what they did on certain dates, with little else. Details about what life was like at the time are often either left out, or crammed into a side note or single lecture. Learning about the music people listened to at the time of the event or times you are attempting to learn about can be a way to humanize an otherwise dry subject, and make the material easier to absorb. 


Choose a topic related to your favorite music when given a choice of topics in any class. 

Seeing the words “the topic of your choice” or “choose one of the following topics, but write about it from a unique angle” or similar directions on a classroom assignment can be both freeing and fear-inducing. On the one hand, you aren’t being forced to write about something you honestly do not have any interest in learning more about. But it can also lead to panic, as most people do not sit around and think about what they might like to write a paper on when they are not in school. Alleviate this panic, and ensure that you will stay interested throughout the course by selecting a topic related to your favorite music. 

Regardless of the need that music may fill for you this new school term, both listening to music and learning about music can help enhance your success inside the classroom and in school overall. 


Jess Szabo
Jess Szabo
Jess Szabo' is a novelist, writing teacher, and content writer for Utica area artists. Her online workspace can be found at

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