We've all heard that listening to classical music and such while studying can be beneficial, but I was wondering about actually playing an instrument? If I were to absentmindedly play my accordion while reading a textbook, would it have any benefit to either my absorption of the material or ability to play music without having to focus on it? Or is this just a bad idea?

Specifically, have there been any studies relevant to this, or is there any other data on the subject?

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    $\begingroup$ "We've all heard that listening to classical music and such while studying can be beneficial" - We have? :) $\endgroup$ – Speldosa Mar 6 '12 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I have. I seem to recall hearing about more than one study on this...I thought it had been around a while. No idea though, I could be completely off lol. I thought I'd heard about how the greater range in the tune, like you'd hear in a symphony, the better. I guess there's a topic for another question! $\endgroup$ – Marty Mar 7 '12 at 0:06
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    $\begingroup$ i've "heard" it, but am not aware of any literature that actually supports that claim. i think it's just an urban legend, but would love to be proved wrong. perhaps you could add some references to your question? $\endgroup$ – Jeff Mar 7 '12 at 2:50

Multitasking research suggests that people can't really multitask. I don't have any evidence to back this up, but I suspect that it's much better for your instrument skills than your studying. The accordion detracts from your focus and attention while you work, perhaps even if it doesn't feel like it. At the same time, though, that exercise may improve your ability to, say, sing and play at the same time.

  • $\begingroup$ How does this relate to common non-distracting behaviors one does while doing something? (ex. playing with a pen in a meeting, playing with the phone cable, etc.) I've heard theories (nothing serious that I know to back me up) that certain people actually need those to concentrate better on the primary tasks. $\endgroup$ – Alpha Mar 6 '12 at 5:40
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    $\begingroup$ This reference debunks multi-tasking theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/11/… $\endgroup$ – Ubermensch Mar 6 '12 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ Alpha, some research on mind wandering might come into play here. There are two competing theories about when and why the mind wanders. In the late 2000's, Kane and McVay posited that the mind wandered when it didn't have enough central resources to complete the primary task -- not so much in support of that idea. Smallwood and Schooler, however, suggest that the mind wanders when there's an excess of resources beyond the primary task. This leftover attention could enable non-distracting behaviors that could possibly facilitate the primary task. $\endgroup$ – Andy DeSoto Mar 6 '12 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ In support of the "we can't really multitask" claim, readers may wish to google the "PRP effect" or read a book like amazon.com/Multitasking-Mind-Cognitive-Models-Architectures/dp/… . In fact, it's hard for me to think of any situation in which doing two tasks at once aids performance on a single task better than doing that task alone. But it's an interesting topic... $\endgroup$ – Jeff Mar 7 '12 at 2:59

There is a reason why (at least where I'm at) it it illegal to hold and talk on a cell phone while driving. Not that hands-free talking really makes any difference.

One loses efficiency or what-have-you when attention needs to be shared amongst different activities that require cognitive control. By shared I mean more that time slices need to be divided amongst the activities. Attention is really a fascinating thing.

I can mindlessly listen to music while studying. But I know that I really don't pay much attention to the music, especially because most often I choose to listen to songs I know well and really like.


Can one really "mindlessly" play the accordion? Other than the physical movements that can in a sense be automatic, can one really determine what notes to play "mindlessly"? I am trying to picture a musician who has painstakingly spent hours upon hours memorizing a piece of music and I guess one's playing can reach the point of almost "mindless" playing.

Even if so, I think the attentional resources that studying demands would not allow enough attentional resources for playing an instrument...


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