Does music help us concentrate?

Dec 8, 2017

I had a great meeting of my CHADD parents support group last night. It was only three moms but they were all new and really ran the gamut of who comes to the meetings. One mom was really struggling with her 5 year-old boy who's recently diagnosed but long assumed to have had ADHD. One mom has a 16 year old girl who is working her tail off to hold it together in school despite having tremendous difficulty attending to just about anything. Interestingly, she did far better when she did 4 hours of gymnastics everyday. The last mom has a 14 year old who’s super inattentive and impulsive… and already well over six feet tall.


Some really interesting things came up. I’m going to try to cover them in the next few posts before I circle back to finish my work out tips series. One thing that came up near the end of the meeting was the whether or not listening to music is helpful or hurtful for concentration. I can’t remember if I’ve done a post on this or not. But, even if I have, it couldn’t hurt to do another one.


The short answer is, YES… for 95% or ADHDers. But there are some caveats to that… and of course exceptions. As with most aspects of ADHD, we ADHDers often respond in two different ways to the same issue/situation. The majority of us will will respond one way and a small percentage of us will respond in what is likely the exact opposite way. The vast majority of us focus far better when this is background sound of our choosing, ie. music.


I have no idea why this is or what the brain-based mechanism is. The way way that I’ve always thought about it was that there is 10% of my brain that is out of control and constantly seeking stimulation. If I’m doing anything that requires deep focus, that part of my brain gets bored and wants to think about or do something more interesting. Once it thinks of that thing, it hijacks the rest of my brain which goes along for the ride. However, if I chose the right music or other audio stimulation, it can keep that part of my brain occupied while I focus on what I want to focus on. As a matter of fact, we can all thank The Mighty Mighty Bosstones for my being able to concentrate on writing this at the end of a brutally long week, as I’m currently listening to their album The Magic of Youth.


The bottom line is that silence if my enemy. Of course, distracting sound is my enemy too. In this sense, we all have to find our ‘sweet spot’ of what sound is helpful. The following is what works for me.


  • Getting ready in the morning is repetitive and tedious. I have a bluetooth speaking in the bathroom and get my punk rock on first thing in the am to get me going. It is the difference between a shower seeming boring and something to avoid and it being just a thing that happens. I will also sometimes listen to 98.5.

  • When working in my office getting stuff done I will usually listen to mellower music if I’m doing more attention based tasks. Maybe The Avett Brothers, or The Old Crow Medicine Show.

  • When I’m in the car, I’m usually listening to a podcast or 98.5 or sometimes punk/ska. (I used to listen to a lot of NPR, but the current political climate stresses me out. So, I don’t do that much anymore.)

  • If I’m writing something complicated I might listen to Thelonious Monk solo Piano or Juno Reactor (electronica without lyrics… mostly.)

  • Even white noise is helpful. I sleep with a fan in the summer or a white noise machine while I’m sleeping and sometimes use that to work also.


The bottom line is that when your kids tell you that it help them to listen to music, it almost definitely does. Just encourage them to vary the music as needed to meet their attention needs.


Standard Disclaimer:  In an effort to foil my own perfectionist tendencies, I do not edit my posts much… if at all. Please excuse and typos, mistakes, grammatical errors, or awkward phrasing. I focus on getting my content down. An imperfect post completed is better than a perfect post that goes unposted.



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