The Effect of Music on Memory

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Updated on Apr 10, 2014


Social Science

Grade Level
Middle School
Difficulty of Project

The beauty of this music science fair project is that you probably already own everything you need, or at least know someone that does, and can borrow the materials fairly easily. The digital age is a wonderful thing. Therefore, we are boldly proclaiming thus:

Safety Issues
No notable safety issues.
Material Availability

These days, technology is available, if you know where to look. Outside of pencil and paper to take data, you will need access to a computer with internet, and an iPod or other music playing device. That’s it!

Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project

Gathering enough test subjects is the only difficult part here. Each session should probably only take 10-15 minutes, but you will want a lot of people to do this, so that the data means something- plan on gathering data for up to 10 days or more.

The project addresses a perennial argument between parents and children: is it OK to listen to music while you are studying?

To test the effect of music on memory and whether or not listening to music affects the ability of a person to concentrate on a simple task.

  • Computer with internet access
  • An iPod or other personal music device
  • Pencil and paper to take data
  • A lot of people to act as test subjects
That’s it!

“Turn that down! I thought you were doing your homework!”

“I AM doing my homework! Music helps me concentrate!”

This argument has been repeated, no doubt, in countless households. The question is: Who is right? Does music actually help you study? Can it affect your concentration, and in a positive or adverse way?

This experiment tests just that. Test subjects will be asked to listen to music of their choosing- music they might play while accomplishing a separate task- while completing such a task. They will also be asked to complete the same task, with minor modifications, without music.

This website, or a similar one,is required:

Research Questions
  • How does music affect concentration?
  • How does music affect memory retention?
  • What effect does music have on the brain?
Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research

Memory, neuropathy, synapse, music, demographic, genre(musical), retention, short-term memory, long term memory

  1. Choose a test subject.
  2. Sit him or her at a computer.
  3. Go to
  4. Allow the test subject to play the game twice- the reason for doing this is because people naturally get better at tasks early, and less later. You want your test subjects to be decent at the task, without having enough time to get bored of it.
  5. On the third time, allow the test subject to wear headphones and play music of their own selection. Have them play the game, and record their completion time in a data table.
  6. Have them do the game one more time, but without music. Record their completion time.
  7. Repeat the above steps for as many people as you can get to take the test- 30 people would be great!
  8. Compare both ‘with music’ and ‘without music’ times for all subjects. Which was better? Did certain people do better and others worse? What might age or gender mean in this experiment?
  9. Find a way to graph your data, so people understand the results of your experiment!
You should take show all the data you took during the experiment in a table form. You should also include graphs. Use excel, if you know how.

While no diagrams are required, it is always a good idea to photo document the process so you have great visuals for your science fair board.

The online concentration game can be found here:

Shumit DasGupta has worked for OSHA, UMBS, and Pfizer as a contract researcher, is a ten year veteran in science education, and has taught students in the International Baccalaureate program in both Chicago and San Francisco. Four of his students have made it to states, and one to nationals- the year it was held in Hawaii- and he was sad he couldn't chaperon. He also loves snorkeling.

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