If anyone out there is similar to me, one of my habits is when I study, I need the music flowing through my ear so that I can concentrate on my work. Some people recommend not turning on the music while studying, but I am the opposite. However, it depends on what type of music is suitable for your brain so that you can be as productive as possible. I can name classical music, ballad, and the sudden rise of a simple melody of something called ‘Lo-Fi music’ has become my favorite study tool.
The Definition and History of Lo-Fi music
Lo-Fi stands for “low-fidelity”, an imperfect piece of music while recording and producing. To be honest, it is a bit difficult to identify what makes something Lo-Fi, some sources state it as “the inclusion of elements normally viewed as undesirable in professional contexts, such as misplayed notes, environmental interference, or phonographic imperfections”.
Lo-Fi first came out in 1950 by amateur musicians who started their career on a budget, which contains a sense of DIY, unnatural, unprofessional but promising to be cozy and relaxing that is worth listening to. Gradually, this kind of music is welcomed largely by the listeners despite its lack of quality. Lo-Fi then and then become preferred by youth and artists that stimulate them to intentionally produce low-quality sounds to create a Lo-Fi effect to attract young audiences who also enjoy it. During the 1980s and 1990s, underground indie rock bands used Lo-Fi to create their pieces of tracks that comprise free-form structures, abstract lyrics, experimental and artsy vibe to differentiate the sound and going backward from the mainstream (Greenfield, 2018).
The Godfathers of Lo-Fi hip-hop
Lo-Fi music is broad and diverse, but when it comes to household names, DJ Nujabes and J Dilla are in the house that develops the rise of Lo-Fi hip-hop. DJ Nujabes music is a combination of jazz, hip-hop, and electronica together to become a unique sound. As a Japanese, he had connected Lo-Fi and Japanese culture that until now most of the thumbnails of Lo-Fi track lists on YouTube are placed by Japanese signatures and animations (Vouloumanos, 2019).
And to the West, Detroit-based hip-hop artist J Dilla also fused Lo-Fi sounds into his pieces of music which makes his music is relaxing and less hardcore than the regular hip-hop beats.
The Taking Over to Social Media
Lo-Fi music is working strongly on both social platforms, such as YouTube and Spotify. Lofi Girl with 8.34 million subscribers and Chill hop Music with 3.15 million subscribers are the two famous Lo-Fi stops for constantly latest uploads and 24/7 endless stream music with the thumbnail of an anime girl studying. The music live stream is always on air and delivers thousands of tracks every day with live chats of listeners from around the world. These two channels also invest in illustrations for their video thumbnail which brings out each video has a different illustration and delivers calmness to listeners for their relaxation or study purposes.
With the rise of these two music streaming channels, it is easy to recognize how Lo-Fi is well known combined with certain audiences who enjoy the relaxing flow of Lo-Fi going through their ears.
The Scientific Proof for Work and Study Concentration
There are now thousands of Lo-Fi tracks that are entitled as suitable for work and study, or relaxation. Still, having what scientists say about how music, in general, helps to boost human productivity is technical proof for people understanding it in a practical aspect.
Maria A.G. Witek, a professor in the Department of Music at Birmingham University, said that this is not an easy answer in the scientific aspect. Moreover, she explains that the effect of background music depends on a person’s personality and taste in the major, but the music of work produces some qualities as well. She suggested the best type of music for working should be instrumental, no vocals involved, because lyrics can distract us from productivity. The sound should be slow, repetitive, and soft. Sounds of rain, waterfall, or rainforest noises can block out distracting noises in the work environment, like traffic, colleagues talking noises, etc. assists people to refocus on their work. “These characteristics will promote the right level of physiological and attentional arousal in listeners, acting as a stimulant without distracting from the task”, Witek concludes (Sherman, 2019)
Tram Nguyen, a member of the Cambridge Brain Sciences Team, found some evidence that low-tempo songs may benefit the regions of the brain responsible for memory and completing tasks. She and the team conducted a study published in 2017 in the scientific journal Psychomusicology, asked people to listen to low-arousal music with low-tempos and minor chord melodies. The result came out that this kind of music can improve memory performance and task completion as well. Nguyen also compares between high and low arousal music. “High arousal music often has more distinct events per unit of time than low-arousal music, and potentially making it more distracting, because the listener is more focused on processing the music, rather than the task at hand.”, Nguyen adds (Sherman, 2019).
Victor Szabo, an assistant professor of music at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, explains that Lo-Fi and ambient music can make the listener feel secure because it provides looping or sustained sounds that allow the brain to “easily predict on a subconscious level how it will continue to sound.”
Lo-Fi hip-hop and jazz also contain consistent secondary background noises. These sound effects create a “texturally consistent sonic mulch, almost like white noise”, to block out intrusive sounds which stimulate feelings of nostalgia and comfort for the listener (Sherman, 2019).
However, “A lot of research recommended that it is best not to listen to, even background/Lo-Fi/ambient music when studying or working”, Witek says. She adds up that music will always reduce the amount of available attentional space, taking attentional resources away from the task at hand. Nguyen’s research is also similar to Witek’s idea that it is best to work in silence. Her 2017 study found that the region of the brain that is used to focus on tasks gets taken up by processing background music, rather than processing the tasks to be done.
Overall, it is gray for Lo-Fi, as background music has been viral for a certain time as a productivity tool for work/study and the science insights about it. Eventually, it depends on personal productivity level when listening to music while working.
Greenfield, J. (2018, September 25). [Music Discovery] An Exploration of the Lo-Fi Aesthetic. Retrieved from Medium: https://medium.com/@johngreenfield/music-discovery-an-exploration-of-the-lo-fi-aesthetic-487c4dbfc3fc
Sherman, E. (2019, May 22). Do Productivity Playlists Actually Work? . Retrieved from Elemental: https://elemental.medium.com/do-productivity-playlists-actually-work-6d362bd23bf7
Vouloumanos, V. (2019, December 8). An Exploration of Lo-fi Hip-hop, Part III: From Nujabes and J Dilla to YouTube Livestreams. Retrieved from Medium: https://medium.com/@victoriavouloumanos/an-exploration-of-lo-fi-hip-hop-part-iii-from-nujabes-and-j-dilla-to-youtube-livestreams-f0a5cc719e50