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Blog post Part of special issue: Covid-19, education and educational research

Quarantined at home? Craft productive learningscapes and workspaces through the use of recorded music

Memory Malibha-Pinchbeck, Research student at The Open University

The Covid-19 pandemic means that countless students and educational staff are expected to continue their work from home. The worldwide quarantine has been a game-changer, blurring the boundaries between the personal space of home and the institutional workplace. This is proving to be a difficult adaptation for some students and staff (Hodges, Moore, Lockee, Trust, & Bond, 2020). To get around some of these unexpected work and study conditions, creative strategies can be used to transform unproductive home spaces into effective learningscapes and workspaces.

During my doctoral research I investigated why and how students undertaking GCSE and A-level (or equivalent) courses used recorded music (from various genres) while studying. I discovered that students used their recordings as tools to promote self-management. This type of listening practice is different from when listening to music for enjoyment, to learn the lyrics of a song or to memorise the music. In fact, students who regularly used recordings when studying used a bank of tried and tested materials in the form of saved playlists or favourites. This familiarity with songs prevented students from deep listening, and highlights the fact that recordings were utilised rather than listened to. Students who used their recordings also differed from those who stated that they randomly selected recordings for generic background noise.

‘Students used recordings to manage varied conditions such as learning or studying in classrooms they disliked, difficult classmates, isolating spaces, spaces that were “too quiet”, overcrowded home environments and noisy study spaces.’

Students in my study used recordings to manage varied conditions such as learning or studying in classrooms they disliked, difficult classmates, isolating spaces, spaces that were deemed too quiet, overcrowded home environments and noisy study spaces. Participants came from two educational institutions in London: a further education college and a religious fee-paying academy.

Data from the study indicated that recordings were used to: alter mindsets; focus; work for longer; manage emotional and psychological wellbeing; and manage (or avoid) interactions with others. Similar findings have also been arrived at by psychologists (Azizinezhad, Hashemi, & Darvishi, 2013; Krueger, 2013), ethnomusicologists, educational and media researchers (Bull, 2008; Viladot et al., 2018).

The study’s findings also highlighted the fact that not all people could successfully use recordings while studying (and working). Students that did not listen to recordings while studying reported finding sound or lyrics irritating and distracting. Some felt overwhelmed at multi-tasking; some sang or danced to music; others stated that recordings hindered their cognitive abilities.

In summary, some of my research findings indicate that recordings can be beneficial while studying (or working), by providing the following affordances.

  • Inspirational narratives for those feeling overwhelmed, panicked, apathetic or demotivated towards their educational obligations.
  • Emotional management, managing sadness or frustration by using uplifting recordings to change mood or cathartically vent negative emotions; also, to reduce stress and anxiety by using familiar or calming recordings.
  • Enhance cognitive abilities: increase the ability to memorise, be creative and problem-solve.
  • Temporarily compartmentalise personal problems by using recordings to distract or separate one’s self from issues out of one’s control.
  • Personalise the soundscape, blocking the sound of others (TV, children playing, loud conversations) to make it suitable to work in.
  • Take ownership of a space: use recordings to push others out of the workroom/space, if possible.
  • Quicken the completion of general tasks by stopping procrastination through social media, gaming, shopping, unnecessary conversations and much more.
  • Pace the user by matching the seriousness, tempo and length of recordings to the duration and importance of tasks to avoid boredom and tiredness, and to stay focussed until the task is completed.

This list of benefits varies from person to person based on the needs and context of each user. So, rather than take the benefits and drawbacks of recordings as prescriptive, this blog points out that recordings can be employed to help some students and homeworkers adapt to some of the difficult working conditions they find themselves in. For more information on the benefits of recordings see also: for cognitive efficacy, Nutley, Darki and Klingberg (2013); for emotional wellbeing, McFerran and Saarikallio (2014); and for space and media, Bull (2008).


Azizinezhad, M., Hashemi, M., & Darvishi, S. (2013). Music as an education-related service to promote learning and skills acquisition. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 93, 142–145.

Bull, M. (2008). Sound moves: Ipod culture and urban experience. London: Routledge.

Hodges, C., Moore, S. Lockee, B., Trust, T. and Bond, A. (2020, March 27). The difference between emergency remote teaching and online learning. EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved from

Krueger, J. (2013). Affordances and the musically extended mind. Frontiers in Psychology, .

McFerran, K. S., & Saarikallio, S. (2014). Depending on music to feel better: Being conscious of responsibility when appropriating the power of music. Arts in Psychotherapy, 41(1), 89–97.

Nutley, S. B., Darki, F., & Klingberg, T. (2013). Music practice is associated with the development of a working memory in childhood and adolescence. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7(926). Retrieved from

Viladot, L., Hilton, C., Casals, A., Saunders, J., Carrillo, C., Henley, J., González-Martín, C., Prat, M., & Welch, G. (2018). The integration of music and mathematics education in Catalonia and England: Perspectives on theory and practice. Music Education Research, 20(1), 71–82.