It is so long as the music is just melody without lyrics. Our ears are so tuned in to the human voice that whenever there are voices in the background it is impossible to give anything else our full attention. We think we filter things out, but not completely. You will always hear your name spoken against a hubble of voices in a room. I used to have the radio on in the background when I worked but it just felt too distracting. For more about this sort of thing have a listen to Julian Treasure on TED talks. He is a researcher into the effects of sound-scapes, amongst other things. Too much urban blast is bad for our health. Once you start becoming conscious of the noise surrounding you, it becomes more difficult to tolerate cacophony. And easier to appreciate quiet.
But you can use music to inspire a painting – then that is listening in a totally different way.
Am thinking about this as we have a new Pilates teacher at the local YMCA who doesn’t put music on during classes and for that I am grateful. I asked the last one if we could do without the music but she was reluctant to change the format of the class.
Best (and most calming) things to listen to: birdsong, water trickling, wind in the leaves.