Researchers from London University's Institute of Education found that calming music made disturbed nine and 10-year-olds less unruly and helped them achieve higher scores in maths. The effect was greatest on hyperactive children.
Soothing music also helped 10 and 11-year-olds without behaviour problems to work more quickly, although it did not make them more accurate.
Research by Dr Susan Hallam and John Price suggests that music which children find relaxing and enjoyable may make them happy and more productive. It may also keep them alert and improve their concentration.
Hyperactive children, usually distracted by the children sitting next to them, are instead distracted by the music and find it easier to return to work.
The researchers argue that music may not improve the accuracy of mainstream school pupils because it affects individuals differently. Earlier studies indicate that cheerfulness may impair ability to reason.
The research, to be presented at the British Educational Research Association conference this weekend, examined the effect of music on 26 special school pupils prone to tantrums, crying and aggression.
Music for the study was chosen by playing 60 or 90-second "mood-calming" pieces to the children, who said whether they found it calming or exciting, happy or sad, and likeable or not.
Music which most found soothing was played while they completed arithmetical questions in a set period of time. The mean score for the number of correct sums was 38.5 with music and 21.5 without.
Dr Hallam said: "We all have an optimum level of arousal. If it is too low we don't concentrate. If it is too high, we break down. We think that people may be using the music to get their concentration level right."
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