“The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
What research and Lantern have to say about the best music to listen to while writing
One of my first memories of music is hearing the theme from the Pink Panther, by Henri Mancini. I’ve been a jazz aficionado ever since. I can happily listen to John Coltrane’s wall of sounds, the danceable rhythms of Aroura Nealand, and the scratchy recordings of Jelly Roll Morton from the 1920’s.
When I put my music collection on shuffle, there is a lot of jazz, but there is also anything from The Bangles to the Descendents, The Meters to Muddy Waters, and Raul de Barros to field recordings of Balkan folk music
When it comes to working, though, I find the best music to listen to while writing is something much more hypnotic. Just like mental space is important while you are writing, aural space is important, too.
Finding the best music to listen to while writing often takes me far away from my usual listenings into territories that I don’t otherwise explore.
Music is part of the writing process
For a lot of writers, hitting a zone is an important part of the process. You hit a rhythm and settle into a groove. Distractions are far too easy to come by, so atmosphere is an essential element in creating this groove.
For the most part, this means finding a way to shut out those distractions. In fact, a study by Florida International University found that listening to music helped children with ADHD focus in the classroom and complete their work. Another study from Stanford University found that music helps us organize information.
Some music can be distracting
Music with lyrics makes concentration more difficult, according to a study published in Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assesment & Rehabilitation. Jay Parr, BLS Program Manager at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and a creative writer, would agree. “I can’t have lyric vocals out front, as working with language is a very auditory process for me, even when I’m writing or reading silently.”
“Extreme syncopation is also distracting for me, unless it’s woven into patterns (a la old King Crimson instrumentals). Sometimes way-out-front instrumental melodies will also distract me.”
He tells me that, for him, the best music to listen to while writing is “classical/romantic, electronic ambient, instrumental (/light) jazz, other unobtrusive instrumental music (what I call “wallpaper”), or nothing at all.”
[Tweet “The @LanternContent crew share their writing playlists. And they’re very different!”]
Here in the Lantern office, it is not unusual to find several of us tapping away at our keyboards with earbuds in. What do these folks find is the best music to listen to while writing? Here’s what they say, plus a few writing playlists they’ve shared.
At different points in my life, I’ve been totally immersed in music, and in other times, I can’t listen to anything. I’ve been in one of those blank periods lately. But I have found a new artist that has inspired me to listen to more music and especially listen while working: Nils Frahm.
The best way I can describe his sound is a mix of classical and electronic bliss.
I can’t listen to music when I write. I need to be 100% focused on the writing. However, anytime I’m working on graphic design projects, or I’m pulling analytics for our clients, I will listen to music.
I also will peek in on Hype Machine and check out what’s popular.
Jazz, classical and acoustic music is usually my go-to when writing. I try to keep most of it upbeat, that way it still gives me that “I’m exercising to my workout music” feeling while I write.
I get pretty distracted by words and repetition, so I find that all three are agnostic in those areas.
I’d listen to jazz 24/7 if you let me, but I’m listening to a ton of Hozier lately too. My other playlists are pretty schizophrenic; there’s probably a hundred different songs on them and none are by the same artist. It ranges from Barcelona and Ben Folds to Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift. I’m more of a song collector, I just add music to my playlist as I hear and like the songs somewhere. Yes, I still use Shazaam a lot.
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Want to find out what Amanda thinks is the best music to listen to while writing? Check out her Spotify playlist.
No playlists, but here are the albums I’ve been listening to the most while I work lately:
- “Traces of You” by Anoushka Shankar
- “The Best of Ravi Shankar” by Ravi Shankar
- “Inspiration Information 3” by Mulatu Astatke and The Heliocentrics
- “Release the Green Lover” by Raquy and the Cavemen
- “A Go Go”, “Up All Night”, “Bump” by John Scofield
- “Uninvisible” by Medeski, Martin and Wood
- “The Best of Sun Ra” by Sun Ra
- “Throw Down Your Heart” by Bela Fleck
- “Dirty Money” by Antibalas
- “Rage” by Lettuce
I prefer to listen to instrumental music while I work. Lyrics throw me off from my writing.
I also listen to a lot of the sound I create with my project Binaural Beat Brothers ft. Resonant Phibrations. We use a lot of binaural beats, gongs, and didjeridoos, which I find relaxing and focusing. I typically listen to pieces that include binaural beats created for alpha wave entrainment, creating a relaxed yet alert state.
This music is pretty similar to the music I listen to while I’m not working, although I will listen to music with lyrics when I’m not writing. This includes a lot of Bob Marley, Iron and Wine, Paul Simon, Phish, and Grateful Dead.
For me, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to writing. There are times that I need to write without any noise and times when I must write listening to music. Now, I’m not your ordinary music-listener while writing.
I know most of our colleagues prefer listening to songs without lyrics, but I’m definitely a lyric girl. I grew up singing and acting, so listening to tunes usually pumps me up, and when I choose to put my music on in my headphones at work, it’s usually because I need some motivation (or well, I’m distracted by other things going on in the office, and I need to concentrate).
The toughest part about listening to music while I work is that I generally want to sing along. I put my music up real loud and tap my feet on the floor while tapping my fingers on the keyboard. Mary tells me that sometimes she can hear me quietly squeak out a few lyrics, but I can’t be sure of that!
The music I listen to at work is quite the mix of old school hip hop, alternative, classical, country, R&B, and oldies. It is the same type of music I like to listen to on a daily basis – I enjoy a mix of things!
Want to know what Erin thinks is the best music to listen to while writing? Check out her Spotify playlist.
I like to listen to different things while I work, usually it’s tunes that I have stuck in my head on the way in from work. The things I listen to while I work are the same things I listen to in the car.
Listening to music helps me tune out the background noise of others working or the a/c. I sometimes get distracted so the music helps a lot.
And since you’ve waited so patiently, here’s mine:
Tips to create your own “music for writing” playlist on Spotify
- Get a free Spotify account. Find an artist you like either through the search function, or feel free to start with one of our suggestions. One catch, with a free account, you do get commercials every so often. The premium upgrade will get rid of commercials, and also lets you access your playlist offline.
- Create a new playlist. Look to the right of a title of a song you like; you will see three small dots. Click on those dots and a menu will pop up. About halfway down, click the “Add to playlist” selection. You will have the option of adding the song to an existing playlist, or creating a new playlist.
- Add to your playlist. There are two ways you can do this. You can search for specific artists or songs, and add them. Or, you can start with an artist you like, for instance, my playlist begins with Tortoise. At the top of the page, you will see a circle with three dots inside – just to the right of the “play” and “follow” buttons. Click the dots, and then click “Start artist radio.” As the station plays, you can click to add to your playlist whenever you hear something you like.
Like music but hate writing? Get in touch. We’ll help you get your blog groove going.