Last semester we Koalas wrote a series of posts about our work and study playlists. At the time we had a conversation about listening to instrumental music and how it was particularly helpful for my fellow Koalas when studying to quiet the mind or get the juices flowing or inhibit the jitter juices or…something. Maybe it’s because I fall asleep to the sweet sounds of a James Newton Howard mashup playlist—and have for two years—but the very idea put me right to sleep. I prefer lyrics and beats and catchy music from the radio.
But three quarters of the way through my first semester of grad school, something happened. I’m used to being surrounded by noise, but noise of a particular variety (namely those of children at all decibels). Suddenly, come November, all of the new noises in my life felt like they were culminating in Just. Too. Much. Even the commute I take up to MSU felt way too loud.
Classical music, although awesomesauce, still doesn’t work for me when studying. I needed something that contains drama and sound but without human voices. Recently, I’ve found myself listening to the Hunger Games musical scores (yet again, James Newton Howard saves the day). I like these soundtracks because there are four of them so I get some variety, they are familiar enough that I can tune in and out of particular songs at will, and they can be, when I need them to be, unobtrusive. I am familiar enough with the movies that they keep me engaged in a low stakes kind of way. So while these particular scores might not work for you, I would recommend digging up the musical score of a favorite movie or two and giving them a test drive while studying.
I first heard this album in a terrarium store in Portland, OR, the kind with overpriced airplants and ephemeral glass ornament-like bulbs meant to hang from the ceiling with no holiday in sight. Probably a one-word store name like “Stone” or “Amour,” though I don’t remember it now. Lovely store, anyhow. Multicolored rocks, feathers, little clay mushrooms and beautiful, vibrating violin coming from the boombox. (Yep, boombox.) I asked the store clerk what the album playing was. “Andrew Bird,” he said, as though I should’ve already known. I didn’t recognize the sharp, vibrating violin as him, since his easily identifiable voice is completely missing from this entire album, beyond a few lyric-less lines of whistling. I usually love lyrics, but for distraction-less writing, this album is absolutely perfect.
When I study, I definitely need music that keeps me on track, and honestly, awake. I am a serial playlist hopper—perhaps it is symptomatic of my incredibly short attention span. My playlists tend to be a mix of recent songs I’ve heard on the radio and some old favorites. I like music with strong, heavy beats or with some sort of majestic upswell (what can I say, I’m a majestic creature). I get tired of things pretty quickly so these things are ever-rotating. Which is why I love being able to follow other people’s playlists on Spotify. Spotify is the bomb!
The classical for studying radio station on Pandora satisfies my musical needs while studying. The station offers all instrumental music, which is important because lyrics distract me. What I like most about the station is that while it includes classics like “Suite for Solo Cello No. 3 in C Major” by Bach, it also includes modern composers, movie scores instrumental versions of pop songs and video game soundtracks. I have learned that I really love the modern composer Rachel Currea (“Announcement of War” is a dope piece). Realizing halfway through the song that I am jamming out to the Skyrim soundtrack is always fun. After using this station for years now, I’ve found that if I put on the station, I am more prone to just work. And even when I zone out or get off task, the music’s presence as “work music” pulls me back in without pulling me into singing along (which can be a distraction).
Overall, the lack of lyrics, chill mix of music, and repetition of my usage of the station have led this station of be a successful study tool/trick for me.