What better way to procrastinate about studying than with an article about studying. And music.
It’s finally the final week of the first module of classes; only a few days until Spring Break, and a chance to catch up on all the things that have been neglected due to coursework. Like having a proper birthday dinner for example; due to all the work we were only able to mark it with some (very tasty) cupcakes in class and at the internship, though the rugby team took me out for a beer after training (though that probably would have happened regardless of birthdays).
In any case, the final week is upon us, and that means a barrage of exams. Everyone has their own study habits, and going through the pros and cons of each would merit a much longer article. In any case, people tend to find study techniques that work best for them; there’s no single magic approach that guarantees success (though time management is useful, even for the inveterate procrastinator).
So instead, I though I’d focus a little on the kinds of music I study to. Study music is a matter of personal taste, but being from a musical background I get asked the question reasonably often.
To be honest, I tend to flip between three types of music depending on the mood and the kind of work I am doing.
Trance/Drum and Bass
Studying can be draining on the energy levels, and sometimes even copious amounts of coffee and sugary snacks are not enough to get you into the right frame of mind. It’s then when you need some high energy, loop driven music to kick you along. The instrumental trance genre is especially good, no vocals to act as a distraction. For extra energy, drum and bass cranks up the tempo and the intensity.
This is such an extensive genre that selecting some favourite playlists is hard, but here are a few options:
Psytrance (Songza playlist)
Drum 'n' Bass Workout (Songza playlist)
This kind of music is especially good for work involving writing/typing or math heavy stuff. The rhythm locks you into a wave of productivity. In fact, I’m listening to some as I write this.
If dance music is just too energetic, and a more quiet focus is required, I usually turn to some trip-hop. It’s a darker sound, with a more laid back beat, which works for mixed up studying involving both reading and writing (for example, transcribing lecture notes from electronic form into paper form). It’s also good for the very late night study sessions, when you’re in that last hour before finally hitting the bed.
3am Airport (Songza playlist)
Blue Sky Black Death - NOIR DLXE
For straight out reading and absorbing content though, nothing to my mind beats ambient and minimalist work. It’s calm and non-intrusive, but masks out the outside world. It’s good for writing too, as there’s little to distract, and for minimalist compositions such as those by Philip Glass, the texture of the music is such as to wire you into a productive state (kind of like trance music, but without the drum loops).
Some favourites are:
Brian Eno - Music For Airports
Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts I-IV
Psybient (link goes to Youtube search - there's hundreds of playlists)
Philip Glass - Violin Concerto #1, Movement #2
You may be wondering where opera is in all of this. It might surprise you to hear this, but I don’t listen to opera when I am studying. Opera is a pleasurable thing, but it’s also immensely distracting by design, with musical shifts matching plot development. Listening to opera requires attention and concentration, and so it makes study difficult. Moreover, there’s a good chance a singalong might just happen.
Finally, I might just mention one study technique that I use that people have noticed before exams, and that’s my “pre-game ritual”. Just like you see with athletes before a competition, before an exam I usually have the headphones in, getting myself into a focused state of mind. I learned years ago that trying to study in the last half hour before the exam produces diminishing returns, and so just shutting off for that period gets me relaxed and ready.
The piece that most often gets played at this point is the Kyrie movement from Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Mass in G Minor”, a piece I have had the honour of performing as a soloist some years back. It’s stunningly beautiful, opening with a quiet alto line, and successively building to full choir, shifting to a solo voice sequence, then the chorus reappears, building again to full power, before dissipating, finishing with the same alto line from the beginning fading into nothingness. There’s an inherent symmetry to the work that is mesmerising and calming.
Just what’s needed before the chaos of a final exam.
Observations on music, coffee, and the occasional controversial thought.
Copyright © Gerard Atkinson 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the owner is strictly prohibited.