What’s the best music to write to? I decided I needed some different music to listen to while I write, so I started on a quest.
First, just like you’re supposed to do, I set my criteria. I made these up myself, by the way; feel free to make up your own.
The music for writing must have these characteristics:
1. Not distracting. It must not be vocal, as that’s distracting by itself.
2. The music must be quiet, not loud, because I decided that would be less distracting and more calming. But not too quiet; I didn’t want the music to put me to sleep while I was writing.
What Music Does to Our Brains
A recent FastCompany article “The Surprising Science Behind What Music Does to Our Brains” discusses how ambient music affects creativity:
moderate noise levels increase processing difficulty which promotes abstract processing, leading to higher creativity.
If the music was classical, that would be a bonus. I tried nature sounds and found that they relaxed me too much. I love to walk on the beach and I meditate when I’m there, and if I listen to beach music, I start meditating; that doesn’t work well for writing.
Individual songs, even symphonies, won’t do. The selection also needs to be long enough that I don’t have to think about stopping to change.
Three new “music to write by” solutions I’ve found:
1. My own playlists on iTunes. I have a large collection of classical music on iTunes, some of it from CD’s over the years, and much of it purchased. I particularly like any Baroque, Bach, Mozart, Schubert, and Brahms. I love Rachmaninoff, but not for writing – too energetic.
I discovered that I could create an impromptu playlist by searching on a specific musician. The musician I select varies by the day – some days I prefer the precision of Bach, while other days I’m in a Beethoven mood.
Creating playlists for writing moods is also something I have done, by pulling specific work by specific artists in. I will usually end up with Baroque, just about any kind except stuff like Handel’s Messiah (I tend to sing along).
2. Focus@Will. (I’m not an affiliate.) This service selects music based on brain science, and they find music they believe will enhance “attention, concentration, focus, flow.” and they have various types of music, like classical to ambient (coffee shop), to acoustic, cinematic, and “ADHD1.” You can also select one of three energy levels – low, medium, and high. (You can get a free trial; then you must purchase, at $24.99 a year).
3. Lord of the Rings. I recently got the idea (who knows where this stuff comes from?) that I should check out the Lord of the Rings soundtrack (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Howard Shore). I purchased all three soundtracks, one album for each of the movies. Why?
(1) I loved the movies, and I have seen them often enough that I remember what was going on at each part. I particularly love the hobbit parts, .
(2) They are good background music, with no singing to distract except for a couple of selections, and
(3) I find them inspirational. They make me think of the Hero’s Journey, the triumph of the little guy over the forces of evil. Great for working on my novel.
LOTR selections are diverse. Some sound like Gregorian chants (Lothlorien), Enya and Annie Lennox are featured (both in vocal pieces), and some selections sound very cinematic/dramatic. I will probably be bored with this one soon, but I will always come back to it.
I’m always looking for something new. As part of my research for this article, I discovered Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. It fulfills my 3 criteria, but I haven’t decided if I like it. Here it is being performed (it’s much better listened to than watched). I’m finding I don’t like it because I want to check to make sure the record isn’t stuck!
Some other authors present their selections for Music to Write By in this article on PLOSBlogs. I found it interesting that several of the authors surveyed preferred silence to background music.
What do you like to listen to while you write or do other creative work? Send me a comment. I get bored easily and would love some new ideas.