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Aug 31 2016
by Katie Sims

A Guide to Your Scholarly Soundtrack

By Katie Sims - Aug 31 2016
There are lots of different opinions on studying with music. Some swear it makes them remember more, some cannot read with even a quiet, peaceful melody behind them. Most studies have shown that simple instrumental music promotes learning and recall of information, but fast, loud, or complicated music does more distracting than good. There is probably no one right answer to whether you should listen to music while working or not, but you should perform some of your own “experiments”, to find out what works for you!

Here are some playlists for starting points to the perfect studying soundtrack. They’re suggested by the type of work you’re doing, giving you the right kind of focus to tackle anything.


When you’re reading and trying to figure out what in the world an internuclear axis is, the last thing you need is more words flying through your head. You can remedy that with some calm instrumental music. Spotify’s “Deep Focus” playlist is a great compilation of calm electronic music to get you through the toughest readings before your next lecture.


Writing requires a different kind of focus and drive than reading. Propelling yourself forward into an uninteresting essay can be a daunting task. What better way to make your essay writing exciting than to make yourself a hero? Put yourself in the place of your favorite movie protagonist, and write as the music swells to dramatic crescendo behind you. Film scores are great because the classical music induces focus, but the familiar themes are fun to listen to. Plus, the scores and many of the soundtracks don’t have lyrics that get in the way of your writing.

This playlist contains about 18 hours worth of film scores, ready for listening. You can start with one or shuffle through all of them. It’s also a collaborative playlist, so feel free to add your favorite movie’s score.

Solving Problems

When you sit down with a long problem set, you need something to keep you sane. For subjects with a lot of analysis but not many words, some lo-fi folk music can do the trick. It’s fairly basic and calm music, and it stays out of the way while you're working. Soft voices and guitar riffs let part of you focus on something other than finding the fourth derivative of a function, but don’t take you completely away from the task at hand.

This playlist has some great lo-fi, but feel free to add to it, as it’s also collaborative.

Amping Up

Long work sessions can leave you completely drained. Every now and again, you need a little break and amp-up. The best choice for this probably depends on your own music taste. Getting your face out of a book, listening to your favorite upbeat music, having a two-minute dance party is the perfect cure for your drooping eyes.

A few good choices for getting your energy back are pop hits, upbeat indie, pop-punk, or some fast metal. Spotify’s “Feel Good Indie Rock” is a nice generic playlist, but you should explore your own favorite music to find what makes you happy and motivated.

Relaxation and Sleep

Once you’ve done all you can (or should) do for the day, relaxing and getting rest is a priority. You need sleep to integrate all of information you’ve learned into your memory. There’s lots of great music for sleep- atmospheric tones, simple electronic or instrumentals are calming and work wonders. Another great option is guided meditation. Guided meditation speeches lead your thoughts to focusing on yourself and your sleep. They train you to bring your wandering mind back, so you can fall asleep, or focus on tasks. There are guided meditations for all types of tasks and goals.

Spotify’s “Guided Meditation” playlist has a lot of different types of guided meditation so I suggest you use the filter or scroll through to find what you’re looking for.

No matter what work you’re doing or what you’re listening to, you need to make sure you’re doing it effectively. Finding out what makes you work better, faster, and happier is the most important thing you can do as a student. 

Lead Image Credit: Katie Sims 

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Katie Sims - Cornell University

Katie Sims is a freshman at Cornell University, studying Environmental Engineering. They are probably laughing at bad calculus jokes and crying about calculus homework. You can find Katie on Twitter or Instagram @k8esims

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