Unfortunately, it’s that time of year again when everyone is starting to stress over exams and assignments. However, your days in the library don’t have to be miserable and torturous, if you have the right music as your soundtrack. I for one, more often than not, physically cannot study or work on assignments without listening to music. It just makes the work seem endless and boring. Well, science says those of us who listen to music – specifically (but not limited to) classical music – while studying may actually perform better mentally. It’s a phenomenon that scientists and psychologists have coined the “Mozart Effect.” So, with that in mind, here are some tips to help you organise the soundtrack to your study season:
First of all: moderate your volume. Listening to music so loud that people around you can clearly hear it booming from your earphones isn’t pleasant for anyone involved. The person sitting beside you in the library will definitely not be impressed with you and your eardrums will be equally as displeased. Try listening to music at a moderate level. Not only is it better for your ears, it has been proven to aid concentration. Secondly, make a playlist or multiple playlists of songs that are 40-50 minutes long. When your playlist ends, this will remind you to take a break. Everyone loves study breaks and they are 100% proven to make you more productive. Multiple studies have shown that the optimal work-break ratio is 52 minutes of work to 17 minutes break and breaks are best taken away from your work area. Now, you may be wondering, “but Caoimhe, what music should I put in my playlists?” Well, I’m here to give you some suggestions.
According to scientists and psychologists (who definitely know more about this than I do), listening to songs which contain the sounds of nature enhances mental performance. Personally, I find listening to rain drops or wind for an hour straight quite boring – and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Instead, I opt for something like Ben Howard’s Every Kingdom or Bon Iver’s 22, A Million. I wouldn’t necessarily say these albums explicitly contain the “sounds of nature” but to me, they at least allude to them. The melodic nature and the lyrics of both albums do the trick. Plus, Ben Howard’s Every Kingdom was, at least in part, recorded in the outdoors, in barns and in sheds – so if that isn’t a nod to the “sounds of nature” I don’t know what is.
Another recommended genre is that of instrumental or classical music – in short, music with no lyrics. I know a lot of people, like myself, find classical music a little boring (controversial, I know). However, TV and film scores can be a bit more exciting. Some of my favourites are Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s soundtrack to Stranger Things, Hans Zimmer’s Inception and Interstellar scores and Howard Shore’s pieces featured in The Lord of The Rings and Spotlight. If you’re into the heavier side of things, local prog-metal band Aponym have got you covered – both their EPs Deus Incognitus and Ingress are available on Spotify. Another good option is to find instrumental versions of popular songs – there are endless numbers of playlists on Spotify so you are sure to find some of your favourites.
The most important thing to keep in mind when compiling your perfect study playlist is to choose songs that don’t distract you, songs that you can simultaneously listen to and enjoy while also being productive. I find that shoegaze or dream-pop works really well for me. Think Slowdive, Beach House, Cocteau Twins or even My Bloody Valentine. Another good option is to listen to albums that you know really well – so well that you don’t have to think twice about them. For me, a good example would be Paramore’s After Laughter or Joy As An Act of Resistance by IDLES. Something that almost sounds like it is actually wired into your brain because you’ve listened to it so much is less likely to distract you from your studies.
On the flip side, listening to an album that you don’t really care about or are ambivalent towards can work too. I’m not saying listen to something you don’t like, but something that you wouldn’t mind having on as background noise. Everyone obviously has different tastes but for me, something like Mac Demarco’s Salad Days works well. I like it but I only know three or four of the songs really well. It’s easy listening (apologies to any Mac Demarco fans that I have offended).
At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you actually study. It’s very easy to spend hours on end perfecting your perfect playlist and using it as an excuse to procrastinate (trust me, I know). Try not to give in to this temptation – challenge yourself to make a banger of a playlist in half an hour or even twenty minutes, don your favourite headphones and hit the books.