I listen to a lot of ambient and other instrumental music, for a number of different occasions and purposes. With so many of us (myself included) getting back into the groove of a new semester, it seems like a perfect time to share some of my favorite studying music. If you like to listen to music while you read, write, and research, you may have come up with some of the same criteria that I have: the perfect sonic backdrop for studying has to be mellow enough that it won’t stress you out, but not so much that it will put you to sleep. It should be propulsive enough to keep you plowing through that assignment, but not so much so that you become distracted by an uncontrollable urge to dance. Here are some picks from four fairly diverse genres, so hopefully there’s something here for everyone!
1. There Is Love In You by Four Tet
Four Tet has delivered much more danceable records than this one, but for our purposes here, that isn’t a drawback. This album shimmers and pulses with bright electronic textures and tantalizing vocal samples. Four Tet is consistently an artist who knows how to assemble sounds that just feel good in my ears. The beats here maintain a steady feeling of forward motion, while the repetition of loops and samples help create an almost trancelike state in the listener— where I find I get some of my best work done.
2. Whatever You Love, You Are by Dirty Three
Violinist Warren Ellis (also of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds) leads this trio in creating some of the most unique music I’ve ever heard, blending folk melodies, classical virtuosity, and post-rock dynamism. This album has the expansive and ponderous feel of walking through the desert at night, with millions of stars spread out above you in the sky. Beautiful violin loops play off of pleasantly ambling drums and twangy guitar. This is great thinking music, perhaps best for organizing one’s thoughts for a long essay.
3. Workin’ with The Miles Davis Quintet
Hopefully, I don’t have to tell you much about Miles Davis. I am not a jazz expert by any means, but I know the man was a master of his craft. This album is from the era between his cool jazz period and later fusion experiments. It’s laid back enough to put on in the background, without a lot of histrionic soloing or experimental harmonics. Those things are great for active listening, but this record hits the sweet spot of virtuoso performances and laid-back grooves to put on in the background. If you’re anything like me, listening to jazz makes you feel smart— maybe that translates to your assignments? (It won’t hurt that I’m taking a class about jazz this semester).
4. Drumming by Steve Reich
If you’re not familiar with Minimalism (as a genre of classical/art music, not the general concept of “less is more”): oh man. It seems to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it type of things that, honestly, I could do a whole blog post about (and just might). This seems like as good an entry into the genre as any, from one of its key figures. The repetitive rhythms of this long percussion piece (including marimbas and bells, so it is not completely atonal or anything) are perfect if you have some tedious task you need to be completely in the zone for.
Do you have any favorite studying music to share? Will you be adding any of these to the rotation this semester? Let me know in the comments!