This is a collection of some of my favorite soundtracks for studying or working to. I didn’t make any of this music. I mostly only like acoustic music, so that’s what you’ll find here.
A theory of study music
Depending on the task I’m doing, my environment, and how I’m feeling on any particular day, the kind of music I want to listen to varies – usually along the lines of “how much of my attention it grabs”. If I’m doing something mindless like washing dishes, I’ll listen to a new album, to podcasts, whatever.
If I’m doing something kind of mindless, but that still requires some amount of concentration, like formatting citations, I’ll want something absorbing and interesting, but not completely distracting.
If I’m doing heavy intellectual lifting, I’ll want something pleasant that actively grabs very little of my attention. I might even want just a simple backdrop of sound to drown out noise around me.
The latter category also tends to be rather soporific, so if I’m tired and want to keep my mind engaged, I’ll go for higher focus. I most often listen to medium-focus music while working.
These suggestions are arranged from “low focus” to “high focus”.
I tend to default to a calm album with lyrics that I’ve heard lots of times before. For me that’s Sufjan Stevens’ Seven Swans, anything by the Fleet Foxes, or anything by the best band in the world, Iron and Wine.
I’ve curated a few Spotify playlists. The more upbeat ones tend to be lower-focus.
My Brainstorming playlist – just a bunch of acoustic tracks that have character to me.
Spotify’s The Piano Bar (Jazz piano)
Spotify’s Peaceful Guitar
A couple specific albums I enjoy and recommend are Gidon Krener’s homage to Astor Piazolla (tango), the Telluride Sessions by Strength in Numbers (bluegrass), and everything by Dorothy Ashby (jazz harp).
Film soundtracks are notoriously good. Look up those for your favorite film. Pacific Rim, Pirates of the Caribbean, Master and Commander, and Inception have engaging and dramatic soundtracks. For softer focus music, I like those for Maidentrip and The Dead Stations.
Daniel Valeriano’s youtube mixtapes are also delightful – largely wordless or in non-English languages, long, interesting.
MyNoise.Net is the godsend of low-entropy, pleasing, customizable, endless sounds. It has dozens of noise generators, and if you’re not satisfied with their default settings, you can adjust sliders for the components of each noise until it’s just right. Try opening tabs and playing multiple at once. Some features only exist if you’re a donor, so maybe kick them a few dollars. Friends of Winter, Cave Chime, and Northern Lights are all great, relaxing, almost music.
I like Rain on a Tent, perhaps alongside other noise generators or music, for when I’m working in a room with other people talking. Or just want some pretty white noise. Alternatively, here’s a playlist of ocean wave sounds.