Music to Study By

Student studying with musicFor some, silence is golden. For me, silence is deafening, particularly when I’m trying to study. Personally, I find music helps me focus on what I’m supposed to be learning. While this may not be true for everyone, a 2007 Stanford study found that music activates the same area that is concerned with paying attention.

The research team showed that music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating the event in memory. Peak brain activity occurred during a short period of silence between musical movements—when seemingly nothing was happening.

When it comes to music playing in the background, I don’t stick with the strictly instrumental. I find it easy to listen to, and tune out, some lyrics if I’m working on math, science or quizzing myself in histories. However, I do skip the words if I’m trying to write or read textbook chapters.

If you don’t own an impressive library of music, don’t worry. Here are some sites that will help you access great music on your computer.

You can stream music for free from all of the sites. And, since taste in music varies, I have asked friends to help contribute to my list. If you have suggestions, which I am sure you do, please leave them in the comments. I hope you find something to make studying for finals a little less onerous!

Jed’s picks

  • Enya: Watermark and The Memory of Trees
  • Bjork: Mix
  • Peter Gabriel: Passion, Music for the Last Temptation of Christ
  • Mickey Hart and Zakir Hussain: Global Drum Project

Classical artists

  • Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Frederic Chopin
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • Ludwig van Beethoven
  • George Frideric Handel
  • Antonin Dvorak

Contemporary artists (instrumental)

  • Boards of Canada
  • Dntel (mostly instrumental)
  • Tycho (“Hallelujah” might be a bit intense for studying)

Contemporary artists (with words)

  • The Shins
  • Venice Is Sinking
  • Wilco
  • Snow Patrol

Student studying with music


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