Under Pressure? Just Shake It Off by Avoiding the Sound of Silence.

There have been countless studies by universities (here, here, here, and here)  that show that listening to music while studying helps students perform better on exams, decreases anxiety and improves overall school performance. Medical facilities have also studied the calming effect of soothing music on patients. Ever had an MRI where they had you listen to classical music during the procedure? Turns out there were bigger reasons behind that than just entertaining you and protecting your ears from the loud noises the machine was making. Soothing music helps keep your brain engaged, lowers your stress levels and improves overall productivity and emotional well-being. So why not carry this calming effect over into your professional life?

When attempting to read or listen to a lecture, research suggests that calmer, more subtle classical music is better. So your Mozart string concertos, your Bach lute suites, your Elizabethan parlor music – music that enhances but doesn’t distract. Most studies agree that pop, jazz, rock and even the “harder” classical music (think 1812 Overture) are all bad options for information absorption because your brain is being constantly distracted by the loud sounds and violent changes in the music. If your goal is to learn something new, calm, relaxing music is your best bet. Contrary to what you might expect, it can even help you stay awake if those dry law books get a bit too dry.

However, my experience has found then when attempting to write a paper, article or brief, well then the rules change altogether.

In undergrad and graduate school, anytime a large paper loomed heavy on the horizon, I would make myself a cup of coffee, put on my comfy pants and turn on the soundtrack to Lord of the Rings. It was the perfect way to get myself in the right mindset to tackle even the woolliest subject. It would begin lightly enough – Concerning Hobbits – the introduction. Here is a quick dance of what you’re going to be seeing in the coming pages. But as the soundtrack darkened and intensified, so too did my typing intensify. Inevitably I would reach the crux of my argument right as the soundtrack reached the Bridge of Khazad-dum. The insistent beat was a driving force behind the frantic typing of my fingers and words flowed like water onto the page. By the end of my paper, I would reach the end of the soundtrack, the soothing melody of Into the West easing my fingers to rest as I concluded my argument. This method served me faithfully for all my years of higher education and is still something I rely on when writing important pieces today in my professional life. Right now, for instance, I’m listening to an instrumental piece called “Elements” by Lindsey Stirling. Other go-to options for me are the soundtrack to Last of the Mohicans and Tron (the Daft Punk version) and performers like the Glitch Mob and Jorge Quintero. These pieces tend to invite a sense of purpose into my writing which I find can be lacking when I am writing to the sound of silence.

In the end, what’s important is figuring out what works best for you. If you find yourself feeling distracted while reading or writing, if anxiety is overwhelming your daily life, if depression is creeping in as the cold weather intensifies, try adding some music to your routine. You may be surprised at how much it helps.




Can't stop humming one of the songs from the title? You're welcome.