It’s that time of year again! … where we all put our revision hats on and flock to various study spaces. But how do you fill those awkward (read: studious) silences? What do you listen to to block out other people’s conversations? Read on for what I think is the best music for studying.
First things first
Obviously, there is no science to this. As long as the music you’re listening to is not distracting you from actually studying, it’s all fine. But even so, it took me ages to figure out the perfect songs (or rather pieces) that work for me. For the most part, I listen to classical music – especially when I’m trying to revise. I like to avoid songs because I spend too much time trying to make sense of the lyrics I hear – so I absorb just about zero percent of what I was studying. Which – unsurprisingly – is less than ideal. I’ve linked some of my favourites below, in case any of you are in the same boat.
All time favourites
Generally, I’d say you can never go wrong with Bach – especially his fugues. Similarly to canons, they consist of a main theme (i.e. a melody) which is repeated in various voices. For example, the right hand begins with the theme and a couple of bars later the left hand echos the theme, giving rise to complex (and really beautiful!!) harmonies.
- Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 (very stereotypical, I know, but skip to 2:42 for the fugue)
- The “little” Fugue in G minor, BWV 578
- Fugue in B flat minor BWV 867, from the Well-Tempered Clavier. The Fugue starts at 2:25, and this video nicely highlights where the main theme is picked up again and again throughout the piece.
I also highly recommend the Well-Tempered Clavier in its entirety. It’s essentially a two-book collection of preludes and fugues in all major and minor keys. And yes, that is about as long as it sounds, so your study playlist will not end any time soon.
Beyond Bach fugues I’d recommend:
- Dvorak Cello concerto in B minor
- Chaconne in D minor
originally a Bach violin piece, adapted for piano by F. Busoni.
- Rachmaninoff piano concerto no. 2
Best for studying
All of the pieces above are insanely musically complex and dramatic sounding – which is great, but also demands quite a bit of focus when listening.
Then, one late night at the library, the YouTube algorithm divined the solution to all my distracting-music related problems: Vivaldi violin concertos.
For me, they tick all the boxes. No lyrics, they’re engaging and upbeat but at the same time they don’t overshadow your thoughts (or make you want to spontaneously conduct an imaginary orchestra).
Some of my favourites are:
- Violin concerto in A minor – you might recognise this one as “that piece every beginner plays the second they learn third position”. But unlike 8-year-old me, when performed by professionals this concerto is nothing but delightful.
- Violin & Organ concerto in D minor
- Concerto for 4 Violins in B minor
- Concerto for 2 Cellos in G minor
Are the suggestions above a bit to baroque-y for you? Enter your new study-buddy: film scores. They’re is designed to not be the centre of attention (mostly), and to fit into the background of the story. I think that makes them perfect for studying.
- The Imitation Game (2014) – this might be my favourite film score ever.
- IT (2017) – the non-spooky bits of the soundtrack are surprisingly lovely, but it does get a bit scary as it goes on. Guarantees you won’t fall asleep, at least.
- Mulan’s Decision, Mulan(1998) – all of the songs from Mulan are great, but this one is especially motivational.
- And of course, all of Harry Potter. There are countless compilations and playlists for that alone, so I didn’t link any.
There are soooo many more pieces I could talk about, but I hope there’s something on this list you’ll like.
Good luck with your revision!