Here are some of our favourite (and most effective) playlists for studying that’ll help you focus and perform better.
My mother loves to claim that my love for music came from her playing Mozart constantly when she was pregnant. Dubbed “the Mozart Effect”, the practice really took off in the 80s and 90s. Sadly, the findings of the original study were actually blown out of proportion. As this excellent article from the BBC uncovers, the study was done not on children, but rather (like all psych studies) done on first year psych students. Furthermore, the effects were mild at best, relating specially to improvement in spatial-relational tasks and lasting for only about 15 minutes.
Never one to let science get in the way of a good story, to this day when I need a little mental boost for writing or studying, I still put on some music to help me focus. The caveat here is that the music has to have no lyrics; if I can sing along to it, I either find myself unconsciously typing some of the lyrics into what I’m writing, or worse, launch into a full-blown singalong.
For this part, science is on my side. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, found that moderate noise levels are just right for creative thinking. Music is also shown to elicit positive emotions, and happy people tend to be more productive and efficient. Also, if you’re in a busy study or living environment, you might love the company, but find the noises distracting. Ambient music can help dull the background noise.
As to which playlist works best for studying, I find my mood changes by the day. Some days I want something soothing and natural, others I’m drawn to epic movie soundtracks. So I tend to have a whole selection of different go-tos bookmarked so I can come back to them easily.
To help you nail that paper or get the HD in your next mid-term, here are 18 of my favourite playlists from around the Internet to help you focus.
Chill Out/Hip Hop Chill Out
This is the channel that started it all for me. It’s a YouTube live stream so you never have to get interrupted by the need to switch playlists.
A related channel is Fear Dog, which also has an excellent Spotify artist channel that you can tune into. In fact, it’s what I’m listening to right now as I write this!
As the genre name suggests, it’s all about mellow beats and soothing melodies, and sometimes if I’m shopping alone at the supermarkets, malls or other crowded areas, popping this on with my headphones just puts me in a much better, less-frazzled state of mind. There are hundreds of excellent chill playlists on Spotify and even more on SoundCloud and YouTube. Just type in “Chill” “Study” and a whole world will open up. Alternatively, click here and it’ll take you right to one of my favourites.
Sometimes I need something with a little more pep and energy. Something that reminds me of chilling at a beach party and puts me in a more positive frame of mind. For that, I hit up a different YouTube live playlist:
Word for the wise, when listening to deep house, volume is important. Keep it moderate as high volumes have been shown to decrease the brain’s ability to process information and induce episodes of impulsive bad dancing. Well, maybe the latter is just me.
On the other side of the spectrum are ambient sounds. Think babbling brooks, soft rain or thunderstorms. These are especially magical on a rainy day, but be careful – you have to be in the right mood for these. I’ve been lulled into a few naps with these playlists before.
My favourite in this genre are:
Ambient (Jazz & rain sounds):
Space Ambient Sounds:
Pink Noise (sleep or study):
While we’re in the realm of ambient sounds, this genre has the addition of neuroscience, which is right up my alley. Ironically, I discovered this phenomenon while I was procrastinating from my own neuropsych exam studies. According to its champions, binaural beats are sounds played at certain frequencies to trigger similar wavelengths in your brain. These are said to be particularly effective at triggering stress relief, concentration or even induce sleep. Personally, I don’t know if it’s any better than the playlists elsewhere in this list, but I like the (possible pseudo)science behind it.
Binural Beats for focus is one of my favourite playlists on Spotify – listen here.
Taking us back out of the ambient space is the Instrumental Rock genre. Sometimes called “post-rock”, these are high-energy tracks that use catchy riffs instead of vocals to carry the energy. They’re often a slow-build too, which makes it a little more exciting than the earlier choices which are more about sustaining a mellow medium tempo. Explosions in the Sky are probably the most famous of this genre, but there are plenty more worth discovering.
Ok, no study playlist will be complete without the classical greats. We mentioned Mozart, but Bach is actually my study favourite. There are reams of these on your favourite streaming platform, so I won’t waste precious column space listing them here, but this one is always one of my top go-tos on YouTube:
If we’re talking instrumental, we’ve got to go to one of my favourite music genres anyway. Fun fact, I love jazz so much I even joined a Jazz Chamber Choir when I first moved to London. Because I was just that cool.
This genre is always good if I’m looking for a bit of a shake-up. Many people don’t notice music soundtracks, but a well-written score makes all the difference to a mood of a film and does a lot to help drive the action and pace of a narrative. That energy can be really beneficial when studying or trying to get through a piece of writing. I recommend Inception, LA LA Land and of course, Studio Ghibli Piano. One word of caution – as a millennial and musical-theatre lover, you know I love me some Disney. This is an excellent instrumental playlist, but I have been known to bust out into a full on Disney sing along when my mind wonders from the work. I regret nothing.
Video Game Soundtracks
This is similar to movie soundtracks but I feel it deserves a special mention. I’m usually more into my casual games like Switch, but sweeping single-player games often have the best soundtracks to pull you into the world. I’m currently obsessed with Zelda Ocarina of Time soundtrack and the classic Final Fantasy, but I’ve also been introduced to this mix of all the background tracks to lockdown favourite, Animal Crossing and it’s become my new favourite thing. It’s upbeat and optimistic without ever sounding repetitive or distracting. It’s genius.
The final of my playlists for studying is not a playlist at all, but an audio hack that I’ve been using for years. I discovered these guys when they were still in the startup phase and have happily bought the app since, but it’s also a simple website. Essentially, Coffitivity plays a specially designed ambient sound of a coffee shop and has been proven to boost concentration and productivity. Over the years, they’ve added in University Study Hall, Lunchtime Lounge and even themed loops like Brazil Bistro. Honestly, if I know that I have to get a piece of work done or learn something, I always put this on and know I can smash it out.