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I'm convinced some quiet background music can increase productivity and I'm willing to try. I'd rather listen to music on head phones than street noise. I believe that the music should :

  • Be non-vocal
  • Not have any recognisable melody that is "singable"
  • Not be too rhythmic
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closed as primarily opinion-based by Rory Alsop Mar 15 at 12:53

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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It's different for everyone. I listen to heavy metal to focus. Some people think classical is better. But I do know that the worst are punk bands or anything that begins quietly and then becomes loud suddenly. I don't think non-rythmic is what you're really looking for.. try something smooth that doesn't change that much. –  Muz Sep 11 '12 at 15:26
    
The technical term for such music is "muzak" and more commonly "elevator music". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elevator_music –  Juha Untinen Jun 10 '13 at 11:36
    
You can try using an app like Songza.com, where you can select a genre of music based on your mood. –  Maurbawlz Jun 14 '13 at 18:38
    
I think classical music doesn't really stimulate the brain. Just listen to the music YOU! like. I'm going to be doing a serve soon and I'll try to tell you how it goes. But like I said listen to the music you like maybe experiment a little. –  user6968 Jan 10 at 0:04
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Closed, as it seems there are no citations/referenced studies proving this. Maybe a better place would be Skeptics. –  Rory Alsop Mar 15 at 12:53

17 Answers 17

up vote 11 down vote accepted

LifeHacker.com has a number of great posts and recommendations on this topic:

Brian Eno's "Music for Airports"

http://lifehacker.com/5842509/music-for-airports

Explosions in the Sky (described as "epic ambient atmosphere")

http://lifehacker.com/5848287/explosions-in-the-sky

and "Music for Programming", a collection of musical mixes intended to aid concentration and increase productivity

http://lifehacker.com/5882714/musicforprogramming-focus+boosting-mixtapes-for-everybody/

http://musicforprogramming.net/

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Explosions in the SKy... rather than epic ambient atmosphere... I would generally label them Post-Rock. But there definetely are melodies that are recognizable in this kind of music - thought it is completely focussed towards atmosphere emotions. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-rock –  Stephane Rolland Sep 7 '12 at 7:59
    
by the way +1 for musicforprogramming.net –  Stephane Rolland Sep 7 '12 at 8:00
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I would add Tycho's album Dive (2011) to this list. Ambient, not distracting, keeps you going. –  jozzas Oct 18 '12 at 3:34
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Musicforprogramming.net contains very distracting tracks IMO. –  Hexodus Jun 3 '13 at 12:27

Try out trance, ambient, idm (or for something concrete: Brian Eno, Autechre) I also like 'darkjazz' music as background

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I like Café del Mar (chillout): cafedelmarmusic.com –  dash17291 Sep 6 '12 at 16:37
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I was going to post something about goa/psytrance, but it seems that I wasn't the only one with that in mind. No lyrics, monotonic structure and long pieces. That's the ideal to work without being distracted :) –  Morwenn Jun 4 '13 at 13:16

I'm convinced some quiet background music can increase productivity...

Excellent! Welcome to the club!

The term I'd think that most closely matches the topic is simply 'background music'. I use that in its original classical sense and not so much the Musak sense. Google for some of the studies that have been done over the years and classical will stand out as having a measurable impact (positive ;) ) on the ability to both be logical and creative.

Personally I like the Operatica/Space Opera type of music playing while programming something that is creative and classical when trying to figure out how something will even work. Pandora has quite a few of these types of 'stations' already geared towards that type of sound. It keeps me in 'the zone' for longer periods of time, but can be rather jarring when something comes up that pulls my mind back to the moment.

I saw a series on the Discovery channel, Learning channel, or one of those about autism a long while back, and one think that really struck me was how common the repetitive habits of rocking, tapping, flexing, etc.. are. It got me to thinking about how, when studying out of a 'paper' book I consciously tap my forehead, tap my toes, or something... Recent studies have shown that this creates temporal 'marks' for your memories and that classical music is especially good for subconsciously providing a similar mechanism, sorta like a metronome for the mind that isn't as annoying as dripping water or a ticking clock... which at times seem oddly comforting...

An interesting related article with further references: Music and the Brain by Laurence O'Donnell

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Could you detail "classical music" ? eg I am unable to work with some Bach or Beethoven in the ears. What you describe is also used (in a different way) by some "audio drugs". –  Yves Sep 10 '12 at 10:53
    
..." I am unable to work with some Bach or Beethoven in the ears." ...; same here. I was referring to 'background music', in the classical sense, more so than 'classical music' itself in regard to answering the OP. –  Thell Sep 24 '12 at 21:49

By now you'll have seen that pretty much each answerer suggests genres that they like most or are most used to.

Adding from my own experience, I'll go ahead and make a generalization:

The type of music really doesn't matter. You're better off listening to something you like rather than forcing yourself into a genre because it's considered 'background' music, or for any other reason.

The real rule is listening to music that you're used to, as others have noted. When you have heard it enough times, it doesn't matter whether they have lyrics, you abstract them and it doesn't vie for your attention, so you can keep focused on the work. Even heavy metal or scream-heavy music can work just fine, provided you know those screams by heart.

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+1 I definitely experience the same. I find it hard to work (programming) with background music, unless it's familiar stuff. In that case, even Deep Purple works. –  Jan Doggen Jun 22 '13 at 11:02

I have tried to listen to many different styles of music, but eventually I came to conclusion, that the best in this area are the sounds of nature. Particularly, I found myself attached to sounds of a forest brook and of rain.

Also I'd recommend "Solar fields" music.

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Personally, I find ambient piano music to be nice; stimulating enough to keep me motivated, but subtle enough not to distract me.

A good example of this is Whisperings Solo Piano Radio: http://www.solopianoradio.com/

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Pianorama (nekto.me/radio) is another great piano radio. The site is in Russian, but it's easy to push the right button anyway. –  Steed Aug 30 '12 at 15:08

I find my most productive music is heavy metal from the eighties, especially if I know it off by heart. It is worth looking at various types to see what really works in practice.

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+1 for knowing off by heart –  Joe Aug 30 '12 at 19:24

You coul'd try with some music generes like Post Rock (Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Mono...), Jazz (Miles Davis, Coltrane, Avishai Cohen...), Classics (Chopin, Jean Sibelius, Stravinsky...), and others (Nine Inch Nails - Ghosts, Earth, Astor Piazzolla...).

They help me a lot to concentrate while working. Sometimes I need rithmic and energic music if I start to feel numb or just to keep the energy. It all depends on the moment.

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My method is a little different:

I use four sources of non-lyrical music (classical, techno/electronica/etc, folk, etc) and pipe two into each ear. I started with two sources, one per ear.

This way I am only distracted by listening to music when I need to be distracted - when my mind is processing a task and needs something else to pay attention to.

I'll occasionally include lyrical music in the mix, but only for short periods of time.

I do this for multiple reasons. The first is that it's good background noise - when I'm doing something important, it's easy to tune out the music, easier than when there's only one song to listen to.

Secondly, it's a good meditation exercise, as it makes you be patient and listen without listening (I know it sounds silly, but it works!)

Lastly, I have some auditory processing difficulty (filtering out extra noise is hard for me) so this has helped my brain learn how to do this better.

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I agree with Rory Alsop about music that I know by heart helps productivity. I find that listening to music sung in a language that I don't know (I'm multi-lingual but don't know Swedish, Japanese, Korean or German) works great as my mind isn't "listening" to the words and I can focus on what I'm doing. I suggest Sigur Ros, Rammstein or any J-Pop music.

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I would say it really matters the person, I would say whatever music keeps you thinking about your work and not anything else. Personally I blast metal into my ears (needs head phones, can't be from speakers), this keeps me on task and drowns out any other sounds to think about. It also keeps me happy, so I keep working.

I think of it as a happy place, I can close my eyes and be in my own world.

Blasting Lamb of God right now :) getting stuff done.

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I'd strongly recommend downloading spotify to your pc (and blockify to avoid ads), search 'study' and subscribe to some of the returned playlists/albums that take your fancy. I fancy instrumental piano. Have a few genres so you can easily switch playlist when genre fatigue kicks in. By the way google the Mozart effect. We were taught in final year high school that it would aid study.

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Spotify has a free 30 day trial too :) And you can get ad-free continuous music for $5/mo after. Not too shabby –  Gaʀʀʏ Jun 6 '13 at 21:17

I've naturally came to the conclusion, that computer games soundtracks are one of the the answers. They are designed in such way, to not to distract player from the game's goal. So in many cases it works also for periods of focusing, necessary when working on projects. Although I'm aware, that it will not work for everyone.

Personally I recommend (all of them can be found on YT playlists):

  • Carmageddon
  • Red Alert 3, Red Alert 2
  • other Frank Klepacki's works (his non-gaming albums are also great and can be bought)
  • Destruction Derby, Destruction Derby 2
  • Total Annihilation
  • Unreal Tournament
  • Warsow
  • Quake 2, Quake 3 (Quake 1 triggers too many emotions)
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I code and have a few different playlists for the different modes of coding I need to do:

  • heavy conceptual <-- calm unobtrusive music but not monotonous e.g. beats antique
  • rapid fix/just get it out there <-- perky, fun music
  • save me from the users <-- country music

That being said - I only listen to music when the general hum of the office gets to be more of a roar as I like keeping quite grounded in my surroundings.

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People swear to different styles of music to help them focus. Part of finding the right mix is finding what works for you. For some it is instrumentals or classical music, while others, heavy rock or dubstep.

Personally, I find the best set of music to tune-out everything else is ambient electronic:

BT - This Binary Universe

Datasette's Music for Programming (hour long ambient mixes)

The Glitch Mob - Drink The Sea (Spotify)

If you are more of a classical or piano-only fan, check out

Ludovico Einaudi - Una Mattina (Spotify)

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Disclaimer, i like something more energetic than ambient for coding, (i am also in loud environment, so ambient and chill does not cut it really..)

I mostly listen to goa/psytrance while coding, occasionally hardstyle/jumpstyle. Instrumentals, soundtracks for movies/games/anime, covers (for example 2cellos), 8-bit music, some energetic classic too.

for example.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-Pxa8CQMW0 naruto (anime soundtrack)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMFFkCM07mw goa (Cosmosis - Dance Of The Cosmic Serpent)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AmmrbAJk2wI 1200 Micrograms - Acid for nothing()
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKRq-IqZCto Man With No Name - Jack-In-The-Box

Goa/psy have like a minute or half a minute warm up at start of song that is gentler than "normal part of song".

Also, nice starting poing if you are interested is something like
(Festival Lineup) http://www.last.fm/festival/3504357+S.U.N.+Festival/lineup?sort=popularity#all

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There's a genre called "ambient music" which is pretty nonintrusive. However, I must say that literally every scientific study on music and prodictivity found that it does not increase productivity, only observed productivity (ie, you think you work harder, but really, you don't).

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Could you provide some references for your claim? –  AsheeshR Jan 10 at 2:27

protected by Rory Alsop Jan 10 at 11:30

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