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Music for coding – what do you listen to?

andreirusu_ profile image Andrei Rusu Updated on ・2 min read

I'm almost always listening to music while I am coding, and especially when I am at home, where I don’t need to wear my headphones. I listen to a lot of different music and usually try to listen to new music as well, something that it’s unfamiliar or that I haven’t heard before.

Some studies show that listening to music while working "can make us more productive". However, this study, suggests that listening to music may "disrupt creative performance in insight problem solving".

If I am working at home I can't stand being in a quiet room, so I need to listen to music. If I'm in an office I usually listen to something on my headphones, but not always. Sometimes I just listen to the noise of the room if it's not too disruptive.

The first instance of background music appeared, as far as I can tell, in France in 1917 when composer Eric Satie coined the term Furniture Music. Not a very flattering term, but I think you will find some of his music, such as the Gymnopédie No. 1, very well suited as background music while working. And this particular composition is almost always found in those several hours long playlists of classical music for concentration and mindful listening that are everywhere on Spotify, Youtube etc., together with Chopin's Nocturnes, Schubert sonatas and the list goes on.

Is Classical Music then best suited for this job? Perhaps. At least, some of it. I think if you listen to, for example Ionisation, a piece written in 1931 by Edgard Varèse, you will find that this might not work very as background music, at least in the same way that Satie’s music does. I'm not even going to mention composers from the Darmstadt School.

Hermione Hoby on Steve Reich

Is it music Pop music with vocals then? Or maybe Jazz? Perhaps Electronic dance music? I also find that music with repetitive structures works very well, which is at the core of a current of contemporary classical music known as Minimalism and in this Essay for BBC Radio 3 New York based novelist Hermione Hoby reveals how she always listens to Steve Reich's Music For 18 Musicians while writing.

This might sound somewhat pretentious, but isn't writing code also some form of writing? We are all creators with stories to tell, are we not? What particular piece of music do you rely on to telling those stories?

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Andrei Rusu

@andreirusu_

Independent open-source coder • maintainer of Nightwatch.js testing framework

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Various lofi playlists in YouTube lately. I love how it's a 1-2 hour mix tape.
I've also built up a 600+ song playlist that's for Study/reading/coding that I've been curating since college. This consists of a lot of things: Video game and movie soundtracks, jazz, ambient, chill step, lofi, trip hop, and classical.

 

Nice playlist! listening right now! <3

 

Wow that’s pretty impressive! Is it public?

 

Great playlist, a lot of good music there.

 

Thanks for the article! I deeply love classical music and listen abundantly to it. When I code, I prefer not to be distracted by the pathos of some Romantic or late Romantic composers - so I would rather not listen to Brahms, Bruckner or Mahler. But I can really enjoy coding while listening to Beethoven, maybe it's the optimism and energy spreading from Beethoven's music that's contagious. Yes, for me coding takes a lot of mental energy and...optimism. You need to be resilient and in a way "heroic" to win over tests that keep failing and you don't know why! :)
So, for me, the best music I can listen to while coding is positive, vibrant, energetic music that doesnt have much pathos in it.
Baroque music, particularly Bach and his family can increase productivity, at least for me. Its rythm, repetition and "arithmetic" quality makes it very suitable for coding, for my tastes. But I cannot listen to Vivaldi, for instance, because there is a melancholy and a nostalgic beauty in this music, that makes me stop coding and just listen to it. After all, listening to music is an aesthetic activity - meaning by that, an activity that wakens your senses up. You just need to find the music that wakens the right senses for what you are doing. A certain type of classical music wakens too many senses up, so to say and it was intended to do so. If you need courage and a great motivation booster, well, probably Beethoven and Wagner are right for you. If you need patience and order, then it's Bach or Händel or even some symphonies or concertos by Haydn and Mozart. Contemporary music is too disruptive to listen while working, IMHO, and with a reason! There is normally a certain amount of protest or eversion to normal aesthetic tastes in contemporary music, that does not make it suitable for working, any work, at all.

 

Interesting, how about the music of Philip Glass - "music with repetitive structures"? I feel that minimalism works quite well while still being contemporary.

I made a playlist recently with some more music for this purpose which includes some contemporary stuff and a bit of jazz:

music.apple.com/no/playlist/figuri...

I recently discovered the music of Dobrinka Tabakova, very beautiful, a fantastic composer.

 

ah yes sure! In the end, while it can be generally true that music with repetitive structures can help productivity, choosing one or the other composer with this feature is still a very personal matter. I have listened to some Philip Glass' work, but it does not have that productivity effect on me, for instance...Jazz unfortunately neither :)))
I guess I still need a minimum of variation, otherwise I am distracted by obsessive repetition.
I will check Dobrinka Tabakova, thanks!!

 

I totally gave up on listening music while coding because I observed that it was perturbing my concentration.

By the past, I was doing things that was very much repetitive and didn't involve the possibility of errors (like very easy HTML and CSS), then I used to listen to all sorts of Brian Eno music, by focusing on the Ambient series when needing to be more productive and I think it had some effect.

Today, for some reason, I don't need the music to achieve this effect, and it would even disturb me.

 

Usually no music for me. If I like the song, I find myself distracted by the lyrics. If I'm not fond of the artist or the song, why listen to it in the first place?
In a particularly crowded environment, like an open office plan, I guess music is better than hearing voices, so I may consider putting on headphones. In that case I think I'd go with something with no lyrics like movie soundtracks or classical music.

 

I find post-rock music, which has long continuous tracks of lot of instrumentals and no vocals, helping me. I'd recommend listening to"God is an Astronaut" if someone is looking for something similar.

 

I generally listen to a mixture of Power Metal, EDM/Dubtstep or just all round heavy metal.

It's a strange mixture to hold in a playlist but the constant shift in music types keeps me awake and going, especially on late nights.

 

I like trance (no lyrics) and instrumental piano when coding. I don't have a playlist, I just choose whichever seems good on Spotify.

However, the past few days I've listened to Game of Thrones' (Ramin Djawadi) soundtrack and No Man's Sky's (65daysofstatic) soundtrack.

 

Lately I've been listening to rock music - KSE, The Contortionist, Deftones & FKJ.

Classical is too relaxed for my muscles. I feel like I can't lift a thing when classical music plays on the background lol

 

Yes, maybe the classical which is marketed as "relaxation" music, but the Varèse piece was also one of Frank Zappa's favourites.

 

For the most part I need to stick with vocal-free music to really concentrate. I tend to rotate between light/"happy" classical music, Big Band, trance, movie scores, etc. Currently I'm using some electroswing playlists on Youtube.

 

BBC Radio1 Essential Mix - 2 hours of uninterrupted DJ sets:

bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006wkfp

Perfect to get into the flow and a good reminder to take a break after a show is finished.

 

I used to listen to that as well back in the day (I used to run a dance music website - beatfactor.net). I still listen to it from time to time, mostly the classic ones - e.g. Nathan Fake & James Holden (2006), Sasha (2005), Future Sound of London (1994) etc. etc. It's an amazing archive. These days I listen mostly to Late Junction on BBC Radio 3 - it's a lot more diverse and experimental.

 

Anyone here with a deezer account? We could create our developer-playlist ;)

 

I got a deezer account :D, I'm down.

 

Hi! And your deezer username? I'm davidgerva :)

My username is: Hardaker

 

I can’t feel comfortable with any other kind of music but hip-hop/rap or old pop songs that remind me of childhood.

I can hardly stand classical music or any similar kind.

 

Hmm yeah, maybe because it's tricky?

 

Nah, that’s not my kind. This is something really nice!

 

I usually listen to Soma FM, specialy the DefCon station.

 

I think soulection radio is a good choice for it. I'm listening to their radio for 5 years now and it always worked for me.

 

I usually listen lo-fi playlists in YouTube, as @mintii says, and also some synthwave mixes, it's great for inspiration!

 

I listen piano cover song.

 

I usually prefer progressive house or game/movie ost

 

For me it's ASMR.

 

I listen to Pink Floyd.
Progessive rock is more sound, less vocal.

 

I really love it to listen to film soundtracks! <3
There are some greate playlists on spotify! :)

 

Fast Electronic music. Usually some kind of dance music. The fast beat helps keep me focused.

 

Chiptunes/Old school video game music

 

A lot of people don't share my taste, but I listen to Pop/EDM while programming. Even with lyrics. You can find my playlist here.

 

I listen to various types of music such as jazz,lofi, hiphop, blues, experimental music and so it goes.
this is one of my favourite background music to code to
youtu.be/mlUMgZGFCtw

 

It depends, most of the time I simply listen whatever was listening the day before.

 

I typically listen to a lot of rap and hip-hop, but as of recent, I've been listening to James Blake's Assume Form album!

 

The Portal 2 soundtrack. It's free.