This was originally published on: https://chrisachard.com/music-to-listen-to-while-coding
Music is a very personal thing, so there's no "one size fits all" for music that will put you in a good mindset to tackle a complicated coding challenge.
With that said, here are the guidelines I follow when choosing music for a coding session:
1. Limited Vocals
If there is a vocal track in music, my brain tends to focus on the words being sung - so when I want to get deep into a coding problem, I'll select music that doesn't have any vocals.
That way, I can focus on the work, and not on the music - the music will just fade into the background.
2. Familiar Music
For the same reason, I tend to select the same music (or type of music).
If I'm listening to music that's new to me, then I will focus on the music instead of the coding - so by selecting music I've heard many times before, my brain can separate the music from the coding.
3. Good Beat and Pace
If music is too slow or ethereal, then it signals my brain to move more slowly.
If music is too fast or intense, then I feel rushed or stressed.
Neither condition is good for deep work! Instead, I focus on finding music that has a consistent (but not intense) forward motion - pushing me to keep working.
Specific Music Choices
So: what types of music fit those criteria?
1. Movie Soundtracks
I love movie soundtracks of "big", epic movies - they are often orchestral (so limited vocals), and build in a really unique and positive way.
Soundtracks will also be a few hours long, so there's plenty of consistent music for a nice long coding session.
Interstellar Soundtrack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DY8nqIfsQkU
Lord of the Rings Soundtrack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SBQvd6vY9s
2. Video Game Soundtracks
Keeping in the soundtrack theme is an often overlooked genre: video games!
Video game soundtracks are great because you know they were specifically designed to keep players "in the game" - so they're repetitive, and focused on a mission; that makes them great for coding!
I recommend picking video games that you're familiar with, but here are a few that I listen to:
Final Fantasy Soundtrack(s): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Iweue-OcMo
Outpost 2 Soundtrack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ilJcs7JL4M&list=PL0G3yY9NMFWcCdapK2ub5-XVgftyDVE3g
3. Electronic Study Music
Not all EDM is good for coding, but there's a specific sub-genre of electronic music that is specifically designed for keeping you "in the zone".
It often goes by the name "study music", (so you'd expect it to be good for studying!) and I really like it for coding as well.
Electronic Music for Studying: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=study+edm
4. Orchestral Music
If you're a fan of classical music, then there are endless options to choose from here.
I like to listen to entire concerts, because there are usually a variety of songs played (different tempos, etc), which can be a nice way to break up the day.
Beethoven 9 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOjHhS5MtvA
5. Lounge / Elevator Music
This is music designed to be played in the background!
There are endless hours of lounge music available, and they all create a nice backdrop for getting real work done.
Relaxing Jazz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOjHhS5MtvA
Ambient Chillout: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-tEQzU3fwY
6. Coffee Shop Background
Sometimes, you just want to feel like you're not in an office :) That's where coffee shop background noise can help!
There are hours and hours of coffee shop background tracks online, and it can be a nice way to feel surrounded without any people actually being around.
Coffee Shop Sounds: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=coffee+shop+sounds
Why Listen to Music
I don't always listen to music, but when I do, I want it to get me in the zone - and not to distract from the work I'm doing.
Remember: there are no rules here! Whatever works for you, works for you; but hopefully this post has given you some new ideas about what to listen to the next time you need some background music.
Like this post?
Find more on twitter: @chrisachard
Or join the newsletter! https://chrisachard.com/newsletter/
Thanks for reading!
Top comments (45)
Looks like you mainly use youtube for your music but if you have Spotify I recommend the Deep Focus and Stress Relief playlists.
Deep Focus: open.spotify.com/playlist/37i9dQZF...
Stress Relief: open.spotify.com/playlist/37i9dQZF...
If you are into piano. One of my favorite musical humans officialxeuphoria.bandcamp.com/
I understand that fast music can sometimes make you feel stressed but if you ever want to feel like hackerman...
One more aspect for using Spotify (or any other music streaming platform) instead of YouTube - streaming video for just listening to music is extreme waste of bandwidth. And bandwidth is a resource that we should not forget about:) There's a lot of it nowadays but it's still limited.
I 100% agree. I had to deal with the bandwidth issue for years. On that note you can use this awesome piece of tech for playing music from YouTube github.com/mps-youtube/mps-youtube
It fetches and plays the audio streams using youtube-dl. You can also toggle it to show video if you need.
Oh nice, thanks!
Thx, that's cool!
That's a good point for sure - and something I probably don't think enough about when I'm sitting at home with enough bandwidth
Yes, I tend to like youtube just because it's free and there is so much neat (music) content - but yes, there are some great spotify playlists too!
And yes - that music definitely is intense :)
I've compiled a synthwave / retrowave playlist just for this (also it's cool). Most are minimal vocals, more-or-less background noise, but still energizing. About 6k songs so you are less likely to hear the same ones too often.
Whoa, 6k songs!
Yea, I basically just found all popular syntwave playlists and jammed them together so I wouldn't get sick of it - 40 hours a week is a lot of music time for a small playlist
This amazing resource is curated by the producer Datasette and has an incredible array of playlists all centered around programming/focus/pruning your cactus.
This is absolutely amazing. Bookmarked.
I've got a whole playlist that (mostly) fits your list! It's my own "Focus" list, when everything else is distracting.
(There are a few lyrical songs, but the lyrics in those feel like they melt into the music. Skip if you dislike, of course.)
Besides that, one of my favorite instrumental bands is Les Friction. Their albums all have lyrics, but they also publish the instrumental-only versions. I also love the music of Kai Engel, Sergey Cheremisinov, and George Winston (depending on mood).
P.S. I'm equally likely to crank "RED — of Beauty of Rage", which is sweeping orchestral heavy metal.
Not sure I've really heard that before! I'll check it out :)
Really? There are a lot of lyrics, but somehow they never get in my way:
Hmmm... Pretty sure there was another post like this a few weeks ago. Maybe that was somewhere else. Doesn't matter. :)
Various genres of heavy metal. Sometimes upbeat, sometimes pretty quiet, occasionally depressive (not that I need more of that, mind you), sometimes fast and violent as f... I've been running a metal music review web site for over 20 years and I'm flooded with promos from record labels (and I somehow also buy more...), so there's never enough time to listen to everything.
Currently listening to the album "When All the Heroes are Dead" by Vision Divine, an Italian power metal band. Fast, upbeat, very positive-sounding. If things don't quiet down around here (stupid open-floor concept), the next one will likely be "Slithering Evisceration" by Visceral Disgorge. Just to calm my nerves and drown out those who are too lazy to go to a conference room.
Don't worry, I'm not dangerous. It's just music.
Always something without vocals and usually the same song on repeat over and over gets me into a focused mode best. Especially important in coffee shops with terrible music (unfortunately, most of them where I live).
I will usually stick with one song for a few weeks before it starts to annoy me. The best one I've found recently is Vichnaya Pamyat from the Chernobyl soundtrack on repeat (I imagine a lot of people would find it a bit too creepy though :)) - youtube.com/watch?v=dLZPfMHWPWk
Other favourites include the soundtrack to the Social Network, Sakura by Susumu Yokota, and #3 by Aphex Twin.
Occasionally if I have to do something fairly braindead like basic HTML/CSS I might throw on some hip-hop, it makes me less productive whenever I need to think a bit harder though.
Yes! I also put a song on repeat for like a week until I'm super sick of it! My wife thinks I'm crazy when I do that 😁
Ohh - the social network is a good soundtrack that I hadn't thought of... and I haven't seen the others; I'll check them out. Thanks!
I totally agree with your post, any vocals in the music distract me.
I love interstellar music and the story behind it(check it out if you don't know. its on youtube).
My to-go list for coding is a playlist of all Hans Zimmer scores. There are a lot of good ones that can help me to put me in a flow state.
Great article, couldn't agree more. I created a playlist on Spotify with over 100 hours of music that does the job for me. Feel free to check it out:
Agree on the said words about music selection!
This is my coding playlist, hope it helps someone as much as it helps me.
Really enjoyed your post. It's like you mention in the beginning, it's up to each other to choose the right melody to attack a code problem. I'm more a mood guy, so I kinda listen different types and start coding. But normally it's EDM or some RAP/Hip-Hop
I agree with the familiar music guideline. I will typically reach for the playlist that I normally listen to, even though it has lyrics and may not be mellow. There is comfort in not having to skip tracks or figure out what to listen to. I could never get into lyric-free music while coding, it isn't something I normally listen to and it was hard to find something I liked, so it was distracting to me. The best I got was the Interstellar soundtrack and some other Hans Zimmer soundtracks.
Listening at a low volume allows me to be "inside my head" and focus easier. Even if the office is not overly noisy, I noticed that small sounds (doors opening, someone walking down the hall, someone using the microwave, someone washing dishes) were strangely distracting. I'm not a nosy person, so I am not interested in who is walking down the hall, but I am still acknowledging that someone is because of the sound. I used to think that music would be more distracting but I find that it helps quite a bit.
Good point about familiar music - even with vocals. I do have a few playlists of "regular" music that I can listen to while coding as well; but that's only because I've listened to that exact playlist a bunch of times already.
Another favorite (again on youtube :) ) are specific live performances of some of my favorite artists. They provide a nice set of their best hits generally, and are a bit different than the rest of this list for when I'm wanting that.
In the category of videogame soundtracks I'll suggest the soundtrack of Chrono Trigger, orchestrated by Malcolm Robinsons. It's available on Spotify and it's amazing
Awesome, I'll check it out!
Interstellar soundtrack is focus music. I say this a lot and stand by it!
Enjoyed your post. My preference is Smooth Jazz. Kind of mellow and usually without vocals.
I do like smooth jazz as well! - though I have to be in a specific type of mood for it I think :)
I swear by the Music for Programming podcast.