In the spirit of a new school year, here are the best types of studying music for your first assignment of the year. While other lists may group items by era or subjective quality, this is helpfully organized in order of your study status: from determined and alert to panicked and caffeinated.
1. The Baroque-n Record
Study Status: Fresh and eager. This year will be different; readings done on time, no last-minute cramming, and all A’s, baby.
Details: Classical music is fantastic for studying; no lyrics, interesting compositions and not too distracting. Plus, it’s easy to find online — musopen.org has hundreds of recordings from different composers available to stream and download.
Recommended Tunes: Bach’s Goldberg Variations are lengthy and unobtrusive, providing hours of lightly interesting background noise. Any and all Romantic-era piano pieces work, too; after that, there’s always Mozart.
Possible Side Effects: Remember those horrendous piano lessons as a child? Spine straight, chin up, hands lightly floating above the keyboard? Well, you do now.
2. The Film Score
Study Status: Needing a little motivation, but still on schedule.
Details: A film’s soundtrack is explicitly tied to the events onscreen and plays a large part in connecting you to the story. The score alone can transport you back into that headspace, and you begin to feel like the star of your own action movie. Suddenly, finishing that biology assignment is a matter of life and death; without it, the Avengers can’t win against the Cylons and Darth Vader will take over New York. They’re counting on you. You can do this. Yes, Tony Stark wants a fist bump — wait, no, you’re still in the library. Turn that imaginary high-five into a muscle stretch.
Recommended Tunes: The How to Train Your Dragon soundtrack is brilliantly energizing; for a real fist-pumper, grab the score to the first Pirates of the Caribbean.
Possible Side Effects: Having flashbacks to the films you love leads to YouTube clips of your favourite scenes, followed by, “I’ll just watch the first 20 minutes,” followed by, “Does Caps have popcorn? Because this trilogy needs popcorn.”
3. The Ambient Post-Rock Intelli-Rave
Study Status: Your blood is now 52 per cent coffee, and your economics textbook needs some existential whimsy.
Details: The post-rock subgenre takes its cues from prog, ambient, minimalist and experimental musicians. With few lyrics and a lot of slow build, post-rock can put you in a relaxed-yet-focused state of mind.
Recommended Tunes: The Campfire Headphase by Boards of Canada is exquisite electronica that pulls double duty as study aid and obscure music snob fodder. The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place by Explosions in the Sky is fantastic as well.
Possible Side Effects: Prolonged exposure can cause depersonalization, staring contests with the nearest wall and long, strange trips through Wikipedia articles. If you find yourself contemplating the black dwarf fate of the Sun, abort mission. Harsh that mellow. Do not walk towards the light.
4. The Forbidden Fruit
Study Status: Well, that five-minute break just lasted nearly an hour, and there’s no way you can do the entire assignment tonight, but you can finish most of it. Probably.
Details: It’s a fact: as soon as you need to focus on schoolwork, you’ll discover a new TV show, musician or other fun distraction. All you want to do is immerse yourself in this new love, but you can’t — you have midterms to study for. So your new obsession sits just out of reach, positively dripping with all the fun you’re not having right now. And it knows you’ll give in; it’s a simple matter of time.
Recommended Tunes: Open your music player. Which album or artist do you automatically select, devoid of conscious thought? That’s the one.
Possible Side Effects: Complete denial. You can still work while listening to this album. For sure. Except for this one part, because it’s amazing. And the next two tracks really deserve your full attention. After that, back to the books — you promise. You can stop any time you want to.
5. The Bubblegum Pop
Study Status: Brain melting error. Cannot compute. Just. Do. One. More. Page.
Details: You’re done. The Bibliocafé has cut you off, the overhead lights seem to be buzzing in tune to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and your textbooks are suddenly scribbled in gibberish. Your dignity disappeared at roughly the same time you somehow got ink all over your face.
Recommended Tunes: The music you loved before you had taste, right when puberty was hitting you and emotions were high. The stuff you publicly decry but privately love. The dorkiest boy bands and most autotuned pop drivel. Put your drinks up, hit the dance floor, and let the beat drop. Indulging in guilty pleasures can cause a surge in energy, temporarily boosting your productivity over the finish line.
Possible Side Effects: Those mindless beats at full volume will not foster poetry, kids. Proofread that essay in the morning. While your ideas will be out on paper, they’ll be so exquisitely nonsensical that you’ll feel like they were written by a stranger. But it’s OK; next time you’ll do things differently. Maybe listen to some Bach instead of Ke$ha, and avoid this whole desperate last-minute mess. Sounds like a plan.