Why is music such an integral part of people’s work experience?Anna Mochar

Working – we seek out the perfect environment to do our reading and writing. Maybe we need the privacy of our own room; maybe we need to be around others. For many people, a crucial part of creating that perfect working environment is finding the right study playlist. It can help us block out what’s happening around us, allowing us to really focus. While some might need high energy beats, others will look for something calmer to accompany their hours of study.

Some kind of self-curated background noise really helps me find the focus I need when I’m struggling to workAnna Mochar

Regardless of the choice of music, I personally never work in silence: finding the right background music for my work is an important part of any library or essay session. The question of music and work is an interesting one – why is it such an integral part of people’s work experience? And does this mainly have to do with the creation of a work ritual?

It has never really occurred to me to work in silence. The people and things around me can easily get distracting when I’m struggling to focus, and some kind of self-curated background noise really helps me find the focus I need when I’m struggling to work. This has led to a funny habit of matching my choice of study music, which will usually be classical or instrumental, to the work I am doing: the French Revolution finds itself accompanied by Baroque playlists, while my Ancient History paper is paired with soundtrack and world music.

I am glad to have found I am not alone in this curation obsession: a friend of mine has sent me a carefully compiled playlist in advance of our study of Pushkin later this term. In one sense, this is a creative means of entering the right mood and mindset for the work we’ve set out to do. It’s a part of my work ritual – productivity can benefit from routine and picking out a playlist creates that environment.

I need music that won’t distract me: I find soundtracks or instrumental music essential to creating a calm work atmosphere. My friend Sophie, ruminating on the topic, says that she actually prefers music with lyrics: “I always used to listen to instrumental music while working – and a lot of deep house, in particular. But recently I’ve got into listening to acoustic music, because it creates the right peaceful and calm vibe to go with autumnal Cambridge.” However, she does maintain that sometimes they get in the way: “I can only listen to songs that I already know well, because I always listen to a song’s lyrics when listening to music.”

Music is a part of my work ritual, for productivity can benefit from routine and picking out a playlist creates that environmentAnna Mochar

Another important point for her is that she can’t listen to music in a language other than the one that she’s working in. This is interesting to me, as I don’t really focus on the lyrics of my study music and, therefore, don’t get confused if they’re in a language other than the one I’m currently working in. This leads to situations where I will change my typically calm study mood by listening to music that is a little different to my instrumental work playlist: low-energy moments or a quickly approaching deadline call for rap instrumentals and songs.

A personal favourite for times like this is the female German rap-duo SXTN, whose hype beats and provocative lyrics never fail to get my energy up. Crucially, this was also the music that I listened to on the way to all my exams last year in order to hype me up and give me that last boost of confidence before walking into the exam hall.


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Ultimately, the interaction between music and work is one of setting the right mood. The right study playlist can sharpen my focus, make me feel more engaged with my work, and either hype me up or calm me down, depending on what is needed in a particular instance. Most people that I’ve talked to share this attitude, relying on music as an inseparable part of their study ritual in order to get them ‘in the zone’ and make them more productive. And whether it be calm instrumental music or motivational beats that get you into that mindset, you will thank it for that helping hand.

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