Good Thinking Music Testimonials

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That or trance, works for me. Oddly, I used to hate listening to music while working until I discovered Trance. After leaving that channel on for about a week when I was working on an intensive project (one of those weeks we've all had, where you sit at your computer for seven days, and then sleep for the next three), Trance combined with RedBull? has increased my productivity tremendously. I find myself making more mistakes, but noticing them sooner and correcting them. Also, I am more creative in my designs, noticing interesting patterns, or how more formal mathematical solutions and logic could be applied to something that I would've settled for hacking out before my "evolution."

The reason I attribute this to the RedBull?/Trance combination and not just the development of my programming skills over the intervening time is that when I work on anything (not just programming) without music, I find myself "antsy," and unable to focus without doing annoying things like tapping my fingers or toes, or just blanking out for long periods at a time.

My $0.02, anyway -- Dan or on MP3.

Artists, film makers and craftsmen are often inspired by music. Programmers are too. Sometimes it can help you get into that MentalStateCalledFlow. Psych studies have suggested that some types of background noises can help people think and even concentrate better.

For me, it will usually be non-busy music. It can be rhythmic or melodic. Vocals tend to get in the way, but obscure or abstract lyrics can help focus your thought processes (like random noise).

It is almost impossible to select a particular type of music that can be designated as universally GoodThinkingMusic.

I design best to cool jazz (Miles, Coltrane, etc), some classical (Dvorak, JohannSebastianBach, etc), and maybe some ambient music.

I code best to more aggressively rhythmic music (bebop jazz, house dub, techno, funk, etc).

I tend to work best to what I call difficult listening music. Artists in this genre include King Crimson, Derek Bailey, Doctor Nerve, Magma, Can, National Health, Hatfield and the North, Soft Machine, U Totem, Phish, Thinking Plague, etc.,. I find it extremely odd that polyrhythms and twisty cluttered structure help me think better. It is like a stimulant. Sometimes it is too much, and I'll turn it off. Vocals tend to bother me, but mostly when I am writing documentation. I suppose it is because I mentally vocalize when writing.

A while back someone told me that she hated music without words and couldn't understand how anyone would like it. I told her that saying that you do not like instrumental music is like saying that you can not enjoy sex unless someone is talking to you. -- MichaelFeathers

I agree - I've often said that the imposition of poetry (sometimes pretty horrible poetry) on music is a little like painting a portrait on a sculpture; it's the arbitrary fusion of two dissimilar art forms. -- CliffBeckwith

On the other hand, I've heard it said that Ode to Joy was pretty forgettable poetry until Beethoven got ahold of it.

I've had a similar experience regarding words. When I write English, I cannot listen to songs, the words seem to interfere. Low volume jazz seems best for me when writing English.

For coding almost anything will do (I like blues and jazz). For deep debugging I used to blast SoundGarden? via the headphones. Good way to tune the world out.

-- RichieBielak

I find that polyrhythmic music is quite acceptable during my coding phase. What I consider difficult or non-busy is the highly improvised (or complex) non-structured stuff. I can't listen to free jazz (ornette coleman, david s. ware, etc) when working because it demands my attention.

So, I wonder if there is a common thread (or pattern) in what type of music people find conducive to good designing/programming/thinking. Polyrhythmic? polymelodic? Harmonic? quiet? loud? etc. -- ToddCoram

Sound of current GoodThinkingMusic drawer opening

Jazz/Blues: Miles Davis "Aura", Robert Johnson "The Complete Recordings", sundry Bird.

Ambient/Trance: Brian Eno "Music For Airports", "The Pearl" & "Thursday Afternoon", Cowboy Junkies "Live", The Orb "the orb's adventures beyond the ultraworld" & "UFOrb",

Folk: Grateful Dead "[arista years, best of, ...]", sundry LeadBelly & Woody Guthrie

Modern: Pink Floyd "Wish You Were Here", Vangelis "[The Blade Runner bootleg CD - #1725 of 2000. Replication prohibited - heh.]", Best of Alan Parsons Project.

Female Vocal: Julee Cruise "Floating Into The Night", Rickie Lee Jones "Ghostyhead", Michelle Shocked "Texas Campfire Tapes", Kate Bush "Hounds of Love"

Classical: Shirley Verrett, Phillippe Entremont, Leopold Stokowski et al. "Manuel De Falla - El Amor Brujo etc.", Nigel Kennedy "Brahms Violin Concerto", Kiril Kondrashin, Herman Krebbers & Concertgebouw Orchestra "Rimsky Korsakov Scheherezade"

Uncategorizable but Great: Philip Glass "Einstein On The Beach" & "Koyaanisqatsi", Ry Cooder "Paris Texas soundtrack", Tom Waits "Rain Dogs" & "Big Time", David Byrne "The Catherine Wheel", Michael Nyman "[several]",

-- PeterMerel

Gregorian Chants. Great for tuning out noise while getting the brain into an Alpha state. (And for debugging, Rossini's William Tell Overture :-) -- DaveSmith

Anything classical -- or at least, just about anything without recognizable words, or I'll start concentrating on the words, not my task.

Currently on the play list: Adiemus: Songs of Sanctuary, Miracles of Sant'iago (Anonymous 4), Van Cliburn playing Tchaikovsky's Concerto 1 and Rachmaninoff Concerto No 2 (that purchase inspired by Shine), JohannSebastianBach concertos, and Delight in Disorder with Pedro Memelsdorff on recorder and Andreas Staier on harpsichord.

-- KatyMulvey

On words: I find many vocal pieces lose their distraction value with familiarity, which is why I include strident vocalists like Tom Waits and Kate Bush. When the meaning is familiar their voices sort of become non-vocal. I'll still favour the non-vocal/operatic for thinking on knotty problems, but for routine coding and debugging I think something with rhyme and meter going on in the background keeps me focused.

The exception to this is the HarryDeanStanton? monologue on "Paris, Texas", which demands attention every time. If played in a SharedMusicDevelopmentGroup, it may cost your developers a few person-minutes. But it's worth it.

-- PeterMerel

I find that the pace of my development dictates the pace of the music I listen to:

For fast paced, rapid fire coding:

Front 242 -- Front by Front

For contemplative designing, or review of other's code:

Enya -- Shepherd Moons

Clannad -- Magical Ring, Pastpresent or Anam

Thomas Dolby -- Astronauts and Heretics

The Call -- Red Moon

For general purpose work -- documentation, HTML editing, etc:

Almost any techno-pop from 1981-1989

-- KyleBrown

Jazz, please, hold the vocals: David Benoit, lots; Vince Guaraldi (of "Linus and Lucy" and "Cast Your Fate to the Winds" fame); heaven forgive me, John Tesh; more David Benoit. Some classical, notably Aaron Copland.

-- PaulChisholm

I just had a REALLY good programming day with Nanci Griffith. My selections seem to change more with my emotional state than task. Therapy, NIN, KMFDM when I'm depressed or irritated; Enya, Clannad after too much caffeine, etc. -- WayneCarson

When I code and listen to Bjork, I get the sensation of a cold Icelandic landscape with streams of hot java channeling across a volcanic terrain.

Bjork. Get the sensation. -- MichaelFeathers

On why music instead of silence: symbolic reasoning doesn't satisfy all the parts of your brain; the parts that sit and wait get bored, and make you feel less than content even when the other bits of brain are really firing. I discovered a few years ago that this works in reverse too: if you play a musical instrument, even if you play it extremely badly, your boredom threshold for written text goes way up. I was practicing the trumpet, extremely badly, while reading comp.lang.c++. I read the whole newsgroup, every posting, every flame, every word, and it didn't trouble me a bit. In fact it seemed kind of interesting. Of course it affected my sanity ... I still program in C++ ... kids, don't try this at home ... -- PeterMerel

I'm not sure I understand how you can play the trumpet while reading Usenet... does your computer have a foot pedal for the space key or what?

Interesting. I remember when I was doing tedious math homework in high school I would listen to music because it kept me sufficiently entertained to sit there and work out equations. I'm not saying I was doing quality work, but that wasn't really the point for me. Writing code, I sometimes listen to music, and sometimes I don't, but there seems to be no correlation between music and my level of interest in the work. -- RobertChurch

That may explain why I turn the music off when I'm programming anything difficult. I program on both sides of my brain. Or neither, I'm not really sure. -- RonJeffries

I too turn the music off when I'm on a really hard bit. Actually then I want to block out all sensory stimulation of any kind. I don't know about sides of brains - last I heard that one had been debunked too - but there are certainly differences between concentrated focus and rhythmic flow - I think CookDing would approve. -- PeterMerel

As I mentioned on GangstaGeeks, I am a musician and I find the process of programming very much like writing and improvising music. As such, why would I be able to loose myself in programming while listening to music, if I coudln't play music while I am listening to some other music. So, like Ron and Peter, I also cannot listen to music while I analyze, design, or write code. I suppose for balance I should also say that I cannot code while I am listening to music. I emmerse myself in both. Same with reading, the idea of reading while listening to music is strange to me. For me, this is only possibly if the reading or the listening is being pushed into the background. -- RobertDiFalco

For relaxed concentration:

Techno: Orbital "Snivilisation", anything by old New Order, Severed Heads "Rotund For Success", Ministry "Twitch"

Alternative Rock: Lush "Spooky", Lush "Gala", The Jesus and Mary Chain "Barbed Wire Kisses"

Ambient: Brian Eno's "Music for Airports", A Sombient Collection "The Throne of Drones" (on the Asphodel label), A Sombient Continuum "Swarm of Drones", The Sombient Trilogy "A Storm of Drones"

Rock: David Bowie "Outside"

Other: Brian Eno's "Nerve Net"

For frantic coding and/or late hours support:

Techno: Ministry "The Land of Rape and Honey"

Alternative Rock: Atari Teenage Riot "Burn, Berlin, Burn", Primus "tales from the punchbowl", Babes in Toyland "Nemesisters"

Rock: DEVO "Duty Now For The Future", Metallica "Kill 'Em All", The Sex Pistols "Never Mind The Bollocks Here's The Sex Pistols"

-- EdRemmell?

I've just recently gotten into techno. I come from more of a rock/jazz/avant background. The techno artist I've found that I like is Squarepusher. There is nothing like complicated, constantly changing 347 beat per minute drum programming to help you concentrate. -- MichaelFeathers

Try PhillipGlass? and SteveReich? then, Mike -- similar long, complex rhythms.

I think that it's a lot of personal preference. Some people seem to feel like they're doing the best coding when they're listening to music that's loud and beaty, some people like the quiet. Personally, I like to Rock Out occasionally. When I'm working, music is in the background for the most part. When I get stuck, I refocus a little bit and I hear the music. Rock Out for a bit, and usually I can get back in the swing of things. -- CorwinLightWilliams

I'd like to put another spin on this with some questions: Those of you who recommend music, especially particular types of music, do you also have a history of listening to music at other times than during work? Did you grow up in a music-filled environment?

From my personal experience I grew up largely without recorded music; although my mother would sing a bit, and my younger brother was often learning one instrument or another, we had neither a record player nor a TV, and the radio (when it was turned on) was always tuned to a speech station. As a result, I find all music intrusive. If music is playing, I listen to it, and it distracts me from concentration and flow. I listen to maybe one CD every few months (on average), and never while working. I am quite good at "tuning out" speech, phones, fans and general office hubbub, though.

Oddly enough, depite this, I do keep a pair of headphones at work, which I sometimes use to prevent interruptions. Even if nothing is playing, I have noticed that people are mostly less likely to interrupt you if they think that you are listening to music.

-- FrankCarver

That's worked for me in the past, however my current company has a 'no headphones' policy. Quite strange considering there's about 30 of us, on half a dozen projects, in a big warehouse type environment.

One thing that I have noticed when I am picking GoodThinkingMusic, is that I tend to keep associations between particular songs/discs and some of the things I have done, before, while listening to them (i know the structure of this sentence is messed up, Pascal was my first language, not English <g>). For example, one of my Front 242 CDs always brings back memories of my first few runs at installing/configuring Linux at home (well, the part after I got sound working anyway). This also comes up when I associate a particular CD with a particular area of the project that I'm working on at work. Ends up with each section having sort of a soundtrack that recalls to mind the overall design/intent of the system, my plans/thoughts about the patterns inherent in its operation, etc. This especially helps when jumpstarting a new day's work. -- DjMoon?

It's true, music can bring up associations to a certain period of time, emotion or past events. I listen to a song my girlfriend and I share and I feel my emotions changing. You can use this to your advantage, like a Pavlov experiment. I've been trying to anchor a particular song to a relaxed mood and I've got some successful results. -- JaimeWong

For me GoodThinking? is substantially based on a good mood (of myself and my neighbors). I see music as a tool to get that MentalStateCalledFlow. I remember from my earliest childhood, that when my parents glitched into hefty emotional argumenting, my father went to the piano, accompanied by the sound of my mother's voice until the tensions resolved into laughter (of all parts involved:-). When I'm sad (or a friend of mine is sad (or both)) we play the blues until we regain a good mood, hoping to continue this practice until the (hopefully) HappyEnd?. It's simple as Wiki. -- FridemarPache

At the top someone said that obscure or abstract lyrics can help. I recently bought a CD by German band InExtremo? as a bit of an experiment (I like that bizarre but brilliant blend of modern heavy music and old fashioned folk, although it's pretty rare). I don't speak German so the lyrics couldn't be more abstract to me. I can hear the words but they mean nothing and when I'm working they blend in to the music and don't distract like English lyrics can. Interesting!

Along similar but totally different lines, try Sigur R�s.

Personally, I find almost any form of Electronica (mainly Trance) my best thinking music. It seems to enhance the excitement that I already have about doing my work. It really rules when I'm InTheZone. ;) -- DrewMarsh

Not only for technical analysts and stock investors DataMusic might be a good background. I'm heavily working on it behind the scenes. If there is enough interest, I'll let here some free snippets for listening or for joint composing/improvising. Java programmers might be attracted to program the DataMusicVoxelApplet. There is enormous potential for multimedia collaboration (with a lot of additional compensation beyond the mere joy of collaboration and the stuff itself). -- FridemarPache

A few people at work share out the music they're currently listening to. I've discovered that I can code quite well to pretty much anything on the Ninja Tune label. However, it took three or four listens per disk to "burn in" each disk for it to be "usable". I think [but I could be totally wrong] that the burn-in period allows my memory to prepare the song so that there's less "foreground processing" required to listen. I also like Portishead, Wide Mouth Mason (Canadian rock/blues, albums before "Stew", which is edgier), and some techno for late-night sessions. An acquantance with a knack for turntables and a large collection of house burned a 60-minute DJ mix which works well for establishing MentalStateCalledFlow.

I always listen to music at work - which is convenient, because my boss thinks my big over-the-ear headphones are indicate a non-interruptable state. I think companies should give their new hires a pair of non-extrusive [ nearly silent outside, even when playing loud music ] headphones and a $N grant for work CDs. When you're bored with a CD, trade with co-workers - try something new!

I find myself replaying songs in my head while working. It can be anything. Usually one of the 3 B's (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms) but it could be anything. Last week it was Fish Heads, Fish Heads, roly-poly Fish Heads... -- oz

I always have a song in my head - in fact, when I don't, I get too immersed in reality: experiencing every nuance of every sense. To get to the zone, I listen to anything simple and dron-ish: soft trance, soft goth(/i) (DePecheMode?) (TypeoNegative? is my favorite band!!!), enye; anything that doesn't have harsh transitions. I used to use classical, but then I did some studying, and when I hear it I am concentrating too much on the structure of the scales. And when I get to that (!)Aha(!) stage, I turn the music off. Unfortunately, the distractions usually take over. Sometimes I get two that battle: right now I got time-slices of Today (paul oakenfold) and Hanging Around (counting crows).

Songs I listen to often always have an 'era' associated with them because I listen to a lot of radio. Wax Extatic (sponge) always makes me feel like I just arrived in my current town 6 years ago; 'You Get What You Give' (new radicals) reminds me of the rolling party I had from Dec98 to Aug99. I also like to listen to music that is appropriate to the book I'm reading... I read the entire DarkTower? book 4 while listening to 'Unforgiven II' and 'Low Man's Lyrics' (metallica).

And some times, on plenty of sleep-dep and herbal stims to stay awake, I'll get my best story ideas from listening to 80's dance. One in particular came from 'crazy' (seal).

Music fills my existence. And then I married a wonderful woman who is addicted to TV.........

-- BelTorak

Personally, I find that I can't listen to classical music at work because when a phone rings or somebody wants my attention in the middle of a piece it drives me mad. The music I listen includes RandyNewman?, (70's) StevieWonder?, JamesBrown?, and of course CaptainBeefheart?.

Of course GoodThinkingMusic is (more or less) just music that you like and that doesn't distract you; perhaps some sorts of music might actually encourage concentration, or instil a mood that encourages good work in some other way. I think the premise behind this page is that the music different people find non-distracting (and, optionally, helpful in other ways) might be more consistent than the music they happen to enjoy. For instance, several people have said that music with words they can understand is particularly distracting.

I'm happy to report that my favorite working/thinking/lounging music station,, is climbing back toward the light. -- JamesCollins

I agree with the idea of using music in a language you don't know. I have one tiny problem with this - all my music in Japanese is becoming useless because 1) I'm picking up the language, which means I get severely distracted by the task of trying to understand unfamiliar words (sometimes to the point of suspending my editor to run a dictionary program), and 2) As I listen to the older members of my music collection, I am learning music that I previously used at work because its lyrics were pleasantly abstract and sophisticated is in fact mostly cheezy romantic pop songs. Really cheezy. Oops. Time to start collecting music in German, or maybe Polish.

Big headphones are utterly useless if your co-workers can't see them. I have a nearly-blind co-worker who will walk up to my desk, stand behind me, and talk to me for up to a minute (as far as I know) before he realizes that a) I can't hear him, b) I haven't seen him, and c) everything he said has been completely lost. Actually, I'm not entirely sure that he realizes point 'a'. Argh!

Personally, I work best in complete silence, closely followed by classical music. Beethoven and Mahler I like.

But I have this problem that I get disoriented wearing headphones or earphones; I get dizzy and can't balance properly. {Yeah, seriously}. This means I can't listen to music in the office because for some reason me playing music quietly on speakers is "distracting" to people. So what I can currently hear is:

This is "not distracting" in some way so it's OK for that to happen. -- KatieLucas

I've found that Blue Man Group seems to work wonders for my code.

Techno is another strange genre... oddly enough, I can't stand techno music, most of the time, but it seems to make for a lot of code. (good code? maybe not). -- BenjaminGeiger

Psychedelic trance is inspiring when I do free-form, see-what-happens coding. Try astrix, l.s.g., mungusid.

I would prefer silence, but if you work in an office it just doesn't happen. Especially annoying here is that around 6 when most of the loud/annoying people have left, the cleaners come in with the vacuum and floor polisher.

So to block out the noise I like loud rock that I'm familiar with (early Powderfinger, or if I'm really frustrated, Ministry), or some progressive/deep house (Lucien Foort's "Slice01" and Junkie XL's "Radio 3AM" at the moment). -- RobertAtkins

Historically, new age (anything on the Narada or Windham Hill labels) or jazz (Bob James/David Sanborn's Double Vision being my all-time favorite) have been my favorites, or anything by Vangelis. Based on other entries here, I've started listening to some electronica/techno/trance, and see the possibilities. I've also found to be a good place to try out whole albums (on the theme) before paying for them. -- DavidJaquay

I know you really don't care what I listen to, but I'll mention Shpongle, because maybe you'll download a track or two and listen. You can grab a lot of their songs freely from Some of my favorites are and, but they're all great. Their music feels kind of, um, cozy and timeless... I'm not that good at describing emotions, but listen to a few tracks. Also, you have my word that I don't have any economic relations to Shpongle. -- MikaelBrockman

It is a proven fact that music of complexity (aka classical music) temporarily raises adult spatial IQ scores. Furthermore, this type of music tends to be non-intrusive to most tasks. Therefore, when hacking, I tend to listen to Bach, Mozart, etc.

[I very much doubt that it is proven. There is some evidence that playing baroque music in classroom situations has a calming influence which improves discipline and enhances learning - but that's for teenagers. David Martland]

[Having performed classical, rock, jazz, blues and gospel music, I disagree that classical music has more "complexity" than other styles.]

i seem to remember a study that concluded that revising while listening to music helped as long as you listened to similar music each time you revised a subject - presumably you should also think of the tune in your exam

My work favorites:

	JohnAdams?: Fearful Symmetries, Harmonielehre
	JohannSebastianBach: keyboard concertos
	DmitriShostakovich?: string quartets
	MilesDavis?: In a Silent Way, Kind of Blue
	JohnColtrane?: Giant Steps, Crescent
	TheloniousMonk?: Brilliant Corners


Mine: Usually silence, but often ...
In need of a Hallelujah or two? Try Exsultate Jubilate.
I find Radiohead (now that I'm pretty familiar with it) is good, but Galactic (a Louisiana funk band) really hits the spot for me. The lyrics seldom bother me. When I'm bopping in my chair, it seems to raise my mood, and get me closer to the MentalStateCalledFlow.

In a really loud environment, though, I often google "pink noise", grab a few sample .wavs, and loop them. -- DanielBernier

For work that requires a lot of concentration, I like music that is what I'll call "continuous". Maybe there is a proper music term for that, but I mean that it should not have dramatic periods of silence before some big bang comes. The engergy level of the music should change gradually, if at all. I also find that if the music has words, it is best if they are incomprehensible or in another language. Some bands in this category are Sigur Ros, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Mogwai, and some Radiohead. -- MichaelSparks
Tried many of the suggestions above with no luck. I guess it's really personal... Now, something that works for me: Irish folk. Totally non-intrusive, but highly conductive. Anyone else tried this? -- Hugo

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