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Ask YC: Does music help programmer concentrate better?
10 points by wonjun on Nov 17, 2008 | hide | past | favorite | 45 comments
Does music help programmer concentrate better? If so, which music? I couldn't figure this one out conclusively yet.

For me, I think working on systems and programming comes down to two different types of music. If I'm performing some system maintenance or deep system work or related programming, I find that techno/dance/trance helps... specifically soundtracks to some of my favorite movies that had techno in them are great for getting the draining mood effect that system programming can sometimes have on me. Miami Vice soundtrack has some great tracks that when listening keeps me feeling like I'm /solving a problem/ when I'm deep into the mix... Hackers, the movie soundtrack, is another good one that I like; Swordfish is another good one.

When it comes to creativity and problem solving at the development level, I find that like others here, either no music or classical music on low volume assists the concentration. Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart, etc. I truly find classical helpful... I read once that it actually stimulates the proper receptors in the brain that involve critical thinking, but I'm unable to find that link as a source. I stumbled upon classical years ago at random I think... I never liked it before then and I'm certain for some it can be an acquired taste.


I like Bach and other Baroque music for play during concentration tasks. Beethoven, Chopin, and the like are too dynamic and emotional. Can you imagine trying to concentrate to the fourth movement of the ninth symphony or the second of the Missa Solemnis? Not all classical music suits all moods.

If it's code I have to think about (i.e. non-boilerplate), I find that most music distracts me and makes me code slower -- especially music with recognizable lyrics. I have some nature soundtrack CDs that seem to improve my concentration, though.

The solution to wanting lyrics-based music but not wanting music to have recognizable lyrics is, of course, music in a foreign language.

(I am sure this will be news to a well-below-average number of people on this site, but it's still a novel idea to a lot of people and worth pointing out.)

You could always try Sigur Ros, which invented their own language for exactly that reason: they wanted lyrics but they didn't want people focusing on the words over the music.

And if lyrics in Icelandic aren't obscure enough, that's really saying something.

Dead Can Dance also sing in made up languages but it's not everyone's cup of tea.

Sigur Ros I'm not such a fan of. I love Dead Can Dance, though.

Love me some Sigur Ros.

Agreed. Recognizable lyrics is usually not good, unless its music that'll pump me up when I need it.

I've been trying out listening to some sort of white noise, ie. running water, static, etc., borrowing from the idea on this post: http://cameronmoll.com/archives/2008/11/showering_and_thinki...

It can get pretty noisy where I work, so something that distracts me so constantly and blocks the noise out helps me focus.

It all comes down to recognizable lyrics for me as well. This is largely why I turn to breaks/trance/etc when coding.

I usually listen to music with stupid lyrics (rap/hip hop), this way I don't really bother trying to understand what they are saying but still have a good rhythm to work with.

I can't listen to lyrics and program, the words draw my focus and make it difficult to proceed. I end up listening to Classical music or Psy/Trance for heavy coding days.

It may just be a psychological placebo but I seem to find my groove much easier when I'm uninterrupted and listening to music that blocks distractions.

I'm the exact same way. techno + baroque (Bach fugues especially) I at least feel more productive.

And given the number of other people who express similar tastes it makes me think there may be a market opportunity for a team of music theory nerds + neuroscientists + programmers to come up with a box that generates "music to think by".

(I want to believe that certain Bach fugues are wired into the universe at the level of apodeictic mathematical truth.)

I stick to my post-rock collection (and then, only certain bands) when I want to get things done.

For some reason, Godspeed You! Black Emperor really jives with me when I am working on hard problems (To be fair, the problems I work are not as impressive as most of you here)

hey another post-rock fan! I've done my best coding while listening to Do Make Say Think.

You want Cult of Luna.

Heh, Finlandia Doom Metal. Heard it before. Definitely better then a lot of stuff being pumped out but dear god, can't listen to it.

I find that lyrics can distract me, but not when I'm in "The Zone". Classical music seems to help me reach the zone, so my playlist begins with a couple of classical albums then continues into my favorite modern music with lyrics. Once that starts, I'm usually so into the coding, that it doesn't adversely effect my concentration ... and I find I can even sing along with my favorite songs while still programming. (This is not so good for others around me ... but I enjoy it :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Us5TeDK_GJk this is my favorite band, i listen to them all the time, except when im coding or reading, but they're great for jogging or just general headbanging. When i code i just listen to my PC's noise, i sleep next to it, so im sensitive to changes in its noise. Music is a great distractor, and i cant stand that techno shit, i have a few hard DnB tracks, but they are not good for coding. The best music is the one your machine plays with its fans and HD.

I play pop/dance/synth music when compiling, running tests, etc, but oddly, sometimes when I really need to concentrate, I pause the song so I can read the code. It's hard to explain, but that's my take.

That's exactly how it is for me too. I tend to listen to either The Mondo Sessions or Tiësto's Club Life podcast both of which are trance - and both seem to put me into a coding trance. When I'm agitated by something hard that's broken my flow the music becomes annoying and I have to switch it off, but I usually leave my over-ear headphones on like earmuffs - it's more still that way.

Occasionally I'll listen to a Tamboura meditation - which is just droning - lower intensity than the club tunes, but similar effect.

Oddly I often listen to Tiësto's Club Life podcast while coding - and I am not even a big trance fan. But it's lack of lyrics (mostly) and flow just seem to mesh well with working.

I think it doesn't. Personally I use music to isolate myself from any other sound. In a perfect quiet room, I'd rather not listening music when writing program.

Music does many things for me- it blocks out other distractions without the weirdness of noise cancelled silence, it gives me something to occupy my mind between coding bursts so I am less likely to jump over to the internet for stimulation, and it seems to keep my brain more active in general. I generally listen to melodic stuff, (like melodic trance or classical music) no meaningful words, but often with vocals.

It seems to help my focus. I noticed a few months back that when I start up some soft music, like Coldplay, I tend to get more done. I think it quiets the ADD part of me that feels the need for extra stimulus. Also, when I'm listening to music while programming I tend to not check the web as often to see what's going on, that alone will boost your productivity. I don't really know why it works, but for me it does.

Depends on the music. I can barely code without music. Best, in my opinion, instrumental progressive metal/rock (Liquid Tension Experiment).

I agree that instrumental progressive metal is awesome for programming. I've also found classical music to work, but I enjoy metal a bit more.

Philip Glass is the only music I can listen to. I'm guessing his minimalist music keeps me on a rhythm without distraction.

Early Philip Glass, or late? I listen to Einstein on the Beach a lot, because it's far too dense to draw me away from my work, but that has a bit of a different result.

http://www.pandora.com > Type in 'Cafe Del Mar' and get hackin'.

I can't focus on anything analytically-heavy when listening to music since I have a very one-track mind. When I do have music playing and start to actually concentrate, I don't hear the music anymore. When I realize something's playing, my concentration falls apart once again.

I find that it depends on what mood I'm in and what I'm trying to do. Sometimes I like metal when coding, sometimes trance or europop type stuff, and sometimes classical. And there are plenty of times when silence is best.

Now excuse me while I put on some Armored Saint...

Personally, I need frequent changes of scenery to help me focus. Since I'm usually tied to a desk, changing music frequently helps. If I'm actually tuned into the problem that I'm working on, whatever I'm listening to just fades in the background anyway.

for me, something familiar. set on repeat. the primary point is not the music, it is drowning out conversations my co-workers are having. Otherwise I become that irritating guy who jumps into every conversation within twenty feet of his cube. white noise doesn't work as well... the simple patterns in music, I think, help a lot.

At a secondary level, some music seems to act a little like stimulants. But that is secondary to drowning out conversations.

For me, anything electronic that doesn't have any lyrics makes me way more focused and productive.

The more upbeat and progressive the better. Too much volume ruins my flow though.

Normally I can work better without music. But music (better without lyriks) works quite well as white noise, if you are in a loud environment.

Jazz and Classical music works best, but I prefer complete silence (rarity on campus).

Yes. Music helps very much.

My day is shot when I forget to charge my iPod...

St. Germain

To each their own

Not me.


i think you need silence for concentration and music for creativity. so it would really depend on the situation i think.

probably varies depending on the person as well.

No. But a pair does.

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