What gets your mind going? Do you need total silence or are you incapable of coding without your favourite tunes?
However, when I get to a really difficult problem, I prefer total silence without any distractions. Again, earplugs are good for that. But if I need to, I'll go for a walk somewhere quiet to think about it (somewhere with a whiteboard, and/or maybe talk the problem over with a friend/colleague). Or I might even have to sleep on it. In all of these cases, there's no music involved. Music is more for the relatively easy/routine coding.
When I'm doing design, music just distracts me -- but when I'm hammering out code, a repetitive rhythm definitely helps to keep me focused. It is strange that music has different effects depending on what kind of thinking the brain is doing. I wonder why that is...
Rock (Tool, Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd, Rage, Muse)
Post-Rock (Explosions in the Sky, Mono, Pelican, Mogwai)
Hip-Hop (A Tribe Called Quest, Gang Starr, Outkast, Digable Planets, The Coup)
The post-rock/instrumental stuff probably works the best since you aren't tempted to sing, and it helps to listen to something that is a little more repetitive.
I also like to listen to some down-tempo/electronic stuff like Thievery Corporation, Kruder & Dorfmeister and Sound Tribe Sector 9.
i'm probably one of the rare developers who listens to a lot of death metal though. the mathematical structure and intensity helps me get into that "flow state".
a really nice set of studio quality headphones is one of those things that i consider a professional necessity.
I listen to a lot of hip hop and rap, so I start break dancing and crypt walking. Pretty sweet I know =p
White noise machines are sold as privacy enhancers and sleep aids and to mask tinnitus. White noise CDs, when used with headphones, can aid concentration by blocking out irritating or distracting noises in a person's environment. In open plan offices, large corporations such as ExxonMobil apply white noise to reduce the reach of speech, thus, by preventing office staff from being distracted by conversations in the background, safeguarding productivity.
When I'm stuck on a hard to solve bug/issue I like to go for metal as I tend to get aggressive and that helps me get the aggression out and focus on the task.
But for all other causes I prefer classical music or something akin to it and electronica, especially Niccolò Paganini. And Vivaldi, Wagner, Detektivbyrån, Slagsmålsklubben and Mozart.
I would love to be able to work in complete silence once in a while, but open office makes that impossible.
(And, it is quite fun that your nick is the title of a Motorpsycho song. Yeah, mine is too.)
I find IDM, electronica to work pretty well too. Autechre, for instance.
I like trance when studying. If I'm seriously in to the work, the music doesn't matter. I just want some music playing in the background.
And of course there are times I need just plain silence.
Generally if I'm drawing, daydreaming, designing, or what have you I listen to a lot of indie, downtempo, sexy/chill house.
When all else fails, it's Wu Tang all day, son.
I think I will be switching between Grooveshark and this depending on the type of work I need to concentrate on.
However, when reading books, I am unable to watch or listen to anything at the same time.. Silence required.
it let me concentrate, by not having words, but also lets me register some background noise in order for me to focus on my code.
Philip Glass: Mishima
It makes reading/typing anything seem more deeply important than it should be.
Ambient & lighter Electronica is easier on the mood and the repetitive patterns help pacing myself (it also works for working out/ running). Jazz gets too involved; HipHop as well; Rock has dominant vocals that grab attention.
Probably because I haven't really listened to Bach (youtube et. al. are blocked for me so I can't go and listen right this instant).
Classical composers other than Bach would probably work, but since most of the classical music CD's I have are Bach CD's, I can't say I have tried listening to many other composers, to be honest. I like Mozart, but his music is too "happy". Bach's music is more mature.
My recently instrumental fascination has been the work of Yann Tiersen (Amelie soundtrack), which has recently inspired me to try my hand at the piano again after 20 years. Not sure if that'd float your boat though. May give Brahms a go though.