Whistling While I Work

This morning, this post by Carol Saller really caught my eye. Or did it catch my ear? (Just kidding, but seriously folks, I’ll be here all week. Don’t forget to tip your waiters.) I was particularly surprised by the fact that there aren’t many recent or thorough investigations of the effect music has on productivity.

I always listen to music when I’m working, or really, when I’m doing anything. I guess that has always made it seem so natural to me: I listen to music when I’m doing almost everything else in my life, so why wouldn’t I listen to it while I work? (Right now, it’s Counting Crows – Underwater Sunshine). I never connected these two ideas before, but I taught myself to play bass and guitar by ear, which Saller loosely connects to being a “by ear” person, so maybe that plays a part in this.

When I’m doing deep thinking, reading, outline or the beginning stages of writing, I have trouble listening to music that I know the words to. When I know the words, I find myself think-singing along with the song, and distract myself from the words I’m trying to read/write (but I don’t really buy the idea of the writing being “music” on the page, but maybe I’m just not a very good writer). A real game-changer in that department was when I figured out you could put movie scores into Pandora—listening to the Lord of the Rings score while reading makes it feel like you’re on an epic journey to finish. I’m always looking for more instrumental music for this purpose, so if you have any suggestions let me know (please, someone educate me on jazz).

Once I’m in a writing groove though, I can listen to stuff I know a little bit better. For some reason, one I still can’t figure out, I write best when I’m listening to rap music. I listen to rap regularly, so it’s not out of the ordinary, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why I write so much better when listening to it. My guess is that it has something to do with the rhythm of the words or something.

I hadn’t really given much thought to the way I listen to music when working before that article, so I thought I’d share where I fall in that debate. I couldn’t get anything done without a good pair of headphones, and a good set of speakers.

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