On the recent Google group The Efficient Academic, there was a short about the best music to study to. Obviously this is a matter of personal choice to what kinds of music creates a calm relaxed focus state of mind. Most people find that non vocal music is the least distracting. Favourites of mine are classical, with artists like Bach and Mozart, Chopin and most baroque period work. I also like to listen to droney ambient, such as Brain Eno and Stars of the Lid – and often leave a Pandora radio station with “artists similar to” them (if you haven’t tried Pandora I highly recommend trying it out). Internet radio station Dronezone on Soma.fm is also excellent for this kind of “music”.
Probably the best sound for study is silence, especially when you need to really concentrate. But silence is often hard to find. For noise elimination, I use Sony Fontopia earbuds, and cheap copies when they stopped working. Without music playing, they do a reasonable job just as ear plugs, and with sound piping in at a reasonable volume they pretty much block out all background noise.
Another option is noise canceling headphones. I haven’t tried them due to their relatively high cost. For a cheaper option, you can get industrial ear protectors from a hardware store (or even eBay, where I got mine), which I sometimes use to block out the fan of my PC and traffic hum to get the ultimate in pristine silence in my office. These combined with the ear-buds are a killer combination, if you don’t mind looking stupid.
If you need some white noise to block out distractions, the sounds of nature can be very soothing, though people in the office next door might wonder if you are keeping animals in your office. Free on the web are these services, which allow streaming audio:
Iserenity.com – http://www.iserenity.com/environments.htm
Sound sleeping – http://www.soundsleeping.com
There are is also the shareware software on the PC Atmosphere deluxe which I have tried, and liked, though it had a worrying memory leak that inexorably attempted to gobble up all my RAM until I confined it to ALT-F4 doom.
Another option is literally to have white or pink noise playing. The makers of Atmosphere deluxe have another program which does specialises in this, Sound Masker. There is also http://chatterblocker.com/ . Both do things like playing natural sounds like rainfall, as well as having background chatter, which does a good job at masking out distracting background noise. For the Mac, there is noise.
There are times however, such as late night before a deadline, when music can serve as a very motivating distraction. Here I find cheesy music works best, naturally this includes a lot of music from the 80′s. I have investigated this through a careful and lengthy investigation based on how much my speed increases whilst running up hills whilst listening to music on my mp3 player. This combined with and the nature of the lyrics, leads me to a top ten, in no particular order.
The top ten motivational songs, ever:
Simply the best – Tina Turner
The final countdown – Europe
Don’t stop me now – Queen
Rocky Theme – Bill Conti
Eye of the tiger – Survivor
Let’s stick together – Bryan Ferry
500 Miles – The Proclaimers
Fame – Irene Cara
Don’t Stop – Fleetwood Mac
Lose yourself – Eminem
Ahh, the great musical legacy of the 80′s…