Have you ever taken a car ride in complete silence? Or maybe had dinner at a restaurant where no background music was playing to mute the many conversations happening around you? If you’ve experienced one of these scenarios, then you probably know just how awkward they can be. Most of the time, music is an experience, but sometimes it serves its purpose as a buffer. One of the most common times we listen to music, for its ability to quietly keep us focused on something else, is when we’re studying. If you’re not a student now, you once were at some point, and you know just how much that Elton John vinyl helped to get you through the toughest of term papers.
Some people can’t listen to music at all when they’re studying, and they find themselves writing the lyrics of the current song instead of the reason they most relate to Ophelia in Hamlet. That used to be me. I was determined, however, to find a genre that worked for me. Just like we all study in different ways, we are affected by certain music differently. I found that acoustic music worked well for me, and that the tiptoeing piano melodies underneath gentle voices were the perfect combination to help me focus and write that ten page paper in two hours or so (maybe three or four with my periodic coffee breaks).
With finals quickly approaching the university circuit, I realized that I should no longer keep this “study skill” a secret. Built on the foundation of some amazing 8tracks playlists, I created a combination of five songs that are guaranteed to help even the person with the shortest attention span focus on studying for their final exams. 8tracks is basically a music playlist website that allows users to listen to compilations of songs for any occasion, genre, or artist. Other users create the playlist, so unlike most computer-based websites such as Pandora, there are no ads, and you can really gauge someone’s personality throughout the course of their mix.
DISCLAIMER: the following music will be sappy, emotional, sentimental, and whatever other adjective you can use to explain songs about love and all that gushy stuff. If you aren’t as corny as me, this playlist could still do the trick for you, so don’t knock it until you try it.
“Once in a Lifetime” by Landon Austin was brought to my attention through an acoustic coffeehouse playlist. The simplistic guitar riffs cycling through the instrumental hypnotize the listener, and provide the perfect pattern to type that first, and maybe second paragraph of your essay. This is one of those songs that paints a picture in your mind, with Austin’s voice creating a peaceful environment, even when you’re on that packed third floor of the library the night before your economics test.
Justin Vernon, the founder of Bon Iver, is one of the most talented artists I’ve ever heard. If you don’t agree, you probably haven’t heard enough of his music. Not to worry though, because song number two on my five-track finals playlist is, “Skinny Love.” You may have heard this song covered by other artists such as Birdy, but nothing compares to the angst and emotion Vernon puts into this song, especially with his acoustic version.
The 1975 have really been catching my ear’s attention lately. The track, “Me,” off their Music for Cars album works to help you focus and think and even when you’re not on the road. While I’ve noticed this song is, in fact, the perfect track to road trip with, it also serves its purpose as a wonderful backdrop to your painstakingly long study session at hand. I have found, however, that simultaneously listening to this song while studying or writing a paper forces you to focus on the mesmerizing instrumental and not the lyrics. Be sure to revisit this one when finals are over and you can go back to listening to music for hours and procrastinating again, because the words are sure to change your outlook on the song as a whole.
“Michigan” by the Milk Carton Kids is one of my all-time study favorites. The calming “woo” in the voices of the two make for a very Simon & Garfunkel-like experience. I must confess though, that every time this song comes on I do a little less studying and a lot more humming along, but we can just take it as a five-minute and thirty-second break from reality. The first time I heard this song I was on a street corner in Nashville, Tennessee, waiting in line for a place called Pancake Pantry, which, if you’re a breakfast fan, must be on your list of pancake-restaurants-to-plan-your-family-vacations-around; unless I’m the only one that has one of those? All I remember is stopping mid-sentence and turning to listen to the amazing cover. The original is ten-times better, and will provide the perfect soundtrack to your Sunday study day.
I have always been an Emeli Sande fan, so when I heard that she was on a track with another one of my favorite artists, James Arthur, I had to hear it. To be honest, I was kind of disappointed in myself for finding this song an entire year after it was released, but the most important thing is that I found it, and can share it with you now. “Roses” is a beautifully emotional duet, with a chorus backed by violins and sweet piano trills. While this song may make you teary-eyed the first or even second listen, by the third, your eyes will no longer be emotionally clouded, and you will find the perfect atmosphere to study your finals away.