A Somewhat Melodious Undertaking

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There have been countless studies showing that music improves intelligence. Recently, however, there has been some disagreement to as to whether or not it is beneficial to studying, especially when that studying involves memorization and numbers. Well, memorization is not my cup of tea. I got Calculus 101 out of the way my freshman year and I’m happy to say I’ll never take another math class again. Looking back, perhaps I shouldn’t have listened to the Rolling Stones so much when I was studying for exams- maybe it would have improved my performance, who knows?

Personally, I’ve always liked background noise when I’m writing. Complete silence makes me antsy. I find that it’s most helpful when I am writing because it helps me to block everything else out and let’s me focus solely on what I am doing. I have only one stipulation: there can be absolutely no lyrics. Slow tunes enable me to concentrate on my own words; if there is an alternate storyline going on in the song it invades my thoughts and permeates my work without my even realizing it. This definitely gets me into trouble when my iPod is on shuffle mode. The type of music depends on both my mood and the material that I am working on. I find that when I am working on creative writing, I tend to lean more towards jazz, mostly Chet Baker or John Coltrane. For critical essays, I stick with classical- there is something about it that just makes me feel smarter.

In my opinion, I think that music is an enormous help creatively. It can bring back specific memories you thought you had lost or help you imagine new places you never knew existed, it provides an escape that still allows you to remain grounded. What do you think, is music an aid or is it a distraction? And if you do listen to it, what do you listen to?

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4 Responses to A Somewhat Melodious Undertaking

  1. Rod Smith says:

    I used to love writing to jazz, blues, anything instrumental, but mostly jazz. It felt like a counterpoint or counterstress to what I was doing, but these days silence seems necessary. Sound, proximate or distant, breaks my thin train of thought. The old days for me were more about the pleasure of the writing act, the whole joy of a room of one’s own and the time to savor it and explore. A glass of wine and the music seemed a part of the luxury which, I figured, accountants and firefighters couldn’t enjoy while they did their jobs. But now I’m more committed to sliding through that small aperture of text into the world the text implies, which I always hope will provide a fictive music of its own. It’s all more urgent now, too, and the music can charm me to distraction. On a very good day, however, I couldn’t say whether there’s music or not; I’d never notice. Here’s to the good days and the old days.

  2. Tim McAleenan says:

    Whenever I really want to get work down, I’ll put on earphones and put the same song on repeat. However, I’ve often been afraid that this could be the first sign of an OCD disorder, so I settle for listening through Springsteen’s Darkness or River Album. To me, the key to getting work done is turning the cell phone off, putting the headphones on (so as not to get distracted by conversation), and avoiding idle internet browsing. Of course, this doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.

  3. Lauren Starnes says:

    I cannot listen to any music when I am reading or writing! I have tried everything from classical to opera to the Beastie Boys, but to no avail! However, at the same time, I do have the ability to tune out and ignore even the loudest freshmen whining about their crazy Saturday night on the main floor of the library!

  4. Mary Olive Keller says:

    At the risk of being completely wrong, I vaguely remember learning about this in a cognition class after our teacher asked us the same thing. When some members of the class said they couldn’t study with music (I’m one of them), he was able to explain why. Apparently, processing music with lyrics demands the same cognitive resources that we use to study. So, ultimately the two compete with each other, threatening our ability to take in the information. Regardless of the explanation, for me, silence is golden.

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