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Music while coding? Science says pump up the jams

Sarah Schlothauer
© Shutterstock / Titima Ongkantong

Need some help entering the zone? Listening to music while programming is scientifically proven to help out productivity and raise happiness. What are programmers listening to while they work, and what do you tune into?

People are always looking for a magical soundtrack that will help them be more productive, learn easier, or relax. When it comes to programming, people listen to a vast array of genres. Some of the best developers work in perfect silence, while others can only code when pirate metal is on volume 11.

What gets you into the zone?

The benefits of music

Back in 2005, Teresa Leusiuk measured the effect of music and productivity in 56 Canadian developers. The results were in favor of music having an overall improvement of mood, and thus in productivity. According to their research, work quality was at its lowest with no music. (Program to the sounds of silence? Now may be a good time to invest in a quality pair of headphones.)

In an article titled “Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition?“, researchers found that a moderate amount of ambient noise is best for creative performance. A high level of noise hurts performance and “impairs creativity”. If your office is quiet enough to hear a pin drop, it might not be the best environment for creativity.

However, according to Time magazine and research from Nick Perham, remembering new information is best done with no music. So, if you’re playing with a new language or fiddling with a tricky line of code, it’s time to press pause.

SEE ALSO: Why every developer should use a time tracking tool

Plenty of research continues in present day, exploring how music shapes the brain. While the plural of anecdote isn’t data, it’s clear that programmers love working with music. Let’s explore some of the choice favorites.

Instrumental music is monumental

Instrumental music is a good standard to follow when programming. Haven’t we all had the problem of listening to something with lyrics, only to end up typing some out? A song with lyrics can cause you to get too wrapped up in the chorus and before you know it, five minutes are gone and you’ve done nothing but pretend to be as cool as Freddie Mercury.

While classical music is usually the first go-to when you look up “music to help you concentrate”, there are plenty of other genres that are just as worthy:

  • Video game soundtracks: Your favorite game soundtrack is perfect for coding. They can be relaxing or heart-pumping, and not to mention nostalgic. (My personal programming soundtrack recommendations: Animal Crossing, Portal 2, Stardew Valley, Donkey Kong Country 2.)
  • Lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to: Although it has quickly become a meme, there’s a reason why thousands of people stream this live playlist
  • The creator of this musical archive studied the qualities that music best suited for programming has and created playlists to get the job done. We reap the benefits with dozens of mixes full of different genres and artists. Some highlights you may recognize include: Sigur Rós, Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
  • Programmer’s Music: Curated lists from eight different genres for programming. Submit your own favorite playlists!

Music in a language you aren’t fluent in might also be beneficial, if your brain can tune out sounds it doesn’t recognize as words. So, we give full permission to turn on the K-pop.

SEE ALSO: StackOverFlowError: Causes & solutions

White noise & ambient sounds

When music is too distracting, there’s always ambient sound. Sounds such as rainfall or fans are used for helping relax, focus, or even sleep (just not on the job, hopefully).

When you can’t keep a fan blowing in the dead of winter, there’s plenty of sites for generating white noise to help you focus.

  • Noisli: Pick and choose between white noise like wind, a crackling fireplace, a bustling coffee shop, or ocean waves
  • MyNoise: Not only can you play standard white noise such as a waterfall or garden ambient sounds, but there’s also background tracks for your next D&D session or turning your cubicle into a haunted dungeon.
  • Rainy Mood: A classic. Put on your warmest sweater, listen to the rain sounds, and start coding. (For a wintry mix, throw on Snowy Mood. Don’t forget the hot cocoa.)

What do you listen to when you program? Leave us a comment and we’ll check it out!

Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer

All Posts by Sarah Schlothauer

Sarah Schlothauer is the editor for She received her Bachelor's degree from Monmouth University, West Long Branch, New Jersey. She currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany with her husband and cat where she enjoys reading, writing, and medieval reenactment. She is also the editor for Conditio Humana, an online magazine about ethics, AI, and technology.

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