This article was written by an external contributor. Andrew Shaw has listed his top recommendations of classical tunes to listen to whilst studying.
I might as well as get this out the way in the opening sentence: nothing you listen to will make you more intelligent. While learning to play a musical instrument helps boost your brain power, the fabled ‘Mozart effect’ doesn’t exist, so for the love of god don’t leave all your work until the last night and then put The Marriage of Figaro on repeat for six hours.
But music can still help you study. It won’t turn you into a genius overnight, but it can keep your mind feeling active, help beat stress and ease nerves. However, this knowledge comes with two small caveats: enjoying the music helps, while lyrics can have the opposite effect.
If you want to play music while you work, I’d bet on classical music. It hits the sweet spot of being entertaining but not overly distracting. However, distilling centuries of vivid artistic brilliance into a short playlist you can listen to next time you’re cramming for exams isn’t easy. Luckily, I’ve done the hard work for you. Below are the best classical tracks to (quietly) play the next time you’re studying.
Like an Italian Dwayne Johnson, the last few years have seen Einaudi pop up everywhere. From Clint Eastwood films to adverts for Nike, Vodafone and Amazon, you’ll have almost certainly already heard of his work, even if you didn’t know it. Night bears a striking resemblance to another great Einaudi track, Life, but twists that melody into a slower, more thoughtful sound. Thankfully, it’s a little less dramatic than his other pieces. If you do want to pad this playlist out, have a listen to Twice, Le onde and I Giorni, as well as the ever-popular Nuvole Bianche.
Perhaps overlooked compared to his 21st piano concerto, No. 23 still sounds immediately special. The second movement, Adagio in F-sharp minor, is the best piece to study to, winding along pleasantly but with almost sinister undertones. Funnily enough, this is the only piece in this entire article that can actually be properly defined as classical music.
Saint Hildegard dabbled in a bit of everything, from philosophy to history to science. She even turned her attention to music, writing O Virtus Sapientie sometime in the mid-12th century. Almost a millennium later, and her work has been adapted for the modern world. The result is an enjoyable blend of ancient incantation and contemporary technology. If you don’t mind a bit of medieval chanting, this remix of an 850-year-old banger is the one for you.
One of the exalted “Three Bs”, along with Beethoven and Bach, the third movement in Brahms’ celebrated Third Symphony is often considered the finest part. It’s certainly the sweetest and easiest to listen to, especially while working, with the tune gliding along as if travelling by cloud.
Full disclosure, I’ve still never seen Spirited Away, the famous Oscar-winning Japanese animated film, but just by listening to this one song from the soundtrack I can see that has been a huge mistake. The last minute may be a little too loud to revise to, but the rest of it is completely wonderful.
The beginning section drips with melancholy, but it soon picks up, and from there the delicate piano notes come to life, almost in a comedic manner at times. By the time you hear the finale you might get the impression Chopin was just showing off.
Another Polish composer for this playlist, Przybyłowicz is best known for his work in The Witcher franchise, and it’s in the final game’s DLC where he really shines. It may be a stretch to call this classical, but Fanfare and Flowers is still one of the most deeply relaxing pieces of music I’ve heard from a videogame, especially one featuring all sorts of monstrous ghouls, hags and wraiths.
Unlike many of the strict musicians of his era, Debussy followed just one simple rule with his music: pleasure. Clair de Lune, his most famous work, is the epitome of this, and seems to move to its own calm rhythm. A worthy inclusion on this list, and probably the best song of them all if your nerves are shot.
Similarly to Clair de Lune, this is just nice to listen to. Soft, slow and soothing, the aria stands apart from much of the rest of the Goldberg Variations, which have a much livelier feel to them. There are many ways you can stay focused on your work, but listening to lively music isn’t one of them, so stick to the aria and let your studies seep into your memory.