University of Sussex Students' Newspaper

Music to Study To

Hal Keelin

ByHal Keelin

Jun 3, 2019
Photo by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

It’s that time of the year again with exams brewing over the next few weeks. From film soundtracks to ambient albums, we pooled together some of our favourite playlists and music to study to.

‘Art In The Age of Information’ by Portico Quartet

Hal Keelin


For: Intense readings sessions. 30 pages+.

The pain that comes with the sight – read chap 6… pp230-72- is universal. Twenty pages of reading are nice and condensed, thirty pages however pushes the limits and forty seems unimaginable in one sitting.

That’s where Portico Quartet’s groundbreaking album ‘Art in the Age of Automation’ comes in. It’s jazz and minimalism combined – the driving percussion and lofty electronics rise-and-fall. The album empowers something within and soon that downcast fever that clawed at you like the prospect of trawling through 40 + pages of reading is replaced by unchallenged determination to finish.

The opening track ‘Endless’ if full of hope, is exactly what’s needed for that initial spur of enthusiasm to get you going. Right when that same enthusiasm dwindles around page 25, ‘A Luminous Beam’ kicks in. I turn it up at this point and the uplift in tempo and intensity pushes me on to the finish.

‘Ambient 1: Music for Airports’ By Brian Eno

Ryan Bridgewater


Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports is my album of choice when studying. The 1978 record was the first to be explicitly labelled as ‘ambient music’, though the concept goes back further. In the liner notes Eno states that “Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” This is ideal for writing or revising as the music does not compete for your attention with the work at hand. He asserts that “Ambient Music is intended to induce calm and a space to think.” Perfect for defusing the anxiety that imminent exams can bring!

Eno’s intention behind Music for Airports was that it could be played on a continuous loop as a sound installation at airports, mitigating the tension caused by the bustle of passengers and frequent public announcements. It works equally well when studying, masking the hum of electrical appliances and the sounds of traffic and human voices coming from outside. The album consists of four slowly evolving repetitive pieces created using layered tape loops of piano, vocals, and synthesizer. The music drifts in and out of the listener’s consciousness, creating a relaxed atmosphere. As the writer and musician David Toop notes, Eno’s concept of ambient music “was anathema to those who believe that art should focus our emotions… by occupying the centre of attention”. The stressed student with looming deadlines, however, is sure to appreciate this highly functional music.

Film Scores and Lo-Fi Hip-Hop

Yazz James


Although there is debate around whether listening to music has negative effects on studying, I personally find it more difficult to focus without it. For many students, music can be motivational, encouraging them to keep working or can be a way of reducing anxiety and stress.

Film scores are usually my go-to for study music, although it is worth taking the time to go through and find the most relaxing compositions. As much as I love the themes from Star Wars and other franchises, I tend to try and stay away from big and bold soundtracks as they can often be very distracting; instead, I’d recommend Dustin O’Halloran, whose pieces are mainly piano based, or any of Justin Hurwitz’s scores. If you like to imagine you’re studying in a Parisian café rather than the library, Michael Giacchino’s music for ‘Ratatouille’ and Yann Tiersen’s ‘Amelie’ score – in particular, ‘comptine d’un autre été’ – will do the job.

Another genre to explore for study music is lo-fi; there’s the famous “lofi hip hop radio” constant YouTube streams, but lots of small artists creating sounds elsewhere too. Soundcloud introduced me to ‘The Deli’ who can also be found on Spotify – my personal favourites are the albums ‘Encounters’ and ‘Vibes 2’. This style of music is usually a bit more upbeat and so I like to listen to it when I’m just making notes or revision materials as opposed to reading or essay-writing.

My final suggestion for study sounds would be rain and nature noises; if I’m particularly stressed, I find that they can really help calm my nerves. Sounds of thunderstorms can be found on most streaming sites with many lasting around twenty minutes providing an easy way to split up your study time.


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