What’s up with coding music? Should you bother building your ultimate playlist? ⏯️
People have been arguing about music and productivity since before cavemen started using Walkmans. After all, we’ve all argued that music played at ’11’ is the only effective way to study algebra. 🤷♂️
Now that we’re a little wiser we know that Linkin Park played at 11 is not effective for anything, let alone coding. But on the other hand, the sounds of a telephone ringing or a vacuum cleaning are not helping anyone code either. Fortunately, plenty of scientists also like the idea of playing music at work and we have numerous studies we can use to build a playlist of good coding music.
For that reason, this article will look at how music impacts productivity, and how to use this information to build the perfect playlist. I’ll also share the best playlists and tools for the ultimate workplace musical experience no matter if you’re working from home or are at the office.
How “coding music” impacts your productivity
There are a number of different ways to enhance workplace focus, and taking control of the sound is one of the most important. For example, sudden and dissonant noise are two stimuli that can force your brain out of the zone and into an unconscious defensive state.
Even if you don’t experience the startle effect, any office noise that is either loud, unexpected, or annoying will still be distracting and lead to reduced creativity.
In fact, what do you think is considered the most annoying sound? 🤔
Even pleasurable sounds such as a conversation about Netflix can disturb the coordination of neural activity. When the work of three big “focus” neuromodulators: acetylcholine, dopamine, and norepinephrine is impaired, your brain will lose direction and you will experience:
- An inability to determine what is most important: your code or Stranger Things?
- You will start focusing on irrelevant information.
- You will react slower, understand less, and feel sleepy.
On the other hand, listening to coding music has the opposite effect on these brain regions. Indeed, studies have shown that listening to your favorite music releases dopamine in two areas of your brain, the dorsal and ventral striatum. In brief, this is like getting a big hug. Picking a familiar playlist of coding music is just one of the tricks we can use for music-based productivity boosts.
How to pick the best coding music for quick results
Let’s start with the most obvious trick; avoid listening to music you hate. Of course, this is painfully obvious, but the opposite is not necessarily true.
Indeed, there are few caveats to consider before you hit play on your favorite playlist. For one thing, you need a certain amount of novelty to get your dopamine neurons firing. Studies have shown that the main brain activity occurs when the music is not obvious but familiar enough to provide a sense of anticipation that helps the release of dopamine.
However, too much novelty will direct your focus towards the music and away from your code. However, the music you are ambivalent about can bring great results. For one thing, it is not as distracting as something you love or hate.
Pick music that is appropriate to the task. If you are doing something boring and repetitive, then pick an anthem with upbeat lyrics. The lyrics are a good way to break up the boredom and keep you motivated.
We saw earlier that distinguishable speech can be a real productivity killer. This holds true for lyrics in music. If you are working on deeper tasks that require focus and learning, then you should avoid music with lyrics. A better option for deeper tasks would be continuous sounds played at 70 decibels which has been shown to help creative thinking.
With this in mind, you should choose music with consistent tempos, rhythm, and mode to keep you focused, boost your mood, and improve your cognition. Indeed, tempo can be one of the secrets to a productive day. You get the maximum benefit when you listen to music with tempos between 60 and 120 BPM (PDF) which have been shown to facilitate learning and retention.
The right tempo can also release alpha brain waves, which can help you find more elegant solutions to bugs. We’ve all been guilty of sliding an
!important in to solve problems, but if you access alpha brain waves then you can avoid common answers when problem-solving.
Your playlist should be as long as you plan to work, this will remind you to take a break. Not only is this better for productivity but you will avoid burnout in the long run. Indeed, opting for a premium service is the best way to ensure this kind of control over your work soundscape.
Most importantly, and obviously, pick music loud enough to mask the unwanted noise of your work environment. This is how you optimize music for cognitive functioning. Moderate volume is key to success when you are balancing music and work. Music should be a blanket over the unwanted noise rather than the focus.
The best playlists for coding music
When playing music, my preference is for streaming services and tools over YouTube. In the first place, I haven’t found playlists on YouTube that match those found on streaming services and few ads are conducive to productivity.
Video game soundtracks
- Best for: Any task requiring focus and sustained concentration.
- Pros: Video game soundtracks are built to help players solve puzzles, pick up information in conversation, think outside the box.
- Best for: Anyone looking for classical music to accompany their work.
- Pros: Baroque music has a good tempo which can help lift your mood and enhance focus.
Classical covers of well-known pop songs
- Best for: People who want the benefits of classical with a familiar feel.
- Pros: Great for providing familiarity that will release dopamine without distraction.
- Best for People who need to cover up the sounds of the office.
- Pros: Ambient music is built to enhance mood and focus.
Alpha brain waves
- Best for: Enhancing focus and creativity to think outside the box.
- Pros: A good hack for entering states of flow.
- Warning: The sounds can be annoying and can’t be used for extended periods. Also, because they work on brain waves they should be avoided by pregnant women, operators of heavy equipment, or people at risk of seizures.
Upbeat music with lyrics
- Best for: Working on boring, repetitive tasks that don’t require focus.
- Pros: The selected playlists are regularly updated with popular songs.
- Best for: Masking office noise when you need to concentrate.
- Pros: The randomness in the sounds is a great way to release dopamine without resorting to white noise.
Best apps for coding to useful sounds
Setting the playlists aside, let’s now look at some cool tools that can make your whole coding music supply a bit more streamlined.
Brain.fm brings the latest developments in neuromusicology to you with sounds and music to help you work, sleep, and relax.
Pros: Wide range of options to suit every taste. Each of the focus options can also be selected depending on your task. They have options for working, reading, creative work, or studying. They develop their new tracks based on other trends like lo-fi focus, which was inspired by the lo-fi channel on YouTube.
Cons: The trial will only give you five sessions. It is a subscription service priced at $6.99/month or $49.99/year.
Special offer: Get one free month via this link.
myNoise is a freemium web app that has a range of sounds to help you mask the sounds of the office when you need to get work done.
Pros: It has a wide range of unique sounds that cover nearly every use case. It uses browser-based noise generators, so you don’t use any data while streaming the sounds.
Cons: The music options are limited.
Inspired by the open-source software movement, The Free Music Archive provides high-quality legal downloads for a variety of purposes.
Pros: The quality of the songs available is high and the range is wide. The interface is simple and easy to use with no complicated sign-ups or hidden costs.
Cons: If you are looking for something popular or familiar then you are unlikely to find it here. This could lead you to listen to music with too much novelty and thus undermine your efforts.
You should bookmark this one, not only was it built by developers but it covers all of the important areas we covered earlier: few lyrics, limited complexity, and some early music.
Pros: Firstly, I love the interface. More importantly, developers compiled the music based on their own experience of what works for them.
Cons: Some people might not like the controls.
Final thoughts on coding music
The open-plan office is a great way to encourage collaboration and develop a culture. Although this may be true, the open-plan office soundscape can be distracting. If you find yourself constantly distracted by unwanted noise, then taking control of the sounds and music can help provide a blanket over these noises.
In other words, you can use music to invoke periods of enhanced focus and achieve more. When it comes to your boring tasks, you can use music to help get through them. If you need to learn or be creative, then ambient music at the right volume is sure to help you devise unusual solutions. With this in mind, remember that choosing the right music can help you master any task!
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