Monday, January 13, 2014

Does Music Help With Writing?

Music and writing go hand in hand. If you've ever written anything...ever...then you probably know this. Music has the power to move us. It guides our minds on a journey, and more often than not, facilitates just the right kind of creative juices we writers rely so heavily on. Because music can so easily manipulate our emotions, we writers can use it as a tool to bring forward the emotions we need to get on paper.

I see a lot of authors who give playlists to accompany their books, and some of them even admit that they put that list on shuffle and just listen to it repeatedly during the writing process. We like to swap favorite songs and help each other find inspiration through them. But here's a question for you: Does listening to music while writing actually help the process?

This could very well be a subjective thing, but I'm putting on my scholarly glasses here, and trying to look at it from a scientific standpoint. Does writing to music maybe hinder our abilities? Or is it the best thing for us? Is there a certain type of music that is better to listen to?

Here's what I found.

There was a study done on Taiwanese college students to determine if music impacted their reading comprehension. Since writing and reading comprehension are pretty close, I figured it was better than a poke in the eye, right? The study compared reading comprehension between three test groups: reading without music, reading with classical music, and reading with hip hop music. I won't bore you with all the statistical jargon (mostly because I got a C in my college statistics class and I really wouldn't be able to tell you what most of it means anyway), and I'll get right down to the results. They used a point system, but it's not really important to understand how they were calculated or what they mean. Just know that higher is better and lower is not.

The non-music students got an average of 67. The classical students got 64, and the hip hop ones got 58.

So, okay, what does that mean? Based on this study, your comprehension and focus would probably be optimal with silence.

And I found another interesting study done on surgeons to see if music affected their performance at all. The results said kind of the same thing--they did better with silence. 

But wait, you say. Hold on a second. I'm a writer who needs music! Silence is too distracting. I can't focus without it.

So here's my theory with that. Because all my academic searching kept telling me silence was the best method for concentration, I figured that maybe writing is just a different process than comprehension or concentration. It's an emotional thing, too. When we write, we are channeling the thoughts and feelings of each character we portray, and that takes a lot of emotional juice we sometimes don't have on hand. And that might be where music comes into play.

I, myself, actually can't write with music going on in the background. I need it for inspiration, however. My best ideas come when I'm listening to music and cleaning my house, actually. Which means sometimes I actually want to do the dishes, and hey, everyone wins there. But when I'm actually writing, silence produces the best results for me.

For you, I guess that's just something you'll have to experiment with! Based on all this gobbelty gook I read, I would say that classical or maybe ambient music might work best if you absolutely must have something in the background. Sometimes I use as a soothing rainstorm background.

And then again, if you like your favorite band droning away as you type, that's cool too! Everyone is different, especially when it comes to the writing process.

But it's food for thought.

How about it writers. Do you listen to music when you write? What is your favorite kind of music to use as background noise or inspiration?


  1. Honestly,I never listened to music while attempting to write. I do consider it a distraction to a mystical extent;however,I do not advocate silence;the sounds of nature compensate my desire for a perfect balance.

    1. I totally understand a need for some kind of background noise! I do think I write better when I've got the sounds of rain accompanying the writing flow. I do well with silence, too, though. I'm starting to think I'm the odd one out!

      Thanks for visiting and commenting, Mark!

  2. Interesting. I do believe the process of reading and comprehending is much different from the prices of creative writing. I can write either way, but was surprised to find the writing flows more when I use music.

    1. That's the funny thing; anecdotally I'm hearing that most writers really do better with something going on in the background! Maybe I'll write of my alma mater and ask them to do some kind of study on it. :) Writing must just be a different cognitive process!

  3. I listen to instrumental music sometimes, but often it's just the silence. More often than that I have some sitcom or something playing in the background, turned down low, just to have background noise. I can't see the TV so it doesn't distract me, but that way there's some kind of noise.

    Ultimately, I do my best concentrating with silence :)

  4. I've found that I actually write more in silence. I have created song lists that kind of embody the feeling I'm going for with a book. Fun to think about, isn't it?

  5. I take daily walks while listening to soundtracks and trailer music. During that hour is when I do all my plotting and thinking. Sometimes I'll replay a piece over and over, using that pacing to help me figure out mine. Then I run home (not really--I'd never run) and write what I plotted. But because the music goes at a different pace than I can type, I never listen while I actually write!