musicians on what helps them get through

Theses, graduation, and comps. Oh my!

It’s gearing up for a stressful semester as students fiendishly reading and writing in preparation for, what will be for some of us, the next step in the journey. And this got me thinking. We’re all musicians; we practice and play, sometimes harder than we read and write. We all know that there have been studies done to prove the effects of music on physiological responses. ( This study is clearly peer-reviewed).

But I started wondering how, on a practical and personal level, music students use music to relax or focus. So after exhaustive polling by myself and Liza Munk, several people shared with us the ways they use music to relax during times of school-related stress:

“I find listening to either The Lord of the Rings or The Dark Knight soundtracks while studying (or in my case writing) to be an exhilarating and epic experience” –Froilan Fabro, ethnomusicology MA student at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

“I listen to wind chimes (usually youtube clips) to relax, mostly, although I find I sort of have two relaxing “moods”: one where the goal is to de-stress, and really let go of my tension, and the other is to focus in on one thing and to block out all others. So for instance, if I’m not started on a task but I’m already freaking out about it, I will listen to wind chimes to bring myself into focus”–Alice Rogers, chair of the SU Networking and Communications Committee

“I generally do not listen to music that will detract my attention from studying, though I have recently found that I (really) like ‘white noise’ when studying, such as the sounds of the sea, and of the rain and thunder—yes, I am one of those sad culprits that will search and play those 10-hour long videos of sea/rain sounds on YouTube. Though, when I am reading for pleasure—regardless whether or not the reading or task is academic—I am a real sucker for instrumental music of the Renaissance or Baroque period. ‘White sounds’ I have found are good when there is reading or a task that need to be done with haste, whereas if one has time to spare and is not in too much of a rush, then some Renaissance or Baroque music does the trick to relax me. If, on the other hand, I am completely and utterly eveloped in stress, then my music preferences turn to artists like Prodigy, Muse, and Hadouken! “I really do like Sony’s old music saying that featured on their old MP3 players: “Every moment has its music” –Larry Oliver Catungal, ethnomusicology PhD student at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

“I don’t really listen to music while I’m studying – but when I’m stressed I listen to music that’s either really melodically emotional (lots of vi chords and N6s) or really heavy so I can jump around” –Jeremy Reed, ethnomusicology student at Earlham College

“Penguin Café Orchestra” –Jackson Anthony, member of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of SEM, American University

“For finals during my last semester of college, I listened to nothing but a “rain” soundtrack and Chopin” –Gilliam Irwin, recent graduate in music and English, Muhlenberg College

“In general, when studying or writing papers, I have Western Concert Music on, typically something 20th or 21st century, but that’s just because that’s what I listen to most of the time. (Recently, I’ve been working my way thru the Hartt School listening list, but with a lot of detours.) If I’m really stressed and need to just CRANK a paper out, I’ll put on Steve Reich, often starting with Music for Pieces of Wood. If I’m stressed and _not_ studying, then I’ll usually put on Enter the Haggis to calm down/let it out. But there are also times where that desire will turn to Bartok or Shostakovich instead, or…I’ve been on a _big_ Messiaen kick recently, and just worked my way thru Des canyons aux étoiles, Chronochromie and Éclaires sur l’au-delà…in quick succession. And then before that it was Mahler 2-10 in order, with 7 twice in a row, because I still don’t get it, but found the first Nocturne SUPER INTERESTING all of a sudden” –Nick Baskin, music major with unofficial concentration in composition, Yale University

“The last time I was really stressed, I made a quick youtube playlist of my favorite badass-female pop songs and danced around my dorm room. “I Just Came to Say Hello” by Dragonette made the list. When I’m studying, I usually prefer wordless music, especially epic, upbeat movie soundtracks like How to Train Your Dragon or Western Classical music from the Romantic Period. As a break from that pattern, I spent a weekend listening to The Tallest Man on Earth while finishing my last undergrad final exam period” –Liza Munk, ethnomusicology student, Franklin and Marshal College

“I usually listen to Arabic or African music when I’m stressed, and I never listen to music while studying or writing because it distracts me too much” –Aliya Cycon, piano performance, Berkley College of Music

“When I work or write, I listen to Sibelius #2, #5, Pohjola’s daughter), or punk rock (Yellowcard, Rise Against, Tsunami Bomb). As for when I’m stressed, it depends on what kind of stress. If I’m driving, then punk rock. If I’m working on papers, maybe some scaa. If I want to calm down, then Sibelius” –Prescott McWilliams, dental medicine student, University of Pennsylvania

“There’s really not too much to my music listening habits. Sometimes, it’s an old song I remember my parents listening to when I was a child. Sometimes, it’s the music we’re playing in orchestra, and sometimes, I need absolute quite to focus” –Christian Walsh, music major, Franklin and Marshall College

“Easy answer: I don’t. Because music triggers analytical/critical thinking abilities, I absolutely cannot listen to it for the purpose of background noise, distraction. It’s like putting a painting of an unsolved mathematical problem in front of a mathematician and telling them it’s just decoration! Even in the car I listen to talk radio because if I listened to music it would be like driving drunk” –Hannah, undergraduate music major and clarinet player

Thank you to everyone who contributed! Please comment on our posts and email us at for other ideas for our blog.

Heather A. Strohschein

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