What’s the best music for working?

‘Music for working’ – which picture best matches your response to that idea? Is it this?

Image by vectomart (Monalisa Dakshi) / Deposit Photos

Or this?

Image by ramonakaulitzki (Ramona Kaulitzki) / Deposit Photos

When I’m not facilitating workshops or in client meetings, chances are I’m either working at home (bliss, yet sometimes domesticity gets distracting) or some kind of shared space – a coffee shop or an art gallery café, or a TOG venue if I’m fortunate to be near one. And like almost everyone else there, I’m working on my laptop, headphones in, trying my hardest to tune out of the conversation going on next to me. As it seems that some music works better than others, and it’s been a while since the so-called ‘Mozart effect’ – I wanted to revisit what works best, and find out if different work benefits from different music.

[BTW, the ‘Mozart effect’ refers to the 1997 book by Don Campbell, “The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit”, in which Campbell claimed that listening to Mozart temporarily raised IQ. I think it’s fair to say the underlying research methodology has been challenged many times over and found wanting. Yet we can all relate to the notion that music can massively influence our mood, and thus performance.]

Just as you wouldn’t wear flip-flops to climb a mountain, you can benefit from choosing music for the kind of work you’re doing.


‘Getting Things Done’ guru David Allen suggests baroque music helps him to GTD, particularly Bach’s ‘Brandenburg Concerto #3’ and Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ (also my personal favourite). Allen cites baroque music’s 60-beats-per-minute speed as helping the brain focus – which notion harks back to ‘the Mozart effect’ – so if it works for him…

If you’re studying for exams, The Independent got together with Classic FM to compile their ‘Top 10 classical pieces for exam success’.


Or chillout, or Intelligent Dance Music, or whatever – pioneered by the likes of Brian Eno and popular with party people who need to recover from too much frenzied dancing (or something). Some film soundtracks can work on this basis, such as Vangelis’ ‘Blade Runner’ and, in the same vein, soundtracks for computer games can promote concentration (I’m told). Eno’s ‘Ambient 1: Music for airports (specifically composed to help soften the stressful experience) is well worth a try.

No lyrics

If you’ve found yourself typing something important and unconsciously inserting the lyrics you’re listening to, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Lyrics can be distracting – although if they’re in a language you don’t understand you may be on safer ground.

Dance music

This one surprised me: in a recent study by Mindlab International on behalf of MusicWorks (the joint campaign from music licensing companies PRS for Music and PPL), dance music was the best genre for spell-checking and proof-reading and completing tricky maths problems. Read more about the study in The Telegraph’s report. Memo to self: anything that helps my rubbish roof-preading is worth a go.

Stuck for inspiration and need some samples?

Try these playlists:

Noisey UK suggests ‘15 Albums That Will Make You Less S%&t At Work’.

Bustle offers ‘9 Songs That Increase Productivity And Aren’t Classical Music’.

Digital Trends serves up ‘From classical to hip-hop, here are the best songs to listen to at work’.


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’, available now at bookstores and on Amazon.

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