How to Read with Music

I can’t say why, but music and reading have always gone hand in hand for me. I find that I can read for longer times and enjoy the book more when there is music that goes along with it. I’ve had friends comment, though, that they have never been able to read and listen to music at the same time. They claim that it’s too distracting and breaks their focus.


Photo courtesy of suchitra prints


Now I’ve never had a real hard time focusing on reading, but I understand the complaint, and here are some tips for being able to listen to music while reading.

  • Pick music with simple lyrics (or no lyrics at all). With all the talk of multi-tasking, your brain can really only concentrate on one thing at a time. To avoid distraction, don’t give your brain another set of words to decipher. If your mind is busy trying to figure out what “I need a photo-opportunity/I want a shot at redemption/Don’t want to end up a cartoon/In a cartoon graveyard” really means, then it’s going to find it hard to focus on the book you’re reading.
  • Pick music you already know. This goes along with the first tip. If the music you’re listening to is familiar, you won’t be trying to figure out what it’s saying. Plus, you won’t be trying to figure out if you like it or not while you’re also trying to read a book.
  • Keep it soft and in the background or loud and in the foreground. When reading, it’s best to either have the music in the background and turned down (simply to break the silence) or have it in your ears and loud (to shut out other noise).
  • Watch the beat. When picking music to read to, you’ll want to avoid anything with a real strong beat. Throbbing techno, dance or rap music probably isn’t your best choice. If it makes you want to get up and move, it probably won’t help you sit and read.

Great Music for Reading

Here’s a short list of artists that I listen to while reading:

  • Anything classical. Mozart, Vivaldi, Rachmaninoff — you pick. There are no lyrics here, and depending on the particular piece you’re listening to, it can really feed into the pacing and atmosphere of the book. It’s kind of like theme music in a movie.
  • Instrumental Jazz. There’s a bunch that fit into this category; Miles Davis, Kenny G and Benny Green come to mind. It gives your living room (or headphones) that coffee house feel, and again stays nicely in the background of your mind.
  • Enya. Okay, so Enya does have lyrics, but half the time I can’t understand them at all, so it’s almost like they’re not there.
  • Sarah McLachlan. This one is an exception to the lyrics rule, too, but something about her voice takes the lyrics out of play.
  • John Mayer. His music has a way of sitting in the background and just keeping you company. It’s not demanding enough to get in the way of good read.

Those are my quick tips. Any other tips for reading with music? Let us know in the comments.

2 thoughts on “How to Read with Music

  1. I wholeheartedly agree. I find that I’m actually a ‘sharper’ reader when I am able to block out the sounds of the dishwasher, street traffic, kid(s), cats, etc. My personal fave tunes for reading? The soothing sounds of darkwave, triphop duo Hungry Lucy. Dreamy and ethereal enough to not compete with the words on the page.

  2. Pingback: Reading Music « A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook

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