What music do you write/code to?

My friend Jason can’t listen to music or anything when he’s coding. When I worked at Download.com, lots of editors and developers wore headphones and listened to music as they worked. I don’t know what they were listening to, but it was quite prevalent (and made for a very quiet workplace). Then again, when I moved to another group just 50 feet away on the same floor, almost nobody seemed to listen to music or wear headphones as they worked.

When I’m writing or coding, I like to listen to music. But I’ve found it very hard to concentrate on writing, editing, or reading words when the music has lyrics. It seems the language part of my mind has trouble concentrating on the words I’m trying to work with if it’s hearing other language in the background.

Velma just walked into the room and said something to me as I was typing that last sentence, which reminds me of another way language can totally derail my train of thought when I’m writing. But more about that another time : )

I find it a lot easier to write or code to instrumental music. When I want to be energized I often listen to up-tempo drum and bass or something, but when I really need to concentrate I usually switch to classical. This seems especially necessary when I’m trying to read and digest something difficult to understand, or I’m working on a particularly tough bit of code that just won’t work right.

Most of the time, though, rock music with lyrics playing in the background doesn’t seem to have much effect on my ability to concentrate on other tasks (it seems reading and writing are the ones affected most). I’ve worked this way for so many years (since 6th or 7th grade, at least), it seems I’ve become accustomed to it. And, fortunately, I’ve become aware of my limitations too, which is why I’m glad there is still a classical radio station in the Bay Area.

I’m curious whether other people have similar or different stories. Please comment!

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