My favourite tunes and sounds to study to

Your annoying housemates don’t stand a chance when you put on your headphones and turn on these background noises.

A blond girl with headphones and glasses sits on a couch, studying off of a laptop and a notebook. Photo: Ivan Samkov

Who knows if it’s truly beneficial to listen to music when you study, but with more people working and studying from home than ever, I’m guessing it’s going to become a bigger trend. I’m a person who absolutely cannot focus without something drowning out my background thoughts, so I thought I’d share my favourite tunes to listen to when I’m working. I’ve split it into three groups: albums, scores (instrumental), and background noises.

You can find a playlist of my music suggestions over at our Spotify account!



by Angelo de Augustine

I once listened to Angelo de Augustine’s song, “Time,” 73 times in a row to avoid panicking while writing a paper close to the deadline, so I can attest that his soothing voice will get you through whatever you’re working on. This album always makes me feel like I’m at a beach on a clear day, which is where I wish I was studying.


Illinois by Sufjan Stevens

Every single year, this album shows up as my “most listened” in my Spotify end-of-year wrap-up. Why? Because it’s what I listen to most while working on assignments. I also recommend his albums Carrie & Lowell, Seven Swans, and Michigan, but Illinois is still my go-to if I’m absolutely unmotivated and need to get something done. The songs flow into each other so well that I often don’t realize the album has repeated until I’m halfway through my second listen. 


Bon Iver by Bon Iver

This album is specifically great for those grey rainy days, when you need to lean into the gloom instead of fighting against it. Full disclosure: I listened to this while writing this article.


Birthplace by Novo Amor

If you’re noticing a trend of high-pitched male vocalists with string instruments playing in the background, you would be correct. Like Sufjan Stevens, I recommend basically any of Novo Amor’s releases to act as your study soundtrack, but this album is my personal favourite.


Music from Before the Storm by Daughter

OK, this straddles the line between album and score, since it’s technically the soundtrack to the video game, Life is Strange: Before the Storm. However, I think this stands as an album equal to Daughter’s other works. It’s the perfect music because it’s built to play in the background, but is also varied enough that you can use where you are in the track list to get a sense of how long you’ve been working.


Takk... by Sigur Ros

This is a great album to have on in the background while doing your readings, because unless you speak Icelandic, the band’s lyrics can’t distract you! The downside is that when you get the songs stuck in your head, you won’t be able to sing them out loud.


Bonus song: “Abbey” by Mitski

Any of y’all ever been in the middle of exam season and woken up from a fugue state at 12:30am with a finished paper and a record of listening to this song 92 times in a row? No? Me neither.




I’m no musician, so I don’t have a ton to say about these scores except that they fit my criteria for playing in the background. Said criteria is that the music is: a) varied enough that I won’t fall asleep if I’m working on a paper late; b) consistent enough that I won’t get thrown out of my focus by a dramatic shift in tone; and, c) upbeat enough that if I’m panicking about an assignment, it won’t make my anxiety worse.


Pride and Prejudice OST by Jean-Yves Thibaudet

The Theory of Everything (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Jóhann Jóhannsson

Arrival (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Jóhann Jóhannsson

Phantom Thread (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) by Jonny Greenwood

Warning: may cause you to spontaneously recreate this meme.

The Social Network by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor

If Beale Street Could Talk (Original Motion Picture Score) by Nicholas Britell



Background sounds

Sometimes you just need a bit of white noise. Personally, I find these work best when I use them in conjunction with other music, but your mileage may vary.



Coffitivity emulates the background chatter of locations like a cafeteria or campus café, so you can pretend that you’re still on campus no matter where you are. I appreciate that it lets you control the volume so you can select the best level of noise. There’s even an app to let you use it offline!



I first discovered this site about 10 years ago, and it has been a constant companion ever since. Like Coffitivity, it has its own app. And if you don’t like my taste in music, the website suggests its own daily musical accompaniment.

Mynoise has the most customization options of any background noise website I’ve encountered. There are tons of specialized playlists like Irish Coast, Japanese Garden, and Gregorian Chants. Even better, each playlist has 10 different customizable noises, so you can choose to heighten the waterfall sound while lowering the bird calls. There’s even a playlist called “Examination Time” that will prepare you for writing exams in the Dalplex when we get back on campus!