Can you listen and think at the same time?

What music do you listen to when you’re reading or writing? For ages I couldn’t listen to music at all when I wrote, which was a source of great distress. More recently I’ve been able to write briefly with any familiar music on, but if I really want to concentrate for a long time it either has to be silent, or something instrumental (Handel, Brian Setzer, Bix Beiderbecke, Benny Goodman – I have strange tastes and spotify caters for most of them). When I’m reading I can have any familiar music on, and I often listen to music on the train purely so I can drown out the annoying conversations around me (particularly those loud, one-sided, mobile phone ones) so that I can focus on my book, but when I was a teenager I found silence made me jumpy and music was sometimes too distracting so I had to have a tape of soothing, innocuous music I could use as background when I settled down (alone in the house) with a book (though I seem to recall I could do homework with music on). Funny how these things change – I’m still hoping for the future ability to write for hours while listening to those hair metal stations on my internet radio.



  1. I find I can no longer do serious writing with music, or any other noise. When I started I could, and did, listen to rock stations while I worked, but I am one of those weird folks who almost instantly memorize the lyrics of a song. Two pass-throughs usually do it. If I can sing along (even internally) I do. That just doesn’t work.

    For awhile I tried classical music, and that worked very well. I also dabbled with songs sung in languages I cannot pick words out of. But again, that took too much brain away from the work at hand.

    I am a person afflicted with rampant “ear-worms”, so just about any quiet time or place is instantly filled in with music from memory.

    These days, writing (mostly) puts that noise to rest.

    1. I have songs I’ve known and loved for years but still don’t know (or can’t retain) the words to, so I guess my problem’s not the same as yours. I do usually have music in my head though (to the extent that sometimes I don’t realise I haven’t been listening to the album). I’m spending an ever-increasing amount of time writing so it would be a real wrench never to be able to listen to music while I’m doing it – I’ll just have to keep on trying.

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