Mood Music for Writing

Molly Wright Starkweather, Kaplan University Tutor

Recently a group of writing center workers from the Southeastern Writing Center Association put together a collection of music titled “Write It Like Disaster,” which was composed by writing center tutors from across the Southeast. The creators of this album were inspired by the natural connection between writing and music making, sparking a discussion among various writing center tutors and students about what music means to their writing.

It has been proven that there are significant overlaps in the parts of the brain that process language and parts of the brain that process music (Brown, Martinez, & Parsons, 2006). It makes sense, then, that writers are drawn to music, and musicians are drawn to writing. By using the keyword “study” in a search of iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, or a similar streaming music service, one can find several options for playlists and radio stations meant for peacefully (but actively) thinking and writing.

Is there a correct genre of music, an ideal artist to listen to while studying and writing? That seems to depend on the type of academic work being completed and the stage in the reading or writing process one is in. Some writers prefer widely recognized classical music, like Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” Other writers find it helpful to tune into more minimalist pieces, preferring recent artists like Philip Glass. These are contemplative styles that move slowly, offer repetition, and/or feature soft tones, making it easier to absorb the words on the page and form reflections on the assignment at hand. The effect is probably what many think of when they hear the term background music.

There are other types of background music, too, depending on what activity level the music is meant to background. For some students, listening to a subtle dance beat or even house mixes can help when it comes to banging out a first draft. The fast rhythms, punchy melodies, and repetitious refrains make for an almost aerobic writing experience. No matter what type of music is being listened to, if the writer is given a choice to listen to a preferred genre, that writer is likely to be more productive, according to one study conducted by researchers Donohoe and McNeely (1999).

The best advice for writers in all academic avenues is to try to find good mood music for writing as part of identifying an ideal study setting. Considering the powerful potential that the human brain has to increase activity based on hearing music, it certainly seems worth a try.

Music Listening

(c) 2015



Brown, S., Martinez, M., & Parsons, L. (2006). Music and language side by side in the brain: A PET study of the generation of melodies and sentences. European Journal of Neuroscience, 23, 2791-2803. Retrieved from

Donohoe, R. & McNeely, T. (1999). The effect of music choice on writing productivity. Available from

You may also like...

2 Responses

  1. Great post once again! I’ve been recommending Baroque music for over 30 years supposed to expand the mind, but the new research is very interesting as well. I will pass this on to my students. I think it will help! Thanks!

    • starknotes says:

      Many thanks! Baroque works best for me when I am transferring sentences from a double-entry journal into a draft, since much of that process is copy and paste and minor transitioning, and I need the strong melodies and running harmonies to keep my energy up but without the distraction of vocals or “four on the floor” of upbeat house/club tunes. Thanks for passing along to your students!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: