Soundtracks for Studying and Writing

By: Emily Catenzaro

I listen to soundtracks for fun. I’m not sure if it’s because of my background in figure skating, because I’m a big movie buff, or I just love music in general, but I’ve listened to soundtracks since I was a kid. When my peers were really excited about Eminem, I was listening to the scores from Lord of the Rings and Moulin Rouge. When I started college, I noticed that listening to music without lyrics became a more popular study tool. I completely support this trend. If you’re a writer or a student, you probably already know the value of a good soundtrack. To help facilitate the habits of my fellow writers, here is a list of some great soundtracks I’ve stumbled across over the years. Hopefully, you will discover something new!

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Alexandre Desplat

Let’s start with some soothing, emotional piano. The title track is really melodic, and I predict it will get stuck in your head for hours. This is a great soundtrack to listen to while studying or writing a long paper. It’s distinct enough to be enjoyable, but it’s also monotonous enough to fade into the background when you really need to concentrate. This score is like a lullaby: it’s classic and beautiful, but will also lull you into a quiet place when you need to work.

Key tracks: Title track; “Piano Lessons with Grandma”; “Visiting the Blacks”; “Oskar’s Monologue”

Good for… Studying, writing long papers.

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The Tudors: Season 2 (Music From the Showtime Original Series)

Trevor Morris

This is an order: go listen to The Tudors soundtracks (all of them, if you can). If you’ve never heard them before, drop what you’re doing and go listen. Some people might be thinking: if you’re going to include the soundtrack of a sword-fighting epic TV series, why not Game of Thrones? Good question. The Game of Thrones soundtracks are beautiful, but The Tudors wins it for me every time. The music is both energetic and involved, but just benign enough to fade into the background when I’m writing. When I listen to Game of Thrones, the melodies and the songs are too distinct. It’s a sure way to end of fantasizing about Westeros instead of my own writing.

I recommend all 4 season’s soundtracks if you have access to a streaming service. One master playlist of Seasons 1-4 back-to-back is guaranteed to fuel a very solid writing session. However, if you only want to purchase one, I would recommend the score from Season 2. This soundtrack contains the most powerful songs and the music is particularly exciting (probably because Season 2 of the show covers the juicy Anne Boleyn plotline).

Key tracks, Season 1: Main title, “Henry Meets Anne Boleyn”; “An Historic Love”; “Wolsey Commits Suicide/Finale”

Key tracks, Season 2: “And So It Begins”; “Katherine Stripped of Her Jewels”; “Nothing on Earth Shall Spoil This Day”; “Farewell to a Queen”

Key tracks, Season 3: “A Howling Wilderness”; “A Fight in Court”

Key tracks, Season 4: “The Execution Ballet”

Good for… Paper writing, writing scenes of courtly love, tragic romance, or other heart-wrenching fiction.

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Inception (Music From the Motion Picture)

Hans Zimmer

This soundtrack is the go-to for when you’re writing exciting fiction. Are you working on a science fiction piece, some action-packed epic, or a suspenseful mystery? Do you need music to compose an exciting chase scene, a big fight scene, or your ‘black moment’? Then this is the soundtrack for you. I’ll admit that there is a lot of synth here, but it gives the songs big, sweeping sounds. And as a senior in college, I’ll let you in on one of my secrets: if you’re only halfway through your assignment and your deadline’s in an hour, this music will also kick your motivation into high gear for crunch time.

Key tracks: “We Built Our Own World”; “Dream is Collapsing”; “528491”; “Mombasa”; “Time”

Good for… Action or science fiction writing, crunch time for studying.

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The Social Network (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)

Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

The Social Network is blessed with one of the coolest, most refreshing soundtracks in recent memory. The music here is as alert and focused as Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue in the movie. I’m a big Nine Inch Nails fan, so I’m biased, but soundtracks are clearly Trent Reznor’s new creative calling. If you like a strong, monotonous beat to do homework to (or write to), this is your gig. I’d swear by its ability to foster creativity as you work.

Key tracks: “In Motion”; “A Familiar Taste”; “Intriguing Possibilities”; “The Gentle Hum of Anxiety”

Good for… Coding (yes, I am that nerdy that I sometimes code to this), writing boring papers, performing elaborate research.

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The Last of the Mohicans (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Trevor Jones & Randy Edelman

Sweeping, elegant, passionate, and unique are just some of the words I would use to describe The Last of the Mohicans soundtrack. If you’re like me and you spend your time listening to soundtrack channels on Pandora, you’ve surely run into this one before. The whole album, however, is worth the listen. The intensity that fuels the plot of The Last of the Mohicans comes through in the passionate urgency of the soundtrack, and it kind of makes you want to run around the woods like they do in the opening scene of the film. It also reminds me of my beloved Tudors soundtracks for all of the raw emotion available to its listeners.

Key tracks: Main title; “Elk Hunt”; “The Kiss”

Good for… Writing heartbreaking stories of marginalization and racial tensions.

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Mad Max: Fury Road (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Junkie XL

One of the greatest, most exciting soundtracks I’ve ever heard. Period. I listen to this when I’m desperately studying, when I need to brainstorm story ideas, or when I’m about to skate at a big event and I’m really nervous. Be forewarned: listening to this soundtrack is akin to taking an espresso shot. It should be saved for when you’re dragging yourself through finals week and you don’t think you can make it, mentally or physically, through one more exam. Plus, it sounds cool as hell and probably freaks people out when they hear it blaring from the car next to them. I can’t say enough about how cool this soundtrack is, so give it a listen.

Key tracks: Basically all of them. “Brothers in Arms”; “Chapter Doof”; “Spikey Cars”; “Escape”; “Immortan’s Citadel”; “Blood Bag”; “The Chase”

Good for… Getting pumped, writing crazy or otherworldly fiction or epic chase scenes, a shot of energy when you’re limping through finals week.

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Memoirs of a Geisha (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

John Williams, Yo-Yo Ma, & Itzhak Perlman

Take it from my years in skating, anything boasting Yo-Yo Ma is going to contain the most incredible, emotional violin you’ve ever heard in your life. Similarly, Williams is one of the most recognizable composers in the world (he composed the score for Star Wars and Jurassic Park, to name a few). This soundtrack has beautiful, elongated notes, cool drums, and gentle melodies that are recognizably Eastern in their origins (if that’s your thing). Like some of my other favorite soundtracks, this one is distinct, but slides easily into the background when you’re trying to work. It makes a comforting soundtrack for writing as well as studying.

Key tracks: “The Chairman’s Waltz”; “Going to School”; “Sayuri’s Theme”; “Becoming a Geisha”

Good for… Romance writing, research paper writing, long study sessions.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Michael Giacchino

I purposely didn’t include an original Star Wars soundtrack by John Williams, and it’s not because I don’t love them. However, much like Game of Thrones, I find writing to any recognizably Star Wars song to be incredibly distracting. I end up fantasizing about Star Wars instead of my own work. Rogue One offers the solution to this problem. There are some familiar melodies threaded through these songs, so it feels like you’re listening to Star Wars, but it’s a whole new auditory world to explore. This score is also nice and compact, and it moves swiftly through the track list (unlike some other Star Wars soundtracks…I’m looking at you, The Force Awakens).

Key tracks: “He’s Here for Us”; “Trust Goes Both Ways”; “When Has Become Now”; “Confrontation on Eadu”; “Rebellions Are Built on Hope”; “Jyn Erso & Hope Suite”

Good for… Writing papers, brainstorming, or just de-stressing from school and life in general.

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Angels & Demons (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Hans Zimmer & Joshua Bell

I love Hans Zimmer. I included this score because it’s a great soundtrack in general, not just good background music for writing. Many of these songs are amazing. However, the movie itself wasn’t hugely successful, so it might not be on many music-lover’s radars. More people need to be aware of this soundtrack’s existence, and the exciting mix of synth and violin it uses (sounds weird, but it works).

Key tracks: “160 BPM”; “Science and Religion”; “503”

Good for… Writing epic or paranormal fiction, journaling your heart out.

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Nicholas Hooper

It’s so hard to pick just one Harry Potter soundtrack. But I wouldn’t be a loyal Potterhead if I didn’t include at least one of this series’ scores on my list. Listening to Order of the Phoenix is a perfect way to get some Potter into your life. This soundtrack merges the highly playful with the suspenseful, while maintaining its emotional weight (listen to all the beautiful melodies) as Harry’s character becomes more mature. And it’s not too distracting for a highly distractible mind. Win-win!

Key tracks: “Fireworks”; “Professor Umbridge”; “A Journey to Hogwarts”; “Loved Ones and Leaving”; “Flight of the Order of the Phoenix”

Good for… All manner of writing, plotting mischievous deeds for your characters, crying over the Harry Potter series.

That’s all for now! I’m always on the lookout for new tracks, so if you have any other recommendations about soundtracks I may have missed, please leave your ideas in the comments below.

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