It has been my observation that people fall into two camps when it comes to reading with music: those who do and those who don’t. I admit that I fall into the former group, and I thought it might be an interesting subject to cover. The reasons for not listening to music while reading seem pretty obvious; distraction that leads to lessened comprehension and attention to what is happening in the story is most likely the biggest drawback, but what about the positive experience of listening to music for those who choose to do so?
I will clearly only be speaking on my own behalf, but I find that I listen to different genres or artists while reading depending on what I am listening to in general. Rather than having one favorite band, I have nine (because I am difficult like that), and I usually choose them because that I have heard them many times; as such, they are more like background noise than something I am actively listening to. Cleverly, I call them The Big 9 – Circa Survive, Closure in Moscow, Coheed & Cambria, The Dear Hunter, He Is Legend, Manchester Orchestra, Mastodon, Periphery, and Radical Face. These bands usually fit well to a certain genre that I am reading; I often turn to Mastodon, whose music lends itself to epic fantasy, and He Is Legend, whose lyrics make a lot of references to superstitions and witchcraft and as such their songs have an ethereal quality with gritty riffs. For science fiction, I listen to Coheed & Cambria and Muse (I know, not in the Big 9) because their music makes a lot of references in their lyrics to science fiction literature and stories and their musical style uses a lot of digital layering and cinematic tones. Most general fiction that I read has The Dear Hunter, Circa Survive, or Radical Face in the background due to the variety of their catalogs. I do want to stress that these aren’t necessarily written in stone and a lot of what I listen to while reading depends upon what mood I am in.
When it comes time to read older literature or nonfiction, both of which typically require more of my attention to retain, I will listen to Philip Glass’s piano music because it is repetitive (in a good way) and keeps steady sound and rhythm in the background. I will also use a reading playlist I created that features classical music, film soundtracks, and other songs that are all instrumental and allow me to focus on the story at hand. As you may have noted from my Music Monday posts, I collect vinyl, but I don’t listen to it when reading because it requires stopping to get up and change the record; though, I will do so sometimes when writing. This is one of the few differences, for me, regarding listening to music while writing and while reading. I am much more open to what I listen to while writing because, as long as it fits the mood I am in, I typically can tune it out (pun slightly intended) and focus on my work.
I realize that everyone is different; we all read, listen to music, and do so many other things for our own reasons. I personally like to listen to some albums on repeat while reading a story so that the two become interlinked in my memory and I associate one with the other (The Dear Hunter’s album, Migrant, will forever be linked with Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: Wizard and Glass because the record was released while I was reading that novel). I don’t know; maybe I’m just weird.
So I suppose this is where I hand it off to you, my dear reader. Do you listen to music when you read or write and if so, how do you go about choosing what to listen to? If you don’t listen to music while reading/writing, do you have a specific reason? I would love to hear your thoughts!