Listening to music while working

Do you listen to music while you work? Well, did you know that some music will decrease your productivity and others will motivate you to do your best work? Don’t worry, this post will guide you through the best and worst music to listen to while working. To clarify, this article is specific to those working in jobs where you require concentration and individual deep work. If you’re a gym trainer, this blog post may not be for you!

Do you prefer to watch a video rather than read? Watch this video on the best music for productivity and motivation instead:

Here is a brief itinerary of what will be covered:

  • The sources used
  • What some of the research says about listening to music while working
  • Music listening tips
  • Genres to avoid
  • Best genres
  • My personal recommendations


A number of sources that reference a range of studies on working while listening to music were used to make this article. The three sources that were primarily used (each including a number of studies) are:

All of the research referenced in this blog come from those articles. There was a study published in the Psychology of Music back in 2005 that links listening to music with higher quality work. There was another study published in Trends in Cognitive Science, which was quite interesting that found that music was better at combating stress and anxiety than actual anti-anxiety medication for patients awaiting surgery. There’s a phenomenon that’s been discussed in this field called the Mozart Effect, which was first referenced in the 1993 study. Basically, the study suggests there’s increased brain activity that occurs when someone is listening to classical music from scans and studies.

There are other studies out there that refute some of these points and specifically reference that certain types of music like pop music with lyrics can be distracting and can impede reading and comprehension.

Tips for Listening to Music While You Work

Listening to Music while working

There is a range of great tips for listening to music while you work, these were compiled from the articles and from personal experience.

  1. Choose music that won’t distract you. You know what music you can put on in the background and just tune out or is just fine to have on while you’re working. You must be able to identify fairly easily that some music is more distracting because it engages you. There are certain types of music that are better for working out at the gym versus high concentration work. So there is a time and place for certain styles of music.
  2. It can be a good idea to listen to more engaging music between tasks. The music can give you a boost, for example, playing a favourite song to hype you up before you keep going throughout your day.
  3. Mix up what style of music you’re listening to throughout the day, and it can be very subtle. Sometimes it’s just a matter of switching to a different playlist. You might find if you’re listening to the same type of music for too long or something in a similar style, you can start losing focus because you’re really starting to tune out the music.
  4. Minding the volume is a good idea especially if you’re plugged in on headphones. Generally, it’s better if the music isn’t too loud because it can be distracting from your work and can put you at risk of hearing damage. Low to mid-volume is suggested. Working with music is, of course, a personal preference. Some people find that they’re much more effective working in complete silence.

Music Genres to Avoid While Working

Music to avoid while working

Some of the music genres to avoid are going to be fairly obvious and some of these may be less obvious.

  1. Hard rock and metal are not good for getting work done. If you enjoy these genres, they may be better for workouts. But skip it for deep office work!
  2. Another genre to avoid is rap and hip hop. Part of the reason why this can be a very distracting genre of music to listen to is that it’s very lyrically driven. A lot of the enjoyment you can get from the song is the actual words that are being spoken by the performers. It’s comparable to trying to listen to a podcast while working on something. You start concentrating more on what the artist is saying than the work you’re doing.
  3. Next: hard techno. This one is similar to hard rock and metal. It’s loud and distracting. Sorry, Skrillex. Sorry, Steve Aoki. Not good for working!
  4. Also prog rock, jazz, and avant-garde. This one’s a little less common. But in this case, it’s music that has a lot of complexity and a lot of shifting parts and passages, which can be distracting. There isn’t a lot of rhythmic or tonal consistency as opposed to the more preferred genres that will be covered later on. One addendum, early Miles Davis might not be a bad decision, but later career albums, probably give that a skip. Frank Zappa should be obvious to avoid for anyone who is familiar with his work.
  5. Avoid lyrical pop. The reason behind this is that if you listen to your favourite songs you love to sing along to, you might get caught up and sing along at your desk, rather than focusing on work. So, maybe avoid some of the more popular music that you’ll be more inclined to dance or sing along to.

The Best Music for Productivity to Listen to at Work

Classical music for work

Now on to the best genres to listen to while working. These genres are listed in the above-noted articles and from anecdotal evidence that works well for getting projects done.

  1. The first is classical music. It is completely instrumental, can be very uplifting, very calm at points, and very good for concentration. There are a lot of studies on the benefits of listening to classical music while working, reading, or studying. Occasionally, with classical, you do have to be a bit selective. Beethoven has some more upbeat bangers, and Gustav Mahler is a more experimental late 1800s composer who can be a bit shrill. Read some suggestions for classical artists below.
  2. The next best genre is nature sounds. For some people, it can be very relaxing and it’s good for enhancing cognitive function. It’s also really great for meditation and deep sleep. See what sounds work best for you, for example, from guided meditation apps. Some love the sound of rushing water but wouldn’t be as inclined to listen to birdsong.
  3. Film scores are also great to listen to while working. They are epic and sweeping, can give you an energy boost, and are instrumental. If you want to listen to film scores, choose your favourites, as familiarity is proven to improve mood.
  4. And finally, lo-fi beats and chill electronics are good options for working. These are primarily instrumental though there are some light vocals on some tracks. They don’t tend to be distracting. This is my personal go-to genre for working. What’s nice is that there’s a variety of styles and playlists for different moods. For example, early morning tropical, late-night, early sunset, etc. One positive thing about this genre is there’s enough going on to prevent distracting stray thoughts and its good background music.

Music Recommendations for Deep Work

Deep focus work with headphones

For classical, here are the recommended artists with links to Spotify albums:

For electronic, the suggested artists are:

These artists excel at working music because there’s some complexity going on with the arrangements but it’s still very chill in its atmosphere. It’s good music for deep concentration work.

YouTube Lofi Channels

There are also some great options for playlists on YouTube, especially if you don’t use a streaming service like Spotify. Here are some of the YouTube Lofi channels:


Here are a few albums that I personally love to play while I’m working. I really like:

Overall, you should avoid your favourite rock, rap, techno, and pop music genres if you are wanting to get work done. Instead, you should listen to classical, nature sounds, film scores, or lo-fi beats and chill electronics for deep concentration work that will help you 1UP your performance!

Share in the comments what your favourite album is to listen to while you work.

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