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Should I listen to music while coding?

poudyal_rabin profile image poudyal_rabin ・2 min read

When I was a teenager, I used to be a die-heart fan of 80's rock and roll music. I had maintained a handwritten lyrics book of all popular rock songs back then. From AC/DC to Eagles, Bon Jovie to Led Zeppelin, and Metallica to Guns N Roses, I used to have my phone loaded with hundreds of rock ballads.

I was quite obsessed with rock and roll. It used to be a source of dopamine to me. I used to get motivated and energized by those songs.

Now the time has changed, there has been a shift of paradigm. But the love for music is still the same. Starting my day with a simple workout with beast mode workout music is my hack to keep myself motivated to do more exercise. Even during the day while programming, I mostly wear headphones to keep myself focused and to stay away from disturbances.

But a few months back I stumbled upon an article online explaining why listening to music while coding is not a great idea. The logic is that when you are coding you are using your energy on different things - staring at the screen, solving a problem, and listening to music. You are losing energy through the eyes, ears, and, brain. You cannot close your eyes and neither you can turn off your problem-solving background job. One thing you can do is stop listening to music.

I advise using noise-canceling headphones if you want to get rid of background noise. Avoiding music while coding will help you put more energy into solving a programming problem and will make you more productive. If you do not agree with me yet, think about why people meditate with their eyes closed? They save energy doing so; which helps them to use that energy in the brain.

Trying to solve every algorithmic problem in O(logn) is not only the trait of a good programmer, trying to optimize your everyday algorithm crucial too.

Discussion (115)

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milmike profile image
MilMike

when I code and I know what I am doing I listen to fast paced music, I prefer music without vocals mostly I listen to fast Hardgroove Techno.

When I am thinking about a problem and trying to get a solution I listen to slower paced coding music (you can find them on youtube). Or just silence. As you mentioned noise cancelling headphones are good, even without any audio, just silence.

But once I have a solution or a specific todo, I go to turbo mode with techno ;)

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ratuloss profile image
Ratul

I love lofi bits so much

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devparkk profile image
Dev Prakash

Even i do

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

Hi MilMike thanks for sharing your preference. I will also give it a shot.

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pierrelampre profile image
Justin Lampe

Here has been my process thus far in regards to music choices while coding.

If I am doing tasks I do frequently, I can listen to any kind of music and be productive. But if I am grokking something rather complex, I will opt for instrumental music. I really like Rachmaninoff and Debussy. I also like vaporwave and dreamwave in these situations as well. Shameless plug If youre asking, "Whats vaporwave/dreamwave?" here is a dreamwave album I released with a friend last year:

ttime.bandcamp.com

There are also moments where I appreciate silence, but its not always an option. With the pandemic my girlfriend is often working from home in the same house as me and a lot of her work is doing zoom calls with clients and verbally walking them through things.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

Hi Justin! Thank you for sharing your opinion. You are absolutely right. Most of the time we need to find the fine balance between if we want to play music or not based on the task we are into. :) :)

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metalmikester profile image
Michel Renaud

I've been listening to music while working since the '90s. Heavy metal music.

If there's no music, I freak out. I'm also treated to construction noises, street noises (a**holes with aftermarket mufflers, emergency vehicles (fire station AND hospital nearby), barking dogs, etc. "Silence" is not a thing here. I also cannot wear headphones if there's nothing coming out of them just for the sake of trying to block external noises. I never even liked headphones. A major advantage since the apocalypse began is that I'm home and don't need to use headphones.

Some of my most productive algorithms work in university was done while listening to Motörhead.

There's no link to that article you mentioned, but I can say this:

Not everyone is the same.

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nhatnguyentim profile image
Hoang Nhat

I also love listening to Heavy metal, currently Architects band. Thanks for sharing Michel

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

Hi Michel thanks for your comment. I agree not everyone is the same.

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ninofiliu profile image
Nino Filiu

Well it depends on the mode

In creative mode, I solve complex issues that require all my focus. I shut down my music and give all my brain can give, but I can't maintain this state for 30+ minutes

In productive mode, where I code large chunks using techniques I already master. I don't need that much focus and I love having minimal techno/trance in the background, that's necessary for me to enter the flow state and stay there for hours

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ninofiliu profile image
Nino Filiu

There's also the impact of the genre on the code I produce

If I listen to long minimal techno mixes I'll be able deliver massive amount of code and stay in the flow state for a long time

But if I plug some ambient electronic music I'll be able to get very creative in the patterns I use and code things I couldn't code in a silent room

And if I listen to hard eurotrance I'll be able to sit through coding a feature I don't like (・`ω´・)

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

That's correct Nino. I agree with you

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

Exactly Nino.

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lifelongthinker profile image
Sebastian

I guess everyone has different habits, some might perform better with music, others not so much.

I myself need silence, hence I'd never work in a crowded room, two people tops, no phone calls or phones ringing, no music.

Allow me to chime in here (pedantically, I admit):

Trying to solve every algorithmic problem in O(logn) is not only the trait of a good programmer...
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

That statement is a bit misleading. I'd say a good programmer knows how to spend their time efficiently. It's not like solving performance problems with O(log n) doesn't usually come at a cost.

I'd argue in many cases our everyday code doesn't pose relevant performance issues, and thus doesn't need any optimization.

If optimization is required, most of the time we need to find a solution that is good enough, which in many cases is still far from O(log n).

After all, optimization is usually expensive.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

Hi Sebastian thank you for your insightful comment. I agree with your idea that the O(logn) thing is misleading. I was originally trying to give an analogy that real-life performance can also be improved. :) :)

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lifelongthinker profile image
Sebastian

Thanks, and I fully agree!

As long as you add Bryan Adams to your playlist, we're okay 😝😅

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

haha sure will do Sebastian. I love his songs too

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technoglot profile image
Amelia Vieira Rosado

Thanks for the insightful little post! 👏🏻 While listening to music does indeed expend energy, I still listen to music while working. Instrumentals and music with little lyrics work great for me when I am trying to concentrate on the task at hand. Songs packed with lyrics will distract me BIG time, so I opt to steer clear of them while working! 😅

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

haha, that's right Amelia. I also think lyrics-heavy songs should be avoided because part of the brain will start processing the lyrics. :D :D

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codemouse92 profile image
Jason C. McDonald

That really depends on the person! Some people are distracted by lyrics, while others (such as myself) are generally more focused with lyrics. It depends on my mood, but there are a lot of days that nothing focuses me better than rock. Other days, it's contemporary. And still other days, it's full-blown metalcore (Wolves at the Gate, yo!!)

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veelco profile image
Eelco Verbrugge

This is personal. I'm getting into the 'zone' more easily by listening to music without vocals. Especially music (sets) I've already heard 10 times plus. If the song/set is new or including vocals, it does distract me indeed. Like

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whaison profile image
Whaison

I have tried coding with melody heavy music in the background, but that didn't work for me. I would always focus more on the music than on the coding. Now I'm listening to lofi. The steady beat keeps me focused whilst not being a distraction. The music blends into the background and sometimes I don't even realize that it is even there.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

Cool. Thanks for sharing Whaison

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studiospindle profile image
Remi Vledder

Cool that you had handwritten lyrics! Most of the songs I listened to were in English which isn't my native language so listening what was said came at a later age :P.

During coding songs with lyrics and sudden noises (AC/DC :P) are distracting. But what helps me concentrate more are more monotonous (in a good way) albums. Such as for example "Tripping with Nils Frahm".

Also what is interesting is the research that shows: "A moderate level of ambient noise is conducive to creative cognition."

It's from the website coffitivity which has options to set background noise just as if you are in a cafe.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

Cool. Thanks for sharing this knowledge Remi

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doma profile image
doma.dev

Agreed!

Some people spend years coding to music to then realise how much productivity they have irrecoverably lost.

Ambient instrumental music, however, can be OK for some people, but nothing that grabs attention.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

that's true doma.dev

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frondedaniel profile image
Daniel Fronde

Thanks for this post.
When you are in a noisy environment it is true you can become less and less productive.
I used to do programming around 4h am when everyone is sleeping and the world around is quiet and I solve problem quicker, with more efficiency at this time.

But we can admit that people are little bit different, that can happen a background-music help someone else be productive 😉. But in my case I think it's quiet environment, like that I can put all my focus on the problem.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

Ya similar case for me Daniel.

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alaindet profile image
Alain D'Ettorre

Music is only needed, for me, when noise from collegues is worse than vocals from songs

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poudyal_rabin profile image
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Michael Bonner

I can't have it too quiet so I do. I do have to be careful that my "jams" are playing while I'm in the middle of something otherwise I will either get too distracted or have to take a break until the song finishes.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

ya that's right :D

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abhinav1217 profile image
Abhinav Kulshreshtha

I listen to soft EDM/ Eurobeat / Fusion mix at a low volume while coding, Since I work at home, It helps keep me focused by acting as white noise. I usually avoid new unknown songs or songs with meaningful lyrics because then it isn't in background anymore and I am listening more than coding. Therefore its an old playlist running at loop.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

That's right. It seems lyrics heavy songs are not good while coding. Thanks for sharing Abhinav

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elixirprogrammer profile image
Anthony Gonzalez

Whatever makes you feel comfortable. Sometimes I code while watching a movie or playing a video of any kind just having something playing in the background helps me relax, but most of the times I can't have any distractions when I'm completely focus.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

That's true Anthony

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jhilker profile image
Jacob Hilker

I personally can't work in silence. While I will usually turn on some Coheed or Tesseract, if I'm working on something that I keep getting stuck on, I'll turn on some instrumental music and keep going (Animals as Leaders and lofi are what I like to listen to personally).

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

That's cool. Good to know that works for you :) :)

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cswalker21 profile image
cswalker21

For me it's classical for thinking stuff, death metal for rote stuff and The Cure for debugging. ;) I know some people who blast their music while coding, but I just can't do that. It has to be very low volume, but I like it better than silence. YMMV.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

ya cswalker21 I agree

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m3hdi404 profile image
Mehdi

You can use binarual beats to increase productivity of your brain. Base on the situation you can use Gamma waves binarual beats for highest brain function and problem solving or you can use alpha waves binarual beats for more focus. Just read about brain waves and use the best binarual beats. Or either you can use 432 hz frequency(frequency of nature) it's very relaxing and good for increasing brain function.
But if you want to use your highest brain function, just use Gamma waves binarual beats when you are coding and every 30 minutes, relax on bed and play 432hz music for 10 minutes. It's really affect your brain function.
You can find binarual beats and 432hz frequency in YouTube.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

wow thanks Mehdi. I did not know that

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jrecas profile image
JReca

I can't go with silence, I need to use something to keep my mind here. So I developed a library of instrumental math rock, fusion jazz and other things that have no lyrics at all so I don't listen too much.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

sounds amazing JReca. :)

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fluxthedev profile image
John

Yay music. I love music. I play it, I feel it, I breath it. But sometimes music makes me less productive. For instance, anything with words or instrumentals from my favorite songs, I cannot listen to and code, because my mind focuses on words and familiar melodies. I have found instrumental movie sound tracks to be my bread and butter when I need to focus coding for hours at a time (or 25 mins at a time if I remember to turn on my pomello timer ha!). Here are some of my favorites: Tron Legacy by Daft Punk, Interstellar Movie Soundtrack and Social Network Movie soundtrack.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

Thanks John. Ya I totally agree on the tradoff we need to make for productivity. :)

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markokoh profile image
Mark Okoh

I prefer listening to unfamiliar music when I'm coding, rather than stuff I'm really into - it's less distracting. I find Music For Programming quite good for suitably odd, wierd, droany music to code to. I also really like the design.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

Thanks for sharing Mark. Will try that one

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Andrei Dascalu

I'm on and off about music. When I do tasks that don't require too much brainpower and are in fact more "grunt" work, I tend to put something close to my gym music, power stuff that gives energy and rythm.
Otherwise, I go between nothing and some classical music to inspire some creativity.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

cool. Thanks for letting us know Andrei

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thebenforce profile image
Ben Force

Since I started working from home I've stopped listening to music, but it was an invaluable tool when I need to concentrate with coworkers around. Also, I found that if I was really concentrating on the problem the music would "disappear" when I got into flow.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

thats right.

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pandz18 profile image
Pandz18

Hey , at least for me , I work better when I listen to chill music either indie or just acoustic , it helps calm me down and for me personally I am very productive when I’m very calm . So I guess that’s why indie and acoustic music helps boost my productivity .

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erica (she/her)

I have different playlists for different coding situations. For the stuff that I could do in my sleep, I definitely jam out. For more intense work, something like Brain Food on Spotify or some binaural beats is better, lofi is also a huge go-to for me.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
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Giovanni Minelli

Biologically yes, you shouldn't do it, to concentrate your effort in a single sensory direction (source: course of Cognitive Neuroscience at university). Personally if i listen to something music/podcast i can code for many hours straight without being tired. However when the task is mentally hard, the total complete silence is the way for me.

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

thanks Giovanni

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redhoodjt1988 profile image
RedHoodJT1988

I listen to music when I code. Whether I am learning something from documentation or just spending the day working on a project. I normally listen to heavy metal instrumentals. But occasionally I'll want to listen to something with lyrics.

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abh1navv profile image
Abhinav Pandey

There are two types of music I prefer on work days.

  1. Stuff I can sing along - This is during the breaks when I need to calm down and distract myself from the work.

  2. Stuff I can't understand - This is when I code. It it great for concentration I believe. Wanting to sing along can be distracting for me if I really need to focus. So I prefer songs in other languages or fast paced raps which are hard to keep up with.

Listening to music is an essential part of my work. If not for any other purpose, it's great for noise cancellation.

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derekcrosson profile image
Derek Crosson

I used to like silence while writing code but sometimes I listen to music or binaural beats. I figured that constant notifications in Slack is gonna distract me anyway so I'll just keep listening to music :)

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rishitkhandelwal profile image
Rishit Khandelwal

I would say don't, because I find it distracting whole coding. But it can be that ur more focused.

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Augustas Verbickas

There is a different variety of white noise, and it feels distracting at the beginning but later I get used to it. Also, it blocks outside noise better than some noise-canceling headphones. I used to work focused when I play white noise, so my brains know that it's time to focus.

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poudyal_rabin Author

cool!! thanks for sharing Augustas

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poudyal_rabin profile image
poudyal_rabin Author

ya right Rishit