Music to write by?

Do you listen to music while you write? A Mozart sonata? John Coltrane’s sax or some classic Miles Davis? A bit of the Cuban touch? Coldplay‘s lastest CD? Or soundtracks from your favourite movies?

It could be that, to work successfully, you need a blur of background sound to keep away the silence. Or is it deliberately chosen music that fits the mood of the piece you’re writing? Or do you prefer silence?

I’ve asked some writers their preferences….

New Zealand author, Brian Falkner has a very definite way of working – he finds a specific piece of music that reflects the kind of emotion in the scene he’s writing. If it’s an important or emotional scene, he sometimes spends as much time trying to find an appropriate piece of music as he does writing the scene. (See Brian’s website on the sidebar)

I find that the right music can not only affect you emotionally while you are writing, but it can also bring imagery to mind that you can use in the scene.’  Usually he uses the music choice once because then it’s become tied to that particular book and scene in his mind.

Here’re some of Brian’s choices, (if you know the music you can imagine the scene he’s writing):
1812 Overture / Barber’s Adagio for Strings  / Quidam (Almost the entire album) – Cirque du Soleil  /  Firebird Suite – Stravinsky  /  Night on Bald Mountain – Mussorgsky  /  Ave Maria – Schubert  /  Oh, Fortuna – Orff /  The Swan – Saint-Saëns

Australian author, Claire Saxby finds music keeps her going if she’s writing something new, and it tunes out ambient noise. She says beat music will keep the words flying. Favourite titles include Augie March’s two albums, The Frames (Irish band), Waifs, Cat Empire, Paul Kelly. Familiar albums allow for subliminally absorbing – so much so, often she doesn’t notice them finish.

Michael Bauer, a fellow Ashgrovian, and the author of the splendid story, The Running Man (and others), confesses to needing silence when he works because he’s easily distracted. ‘I thought I’d give it a go so I put on a cd but I couldn’t write a thing because I kept listening to the music! Maybe I just didn’t pick the right songs?’

Michael does have a point – there is music it’s impossible to write by – I’ve tried it. The latest I’ve tried is a Christmas gift from my sister in Washington – called Rhythms Del Mundo CUBA. A collection of musicians, from Coldplay, Sting, Artic Monkeys, to Quincy Jones and Ibraham Ferrer (from The Buena Vista Social Club) and others, playing their music with a Cuban influence – all with the intent of raising funds and awareness about climate change. Great music! But why is it impossible to write by? How can one key words when one is too busy salsa-ing?

My favourites to write by depend on what I’m working on…  if it’s an action scene or dramatic dialogue, then it’s the soundtrack from The Lord of the Rings – especially when the orcish army is storming Helm’s Deep. For background music, I’m back in my Celtic ancestry with any of five Loreena McKennitt CDs. Or Paul Kelly’s Songs from The South.

P.S. My favourite Music quotes:
‘Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom.  If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.’  ~Charlie Parker
‘Life can’t be all bad when for ten dollars you can buy all the Beethoven sonatas and listen to them for ten years.’  ~William F. Buckley, Jr.

So, do you have music favourites to work by? Love to hear your choices.

Here’s a video of Rhythms del Mundo CUBA – enjoy!

10 thoughts on “Music to write by?

  1. Hi Sheryl! I love muic. I sing in a band as well as write. I always listen to 80’s music when I am writing. Nothing gets my blood pumping or my creativity flowing like Def Leopard or Air Supply! lol



  2. I do and I don’t: at times I love listening to classical music (background only) and at other times I feel the need for complete silence! Thank you, by the way, for popping in on my blog and apologies for not having returned the visit so far – it’s been a crazy month. I’ll add you to my blog roll and hope to visit again soon. You’ve got a lovely site…


  3. Paul, this Michael is an award-winning Australian writer of a number of novels for children – I love his story the ‘The Running Man’ (which he won a Children’s Book Council Award for).


  4. I must admit I prefer music without words, instrumentals, to write to, especially Jazz. I wonder if this is the same Michael Bauer, a poet friend of mine from California?


  5. Hi Sheryl – I mentioned your discussion on music and writing and I linked to your blog on my last Insideadog post. Cheers.


  6. Dale – I’m exactly the same! You stole my response 🙂 Yes, I too was going to say I can’t listen to any music because of the words. I’m a sing-a-long person too. And yes, I too even hum along to classical music, so it distracts me also. I need complete silence when I write. Only the sounds of the natural world. Crickets. Birds. Parents screaming at their kids next door … oh the joys of suburbia.


  7. Have to say I can’t even remember what I had on the cd player today – I was finishing off a scary story and I scared myself – how weird is that!


  8. I don’t listen to music when writing because the only music I ever listen to has words I can sing along with, though I have been known to sing along with an insrumental or two as well. I m such a word person. And if I’m singing along I can’t concentrate on writing. I have my computer very firmly on silent. I’m feeling pretty happy today aftr working on a new kids story and updating my blog, among other things.


  9. Sheryl, You’ve inspired me. I’ve always written in silence (four kids, how I love silence). But now I’m off to find music to write by. Will let you know how I go in my quest!


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