Does music soothe your writing beast/muse?

Do you listen to music while you work? A Mozart sonata? John Coltrane’s sax or some classic Miles Davis? A bit of the Cuban touch? Coldplay’s latest 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? Does it relate to your work in progress? Or do you prefer silence?

I’ve asked a few of my writerly friends about  their preferences….

If Australian author, Gabrielle Wang wants to write a particularly emotional scene she might listen to Bach. But apart from those moments she don’t like music on while she writes as she get too carried away by it and can’t focus on the story inside her head.

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.

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

Adagio for Strings (watch it, I guarantee this will send a shiver up your spine – one of the most powerful, poignant compositions ever made).

Australian author, Dee White has a different way to write.

I don’t listen to music. I enjoy writing in the quiet or immersing myself in the sounds of nature outside my door. At the moment, I’m enjoying writing on the deck with the sounds of the river rushing past:)

Claire Saxby, another Aussie children’s author, 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 Gerard 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 that is impossible to write by – I’ve tried it. Like Rhythms Del Mundo CUBA. It’s is a collection of musicians, from Coldplay, Sting, Arctic 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 sit at the computer churning out another story when one is too busy salsa-ing?

Nathan Bransford, U.S. author and blogger doesn’t listen to music much, but his blog has some interesting comments on the topic.

My favourite music to write by depend on what story 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 Orcs are 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.

Do you have music favourites to work by? I’d love to hear your choices.

Here’s some music to get you in the groove!  Coldplay‘s Clocks on the album, Rhythms Del Mondo with a very Cuban beat. Even better than the original version.

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.


13 thoughts on “Does music soothe your writing beast/muse?

  1. Silence is golden, but when my children are raging and I’m having ‘writing time’ then house music on headphones drowns them out and I can tune out the music – any sort of mindless doof-doof with no intrusive lyrics becomes just white noise! (


  2. I sourced some medieval music on the internet once and it transported me back in time as my fingers flew over the keyboard. Otherwise I find music distracting.


  3. Electronica, minimalism, dubstep, dub, classical or Baroque for the early mornings, Motorhead, Tool, Ministry, Hank III, Underworld or contemporary dance for the late afternoons to spur me on to that deadline, Hank Williams, Townes van Zandt and early Americana for those high lonesome moments in between. Loud.


  4. I never listen to music while writing beacuse I don’t like instrumentals. I only ever listen to music with words. Of course the thing being then I can sing along and do, but I can’t sing and write at the same time. Used to be able to when I was a teenager but lost that skill somewhere along the way.


  5. I enjoyed this post, Sheryl. It’s always great to read how other writers work. I have to agree with some of the comments from authors and readers of your blog. If I listen to music, I get immersed in it and get distracted from my writing.



  6. I love music but find it too distracting to write to, especially anything I can put words to or that has words.
    I prefer silence, though I’ve been known to write (esp first drafts) in trains and other places with people chattering and noise all around me.
    I think it’s like when I’m driving, if I get to a busy place where I need to think I have to turn the radio down. (Is it a case of quietening some senses so others sharpen?)
    Fortunately I live in a quiet place where the birds are only occasionally drowned out by an odd lawnmower.


  7. What I hate, Elaine, is when I’ve played a favourite song too much and it gets stuck in my head when I try to go to sleep. I think of an alternative to chase it away – usually the Beatles, ‘When I’m 64’. Why that one??? a mystery. 🙂


  8. I just listened to Adagio for Strings. Sheesh!

    I need silence to write – which is tricky when you live in a house with teenagers!


  9. I can only play classical music when I’m writing or editing – Mozart, Vivaldi or Beethoven. Anything with words, or any music I know the words to, distracts me.


  10. I find it depends on what I’m writing – some music fits the mood perfectly. Most of the time I even forget it’s on – a whole soundtrack plays before I realise it’s finished. Memory is probably the stongest component of music, I reckon. Like: for me, the music of the band, Creedence Clearwater Revival sends me back to being a carefree 22 year-old travelling the world. Oh, what a feeling! 🙂


  11. I love music too – and might play something to help transport me into a mood that fits a particular storyline. But I can’t have it playing while I’m actually working. As Michael says, it’s far too distracting, and yes Shelley – you explain it perfectly – it interrupts the rhythm of the words.


  12. I love music. Especially, J.S. Bach. But I can’t listen to music and write. It disturbs the rhythm of the words.


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