This month we reached out to a new music aficionado for a study playlist: OUA’s Head of Marketing, Ted Felton. The result was … different.
Online study can be tough, with a universe of distractions a mouse click away. We all know it’s way too easy to switch into something less demanding, or more instantly rewarding. That makes it hard to focus, hard to concentrate – hard to learn.
More often than not there’s no one around you to help share the solitude. (When you’re in a packed library, at least, you get the sense that ‘we’re all in this together’.) At times like these, it can be useful to have something accompany you on the journey. And, for many students at least, music is a wonderful companion.
With that in mind, here’s some left-of-field-ish recommendations for your study playlist that you hopefully won’t have heard before.
About halfway through Milos Forman’s film Amadeus, Emperor Joseph is looking for a phrase to sum up his reaction to the Marriage of Figaro comic opera. With some prompting, he comes up with “too many notes.” And it’s true for a lot of Mozart. It demands your whole attention.
The piano concertos, though, are a different story. Simple themes – nothing too ornate – that tinkle gently by as you learn. Back in the days before university study was available online (or before online was mainstream concept, for that matter), this version (Alfred Brendel on piano and wearing some indefensible seventies fashion) was the soundtrack to most of my study sessions (via mix-tape rather than study playlist), as I wrestled with the inherent contradictions and the endless wonder of Volunteer and Radical Politics 1784-1792.
See also: J.S. Bach’s Preludes and Fugues, if precision, symmetry and beauty are important to you.
If you’ve firmly convinced yourself that all jazz is for wankers (lots of people have) perhaps it hasn’t appeared in your study playlist before. This is a great place to start your personal revolution. It’s the Köln Concert by Keith Jarrett.
Long-established as a highly regarded player within bands, having played with and been influenced by Art Blakey and Miles Davis, Jarrett broke away from these well-regarded trios and quartets and embarked on a series of solo, improvisational piano concerts in the mid-seventies, which changed everything. The result is impossible to classify. This is the most famous performance, which went on to become the best-selling solo jazz record of all time. It’s magic from start to finish, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Remember: he’s making it up as he goes along.
(Jarrett übernerd trivia: you can hear the audience gently laughing right at the start, as the first four notes echo the signal bell that announces the start of a performance at the Köln Opera House.)
Ambient music concerns itself more with texture and atmosphere than rhythm or melody. You could also call it unobtrusive and boring, and you wouldn’t be far wrong. It’s music, without being music.
Lots of people hate it. I don’t.
This record by Brian Eno has moments of gorgeousness, but it can, if you like, remain sketchily in the background, not demanding your attention. A key member of Roxy Music (next time you see an early Roxy live performance, he’s the terrifying one in the background in the full Rocky Horror make-up and feather boa) with production credits and major influences on Bowie, the Talking Heads, U2 and Coldplay, Eno knows his stuff. His Music for Airports from 1978 is broadly recognized as the first ambient record.
Feel free to revel in, or ignore, as you see fit.
If you always, always, study with music; if Tay-Tay’s the go-to girl or if some ear-splittingly hardcore tripstep’s the only way to roll in your mind, I have another suggestion for you: nothing.
Try just nothing. Silence.
It can be strangely disquieting, the absence of noise: hard to achieve, to block out the relentlessness and constant input. But if you can find a bit of quiet, have a sit with your thoughts. Watch as your attention is relentlessly drawn away. Happens to the best of us. But gradually, with a bit of patience and forgiveness, there’s a possibility that your head will gradually become clearer and you will find a comfortable, satisfying place to study, with a focus that has a quality and an intensity unmatched by the addition of a soundtrack.
Keep the tunes for when you can really enjoy them, and try focusing on one thing at a time. Might just work wonders.