Songs to Stream While Studying for Finals: Homework Music Recommendations


Anna Devine, Contributing Writer

I always thought I was one of those people who can’t do homework and listen to music at the same time. Something about hearing lyrics while writing an essay or reading a textbook just doesn’t work, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. However, I recently discovered a loophole: music without lyrics. Or music that has lyrics in a language I don’t understand. This way, my brain doesn’t fixate on processing lyrics or interpreting the song’s meaning, and I can focus on the task at hand.

The most important quality of homework/study music is its relaxation factor. Homework is stressful, and especially as we get ready for finals it’s important to make your study space as tranquil as possible. 

I personally think that I have one of the best playlists for homework music out there, and dear reader, today’s your lucky day. I’m going to be sharing a few homework music highlights with you, as we’re all going to need them as finals are approaching. Note that these are not ranked in any order of preference.

  1. “Enchanted Mirror” by Luiz Bonfá

If you’re a bossa nova fan, you may already be familiar with Luiz Bonfá’s magic. He was an extremely talented Brazilian guitarist, singer and composer with an enormous discography. He started making music in the 1940s and continued until 2001, the year in which he passed away. Bonfá has had a tremendous influence on the bossa nova scene as well as other music genres from other cultures. His song “Seville” was sampled in Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” which is an absolute banger and topped the charts in 27 countries in 2011.

“Enchanted Mirror” from Bonfá’s album “Introspection” is a dazzling tune played on a 12-string guitar with dynamic tempo changes. The richness of the sound of the 12-string combined with the ebb and flow of the tempo makes for a beautiful and emotional composition. I think the title “Enchanted Mirror” really fits the song’s enchanting qualities. If you like this song, I recommend “Yesterdays” and “Manhã de Carnaval,” also by Luiz Bonfá.

  1. “Five Hundred Miles” by Mamman Sani

Mamman Sani builds airy, dreamlike arpeggios in “Five Hundred Miles.” Mamman Sani is from Niger and considered a pioneer in West African avant garde and experimental music. Throughout most of his discography, his instrument of choice is an electric organ (specifically an Italian model called the ‘Orla’) that he discovered on a trip to Europe as a UNESCO delegate. He uses the electric organ to create experimental renditions of classic Niger folk songs.

The delicate sounds of the electric organ are beautiful, but I think my favorite part of this song is the soft crashing waves in the background. There’s also a very faint whistling toward the end, if you listen closely. These additions bring a really sweet and bright mood to the track, and it certainly makes me feel comforted when I’m working on a painstaking assignment.

  1. “If You’re Sure You Want To” by Alabaster DePlume

“If You’re Sure You Want To” by Alabaster DePlume is a beautifully crafted song with a sweet and simple melody. The wide arrange of instruments used to carry out this melody really adds to the texture of the song. The song starts out with a gentle saxophone, simple piano notes and violin plucking. As it builds, we hear more legato violin arco — when the strings are played using a bow — and we get some fun percussion sounds. The cherry on top of this tune, though, is the sweet little forest noises and bird chirps. They are faint, but they remind me of spring and enhance the song’s ambiance, making it a perfect tune for finals time.

  1. “Tobiume” by Susumu Yokota

This song is a bit more synth-y/electronic. It uses cool synth loops that make me feel like I’m in outer space. The complex layering of these loops is mesmerizing, but in a strange way, I also find it motivating.

Susumu Yokota was a Japanese musician who made and released over 30 albums from 1992 to 2012, specializing in genres like ambient, acid techno, downtempo electronic music and more. He is celebrated for his creative use of organic samples and the spellbinding way in which he arranges them. His early work in the early 1990s was more dancey electronic, then he turned more toward ambient and experimental styles in the 2000s. If you like “Tobiume,” definitely check out more of his massive discography. I really like his album “Cloud Hidden,” which is very experimental and makes me feel artsy.

  1. “Discreet Music” by Brian Eno

My all-time favorite relaxing study tune is Brian Eno’s 1975 masterpiece “Discreet Music.” This track is 31 minutes and 34 seconds full of blissful reassurance. No matter how stressed you are, Eno’s silky synthwork will put you in a trance. 

I also like the fact that it’s 31 minutes long because it acts as a measure of time and productivity. If I finish an assignment within the time window of “Discreet Music” as a full track, I know that I’ve been productive during that half hour.

When creating “Discreet Music,” Brian Eno took conceptual inspiration from French classical music composer Erik Satie’s term “furniture music” which describes ambient music with a tendency to melt into the environment and to become a part of the room, like furniture. In his book Silence, American composer and music theorist John Cage writes that “furniture music” softens “the noises of the knives and forks at dinner, not dominating them, not imposing itself. It would fill up those heavy silences that sometimes fall between friends dining together.”

As you listen to “Discreet Music” by Brian Eno, you may notice the “furniture music” cushioning the noise of your moving pencil or clacking of your keyboard.

I hope you found a song or two that tickles your fancy and keeps you motivated during this finals season. These tracks aren’t only for studying; they’re also great for making art, journaling, cleaning your room or perhaps interpretive dancing.

If you liked these songs and want to hear more awesome and motivating homework music, check out the whole playlist I have here!