With Winter Break in the rearview mirror and slowly shrinking with every subsequent day, the time for schooling and studying returns. This means preparing for another semester of new classes and getting back into the usual studying routines. To get you started off on the right foot, we compiled a list of some of the best albums to put on while studying. Now, each of these albums make for an incredible listen on their own, and I’d highly encourage you to check them out when you can focus on the music itself. However, they also allow for easy studying and focusing, while creating an optimal atmosphere for grinding out the most difficult projects.
Here are the top albums to keep you in the study zone:
Ryo Fukui – Scenery (1976)
Ya like jazz? Our first album comes from an often-over-looked genre (at least here in the States): Japanese Jazz. Ryo Fukui’s 1976 work features some of the finest jazz for a relaxed study session. Featuring just three instruments: piano, drums and bass, this album manages to create full and complex songs you can listen to for hours. More importantly for us, however, it makes for great background music to help you focus. Tracks like “It Happen To You” and “Autumn Leaves” create pleasant vibes, while other songs like “I Want to Talk About You” and the titular “Scenery” take the jazz sound in a warm but softer direction. I’d label this album as super accessible—the kind of music you play on a rainy day while writing and drinking coffee.
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (2013)
Our next recommendation comes from the 2010s, but still makes an effort to sound like the Seventies and Eighties. Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” features songs with funk straight out of the hottest disco clubs and experimental synths right out of a science-fiction movie. Songs like “Lose Yourself to Dance” and the monster hit “Lose Yourself to Dance” create dance beats you can easily get lost in, while still helping you focus. Other songs like “Instant Crush” and “Game of Love” make for easier listening when played at a quiet volume, making them ideal for studying.
“[I like] something calming and nice on the ears. It’s kind of like a therapeutic session with the homework when the songs start and I’m like, ‘You know what code/numbers? I understand you.’ Going for a Daft Punk album is usually the best thing to do. Random Access Memories is a banger of an album. I don’t know why but when something like “Give Life Back to Music” plays, I just want to work. It gives me this weird feeling of energy and calmness, a Zen mode of sorts,” Penn State junior Mohammed Alderei.
Overall, I’d label this album as pretty accessible. Only a few experimental tracks break up the poppier songs, and for the most part it makes for a funky experience. Give this one a shot even if you don’t like pop, techno or disco. You can probably find a couple tunes that’ll get your toes tapping.
Steely Dan – Aja (1977)
Jumping back to the Seventies, we arrive at arguably the best Yacht Rock record of all time. Steely Dan’s Aja fuses rock and jazz into a smooth yet lush experience that rewards listening with good headphones, while also allowing for optimal studying. Indeed, playing the opening track “Black Cow” at a low volume creates a soft yet groovy atmosphere. The way the vocals blend into the instruments means the lyrics do not distract from your work, as well. Album highlights for focusing include “Black Cow,” “Deacon Blues” and “Home at Last.”
Mick Gordon – Doom [Original Game Soundtrack] (2016)
Introducing our first video game soundtrack on the list: the Doom OST takes studying to the next level. Sometimes, in order to shut out the world completely, you just need to crank up something heavy. Of course, the soundtrack to a game about ripping demons apart with your bare hands provides “heavy” in spades. Doom takes the harsh sounds of metal and mixes them into an entrancing experience for better focusing.
“I listen to video game, movie or show soundtracks while I study, usually focused on action or adventure. The main album I end up listening to is the Doom [OST]. I ended up getting used to studying to this soundtrack so I don’t end up switching around too often anymore. I usually go with these albums because they tend to be loud enough to drown out any outside noise I might be dealing with. They also generally don’t have as many lyrics as other songs so I don’t get as distracted by the music itself,” Penn State junior Blake Wall said.
While those with an aversion to metal may not get the best focus out of the album, I would still recommend giving it at least one go. The slower tracks on the album may surprise you with how they use ambient synthwork to create different moods. Meanwhile, tracks like “Rip & Tear,” “BFG Division,” and “Cyberdemon” manage to make the task of last-minute essay writing feel that much more urgent. With a fair number of songs on the album lasting longer than five minutes, it also won’t distract you with frequent song changes.
Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994)
Departing the world of structured songs with defined instruments and silly things like lyrics, we dive into a truly ambient album with Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II. This album contains some of the strangest and most hypnotic soundscapes, with each song spanning across every kind of atmosphere you could think of. Songs like “#3,” “#13” and “#20” fill your ears with soft synth lines, creating a calm and pleasant mood. Others, like “#9” or “#19” use punchier beats, creating grooves you can nod your head to while studying. Other songs on the album range from giving nostalgic vibes to feeling straight out of a horror movie soundtrack. Regardless, the constant loops and lengthy song runtimes make this album perfect for hunkering down and focusing on a project (if you can get down with its weirder elements).
C418 – Minecraft-Volume Alpha (2011)
On the slower side of video game soundtracks, we now land at the opposite end of the spectrum. While the Doom soundtrack encouraged focus through blasting blood-pumping, high-octane rock, Minecraft encourages study through a calmer ambience. The game Minecraft centers around players exploring a new, blocky world, and challenges them to get creative with the resources they find. As such, light synths, piano and strings softly flow from one track to the next, making for an easygoing listen.
“So I’m not a big music person, but I listen to a lot of video game music and Minecraft music specifically. Number one: it’s nostalgic, so it’s nothing new, so I’m not paying attention to it more. Aside from that, video game music is made to help you focus, because it doesn’t want you to listen to it—it wants you to play the game. It helps with focusing on what you’re doing while also having something to have in the background. That’s why I listen to it,” Penn State sophomore Nova Aguirre said.
Indeed, the Minecraft OST allows for one of the most accessible options on this list. It creates an ambiance specifically tailored for studying and allows you to reach depths of focus you may not know yet. Songs like “Clark,” “Droopy Likes Your Face” and “Sweden” make for excellent additions to any study playlist. Play them softly in the background or turn them all the way up, the study vibes remain the same.
Antonio Carlos Jobim – Stone Flower (1970)
Once again, we find ourselves in the world of seventies jazz – this time with a bossa nova twist. Students who use YouTube to play their study music may find this album familiar, as the algorithm seems to recommend a lot. Whether or not YouTube offered it to you, I would highly recommend Stone Flower. The opening track “Tereza My Love” immediately draws you into a state of pleasant calm, sounding like music played in the world’s least-claustrophobic elevator. The majority of the album does not contain lyrics, making it easier to simply listen to in the background of a grind session. As with many of the other albums on this list, it also makes for a pleasant listen even when not studying, going well with walks, get-togethers and some light reading in the morning.
Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children (1998)
Boards of Canada’s debut album “Music Has The Right to Children” falls in line with “Ambient Works 2” as another vague but moody ambient album. However, Music’s vibe goes in a nostalgic direction, evoking feelings of a childhood you may or may not remember (like liminal space you can hear). Shorter songs like “Wildlife Analysis” and “Bocuma” use light synths to create a calm yet innocent sound evoking feelings you possibly did or did not experience. Meanwhile, other songs like “Roygbiv” and “Happy Cycling” use drums for a more beat-friendly sound. Throw this one on for easy listening, better studying, and the indescribable vibes.