MusicEvery couple of years or so I seem to come full circle and arrive at the same conclusion, there must be something wrong with me. You see, I hate coding and listening to music at the same time! That’s right, all my friend seem to be able to do it, most people I know swear by it, even popular media tries to push us that way, but I just can’t do it. Music distracts and annoys me when I am coding, am I the only one?

There are 2 schools of thought when it comes to listening to music and doing creative-analytical activities like coding. It all hinges on your right brain (as opposed to your wrong left brain :)).

  • Some people believe that doing a right-brain activity such as listening to music, fully engages that half of the brain. This means that there is no leftover right-brain capacity to devote to your coding task. This will not prevent you from coding effectively, but it does prevent you from being able to do things that are normally associate with the right side of the brain such as, intuitive leaps of logic when debugging, or seeing large patterns in the code and bending them into different shapes. Instead your coding will be more logical and formulaic relying on prior knowledge and opinions you have formed about coding style and practices.
  • Other people believe that listening to music will actually stimulate the right side of the brain making you more able to deal with coding tasks that require right-brain input (such as the ones I mentioned above). This means you’re a more creative, intuitive and a better coder overall when music is playing.

So What About Me

From my own personal experience I have found that I can focus a lot better with no music. I can code fine when there is music playing, but I do tend to be a little more distracted and it really does seem like I am less intuitive and creative when this is the case. Everything I know about learning styles tells me that there should be many other people like me. But, I suspect that the opposite is also true, there are plenty of people who would be more effective coders with music.

So What About You

Much depends on your learning style and how your brain is wired. Because the right side of the brain is involved nothing is immediately obvious, the only way to find out what group you belong to is to engage in some experimentation. You need to try out both styles (with music or without) and observe your effectiveness carefully. Many of you are probably thinking that you already know you’re the musical kinda coder, thing is, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that some of you are wrong.

We all like music (well, most of us), and many developers believe that because they enjoy music, they should listen to it when they code. This is not necessarily the case. I love music, but much self-examination has told me that coding and music don’t mix well in my case. Music can help you retain information and can help you form associations that you can use to retrieve that same information more easily. But it is only one of the many ways people can form such associations and if you’re not wired as a musical type of learner, it may not be an effective tool for you and may actually be hurting your effectiveness as a coder. Just like I encourage everyone to figure out their learning style, I would also encourage all developers to take another look at whether music and hackery are a good mix in their case. If for no other reason then at least do it for my sake, I don’t want to be the only non-musical coder :).


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Image by shankar, shiv