A lot of people ask me “how in the world do you manage to read and listen to music at the same time?” Then I yank off my headphones and say “HUH?” really loudly and everyone in the room turns to look at me.
I like my music loud. But in any case, my answer to that question is simple: typically I’m listening to soothing piano music, or goofy techno beats. This ‘atmospheric’ music is meant to serve a few purposes: to block out nearby conversations; to get me feeling relaxed (or excited, depending); and to also avert potential conversations. Sometimes, people are brave or impolite enough to interrupt others who are quite immersed in their book. It’s a fact of life: other people will talk even as you flip the pages, even as you make coughing noises, and even as you make only the softest of grunting noises to confirm (or deny) that you are listening intently.
Having headphones on makes it less likely that you will be interrupted.
But if I haven’t made it clear yet, I listen to instrumental music when I read, or when I do homework. It was certainly a leap to being with: I had no clue whether or not I’d like it at all. The only instrumental music I’d ever listened to up until maybe ninth grade was a small array of Rush jam sessions and Joe Satriani guitar solos. Honestly I was thrilled with neither. In fact, classic rock now bores me half to death. It was a phase, we all had them. Or maybe only I did, and I’m just compensating.
In any case, my musical taste now is pretty rad. I’ve always been told to be diverse, and I’d say I’ve stuck to that mantra pretty well. I can appreciate pretty much anything except harsh rock and metal. Also, sometimes new country songs peeve me. In spite of its popularity, I’ve found myself griping about “Hey Ho” by The Lumineers. I find it disagreeable for some reason.
But that still leaves me with a wide range of genres, doesn’t it (well, let’s exclude ska while we’re at it)? It sure does, and I listen to ’em all.
Let’s cover a big and modern category first: instrumental music by bands that normally sing. There are many, many typically vocal bands that release albums with a few instrumental songs thrown in:
“North” by Phoenix (great study song)
“F*ck This Shit” by Belle and Sebastian
“Oscillate Wildly” by The Smiths
“Jumbo Blimp Jumbo” by Kyuss
“Life in Technicolor (Instrumental)” by Coldplay
There’s a short list that I’ve downloaded and listen to–they’re really great, and sometimes if I’m really into a band I’ll search the web or iTunes to see if they’ve released any instrumental tracks. Sometimes they are instrumental versions of some of their other songs, and other times they’re completely standalone.
The next category is completely instrumental bands. These actually pop up more than I’d have thought to begin with, but I’m glad they do. One time, I was in seventh grade or so, and I searched “;” in the iTunes search bar. I played the first song that came up, “;” by The Coma Lilies. It was nothing special at all. It was actually just random, discordant chiming. But the rest of the album that surrounded that song–the album was titled “Memento Mori” and was an obscure prog EP–was so brilliant that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend it with my 7th grade mind. I’d stumbled upon something that I would enjoy for an exceptionally long time. The EP itself has several gems: “What Do I Have To Do To Check My E-mail?” is one, a fast-paced and intense song, and “P*nis Envy,” my personal favorite, has astounding buildup, as well as a remarkable effect on my countenance while I listen. Here are some instrumental bands to give a listen:
The Coma Lilies
Explosions In The Sky
God Is An Astronaut
And then we get to the classical stuff; the compositions and the symphonies and whathaveyou. I can appreciate a wider variety of classical music, it seems, the more I listen to it. I think my favorite so far is Brahms. His stuff is just so rad. But of course otherwise you’ve got the patriarchal, eternal composers like Bach and Beethoven and Mozart and Chopin and Liszt, etc. Here are some pieces I especially enjoy:
“Intermezzo” by Johannes Brahms
“Rhapsody In Blue” by George Gershwin
“Turkish March” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
“Lux Aeterna” by Clint Mansell (LOTR: Twin Towers / 300 theme! read next category for more…)
“Andante” [part of Piano Concerto 2 in B-Flat Major] by Johannes Brahms (again)
If you’re like me, you like the buildup in an instrumental song, too. Here comes the movie/TV scores, the stuff that’s really blatantly designed to evoke some sort of feeling. Sometimes it gets your blood pumping, other times it stimulates your sadness, but whatever the case, there’s a certain quality that I like about this category: nostalgia. Every time I hear Joe Hisaishi’s “One Summer’s Day,” I can picture the car bouncing, the passengers jostling around at the beginning of “Spirited Away” (a fantastic movie, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again). There are so many feelings to be had with pieces from Original Soundtracks (OSTs) from your favorite movies. This category is really entirely up to you, because chances are you’ve seen some brilliant movies that I haven’t, and vice versa. But here are some of my favorites:
“The Sixth Station” by Joe Hisaishi (Spirited Away)
“Theme [from Jurassic Park]” by John Williams (Jurassic Park)
“Theme [from Braveheart]” by James Horner (Braveheart)
“Ashitaka and San” by Joe Hisaishi (Princess Mononoke)
“Elysium” by Hans Zimmer, Lisa Gerrard, Klaus Badelt (Gladiator)
And lastly, this category is all video game music. That’s right. Equally nostalgic as movie scores is old video game music that brings us back to certain points in our life. I highly recommend looking up covers by the London Philharmonic Orchestra; they’ve covered everything from The Legend of Zelda to Halo’s theme, and it’s all very impressive. You can also try looking online for certain Youtube playlists of the original music from the games. I found a playlist with over 100 tracks of old Pokemon Gameboy game music. It was crazy awesome and it really does the trick sometimes. Here are my favorites:
“Never Forget/Peril” from Halo 3
“Mice On Venus” from Minecraft (the artist, C418, does really great work)
“Title Theme” from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
“Far Horizons” from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
“Orb of Dreamers (The Cosmic Imagisphere)” from Little Big Planet
I hope all of that helped, and I hope those categories help organize and refine your search for instrumental music. As a bit of a sample, I’ll post the links for five songs, one from each category, which I find especially awesome!
1. North – Phoenix
2. Shook – Emancipator
3. Intermezzo – Johannes Brahms
4. Elysium – Gladiator
5. Never Forget/Peril – Halo 3
aestheism, not atheism.