A lot of people listen to music while they work, and I am one of them. I’ve seen all kinds of theories about what kind of music is good for what tasks, but all I know is what works for me. For mindless data entry, I prefer stirring, exciting music that grabs my attention and takes me away to another place, like Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack to The Wind and The Lion, or James Horner’s soundtrack to Krull. If it’s the soundtrack to a movie I know really well, like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, or the Indiana Jones movies, it doesn’t seem to work as well.
But there are tasks that I find stressful or intellectually challenging, that involve math or problem-solving. And then, there’s outlining my novels, which is a little bit of all four. (Less math than some things, but it does come up.) For outlining novels, and for those other tasks, I have a secret weapon: Baroque Favorites by the Jacques Loussier Trio.
Jacques Loussier is a French-born jazz pianist who performs classical music, from the Baroque era to Debussy, in a “cool jazz” style. He’s the leader of the trio that bears his name; the exact lineup has varied over the years but always includes a percussionist and some kind of bass player. A lot of people swear by his take on Bach, which honestly doesn’t do that much for me. Other people like his Debussy; personally I feel that Debussy is already so abstract that “jazzing him up” doesn’t yield interesting results.
I think the reason his interpretation of Baroque music works so well for me is the nature of the source material and the way it interacts with the improvisational qualities of jazz. In the Baroque era, there was an emphasis on making music both emotionally pleasing and intellectually stimulating. Music was intended to command the listener’s attention, in a way that busy working people often do not have time for.
Loussier’s approach makes Baroque music simpler and more approachable in some ways than it was originally intended to be. He arguably makes it calmer as well: the style of jazz he aspires to is all about conservation of emotional energy, because getting excited about things is profoundly “uncool.” The result seems to be music that stimulates the mind without demanding its full attention, and also calms and focuses the mind at the same time. (That being said, do not listen to Loussier when you are tired. You will not get the full effect!)
So, that’s the kind of music I outline novels to. I also find it helpful when I’ve written myself into a corner and am trying to write myself out again. It’s not passionate enough to help me stay in the “zone” when I’m writing the fun parts, but that usually requires a different kind of music all together…and that is a post for another time.