Readers often ask, "Can you listen to music while reading?" And the answer is both simple and complicated. Of course, you can do anything you choose while reading books, but should you be reading with music? And if you do want to try reading while listening to music, to what music should you listen?
This article answers these questions from the perspective of a reader of 100+ books per year who listens to music about half the time. I definitely have some thoughts, opinions, and suggestions for you to enhance your reading with music playing in the background.
I'll also touch on some expert opinions on the topic, including that of my cousin, who is a music teacher, but really, this is meant to be a guide by a real person for real people to apply practically, regardless of what science does or does not say.
It's made a difference in my reading life and, at the end of the day, if you like reading and listening to music, and you are doing both purely for the purpose of relaxation, so be it!
Now let's answer the question, "Can you listen to music while reading?" by exploring whether it's good to listen to music while you read and then exactly what to listen to while you read for the best overall experience.
Is it good to listen to music while reading?
When people wonder whether you can listen to music and read, what they are often really wondering is, "Does listening to music help you read?"
Scientifically, it's a question that's been explored for decades with numerous studies, a few of which you can read below:
- Listen Up! The Impact of Music on Students' Reading Comprehension
- The Effect of Music on Reading Comprehension
I also found this YouTube video from Med School Insiders to be illustrative and easier to digest:
Overall, I note that it's not that clear-cut whether it's scientifically "good" to listen to music while reading, and expert opinions do differ.
It seems most experts have debunked the classical music theory that "listening to Mozart makes you smarter," but at the same time, depending on unique circumstances, there can be benefits of listening to music while reading, including the feeling of relaxation that music provides. In certain noisy environments that can be distracting (for example, loud construction), background music of your choice can also enhance your reading experience.
If you're trying to improve your focus and/or reading comprehension, it may help to test the effect of music on your reading, including different types of music and different types of books.
For example, if you're wondering, "Can I read a book while listening to songs?" you should note that, generally, science is against songs with lyrics when it comes to comprehension, as they can be distracting to the brain, and it instead favors instrumental music.
However, again, I am reading for personal enjoyment and, if you are too, then you can feel free to test whatever you wish.
For me, as an overthinker and multitasker, listening to music while reading for pleasure has the effect of keeping me both relaxed and focused, especially when it's a specific type of music of my choosing. (We'll get to my recommendations later.)
But, if you are the biggest Bruce Springsteen fan in the world, and you are trying to listen to his music while laboring through organic chemistry textbooks, I tend to think you are more likely to find yourself singing along with an air guitar than acing your school exam.
Music to Listen to While Reading a Book
Now that you know a little bit more about the technical answer to the question, "Can you listen to music while reading?" here are my best personal recommendations for the best background music while reading.
I personally most enjoy listening to classic music while reading, especially when it's jazz music and, as mentioned, science generally does favor instrumental music for reading, particularly that which is soft and rhythmic, without words that may distract you.
My #1 go-to is the Jazz for Reading playlist on Spotify. It has the most gentle renditions of memorable jazz classics, and it just feels like a true escape to me. I have yet to find any instrumental music that compares!
However, since we are all different, you can also try these Spotify instrumental music playlists for reading:
If you want to test out some reading with lyrical music in the background, I recommend music that is mellow and soothing in nature, such as that of Norah Jones or John Mayer. I often listen to them (and others) while reading for work on my computer via Spotify's Mellow Drive playlist. Personally, I can just tune out the lyrics when I need a few minutes of serious focus. But, you may feel differently.
Listening to soundtracks while reading can be SUPER fun. My absolute favorite way to read Harry Potter is with the movie soundtrack playing. There's simply no better way to get in the wizarding spirit than with the compositions of the legendary John Williams!
A few other instrumental soundtrack options I listen to while reading the corresponding books are:
And, if you are okay with listening to lyrical soundtracks while reading, you can go even further beyond listening to adaptation soundtracks and listen to book soundtracks curated by the author and/or fans of certain books. I do this ALL the time for books that make a mark on me, and it truly makes me feel much more fully immersed in the experience of the book.
A few book soundtracks (not based on movie adaptations) that I have personally loved to devour while reading are:
To find these book soundtracks, just search Spotify for the book you are reading to see if anyone has created a corresponding playlist. I try to stick to the ones created by the author.
Last, but definitely not least, ASMR rooms on YouTube are also SO fun to listen to (and watch) while reading. I cannot tell you how much I love them.
If you're wondering what the heck an ASMR room is, the terms stands for "autonomous sensory meridian response rooms" and basically, they are video feeds of ambient sights and sounds to make you feel like you are in a particular environment.
Since I personally love the sights, sounds and overall feel of a coffee shop, I love this Cozy Fall Coffee Shop ASMR room with a moody coffee shop soundtrack playing in the background.
However, there are all different types to suit your mood, including, of course, Harry Potter ASMR rooms, which I also love.
During December, it's also fun to read seasonal books with holiday music playing in a perfectly decorated Christmas-themed ASMR room.
And lastly, my cousin, who is an elementary school music teacher recommends the Meditation Relax Music channel on YouTube, which is very much like an ASMR room.
Now you know that the answer to the question, "Can you listen to music while reading?" is yes, of course, you can, and you have four amazing ways to try it.
Before you go, do you need a speaker recommendation for listening to music while reading? We personally use and absolutely adore this specific Bose portable, waterproof Bluetooth speaker, which really packs an impressive punch for the size: