First term is over, and we’re all looking forward to a nice long Christmas break. But in around four weeks time, the spectre of January exams looms; so, in between stuffing your face with mince pies and other tasty festive treats (like my homemade iced Christmas ginger & cinnamon biscuits), you’re probably going to have some studying to do. Physics is hard, but we all know that the real hardest part of the revision process is the study playlist. I’ve spent four years honing this craft, and I can confidently say that I have found the key.
There’s a fine art to these things. Your favourite songs will prove distracting, but songs you hate will just make you loathe revision. Too upbeat and you’ll find yourself singing and dancing along instead of working; too dull and you’ll get bored and give up. Too relaxing and you’ll fall asleep, but too far the other way and you’ll think you’re making an assault on the Death Star.
There are plenty of tips floating around about such things. Classical music, for example, is often mooted as a study-appropriate genre, but a classical composition is so long, and has one major flaw: The constantly changing volume. You can sit in silence for ten minutes, straining to hear the faintest chords from the far end of the orchestra, or you can pump up the volume only to be deafened by a sudden onslaught of instrumentation (and, if it’s Tchaikovsky, actual cannons). Classical music is certainly beautiful, but a practical study playlist it does not make.
The secret ingredients are homogeneity and blandness. The perfect playlist should be long enough that it never realistically becomes repetitive, but homogeneous enough that you always know what you’re getting; you need a consistent vibe if you want to work consistently. That vibe should be something that won’t pull you out of your focus on your work, but that you can just seamlessly lean back into when you need to take a break. The music should be beautiful, but not insist upon your attention.
Taking all this into account, I am pleased to bring you the Official George Watson Revision Playlist (2016)* (patent pending):
- Belle and Sebastian — The entire catalogue
Belle and Sebastian have the perfect blend of bland alt-pop and seriously beautiful, melodic compositions, and their large back catalogue is great for bulking out a study playlist.
- Striking Matches — Nothing But the Silence
On their only album to date, Striking Matches manage to create a flawless revision vibe with their smooth fusion of country, rock, and blues.
- Starsailor — Love Is Here
This mostly-forgotten 2001 post-Britpop album was a personal favourite of my mum and myself; as well as being almost the definition of perfect study music, it’s also great for the morning commute. Choice cuts include “Alcoholic” and “Poor Misguided Fool”.
- The Verve — Urban Hymns
I almost didn’t include this here, but the two songs people actually know and like (“Bittersweet Symphony” and “Drugs Don’t Work”) pull up the standard of an otherwise mediocre album. Even without them, though, the album would be a decent fit here.
- Carole King — Tapestry
Carole King is probably better known as a songwriter, and this album full of self-penned standards has a great vibe for the pre-exam season, and gets bonus points for including a slightly earlier version of the Gilmore Girls theme song.
- Bob Dylan — Take your pick
The Nobel laureate has a huge back catalogue, so I’d recommend picking a few choice favourite albums; anything from his folksier selection will do. I went with Blonde on Blonde, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited, and Nashville Skyline, along with a greatest hits album.
- The Beatles — Help!, Rubber Soul
The Beatles are renowned for many of their more upbeat songs, but these albums, inspired by Dylan, add a little something to any study playlist and feature some of my their best deep cuts.
- Kacey Musgraves — Same Trailer, Different Park
With her wry country twang, and surprisingly modern themes for her (unfairly) much-maligned genre, Kacey Musgraves is a wonderful artist, and everything on her major-label debut has the perfect vibe for a long study sesh.
- Alanis Morissette — Jagged Little Pill
Most of the things in that song are examples of situational irony, and I will fight you on that. Also, yeah, good album, great study material, you know the drill.
- Sam Phillips — A Boot and a Shoe
Sam Phillips is another artist likely to be well known to fans of Gilmore Girls, and this album — as well as being good revision material — features more of her haunting vocals, alongside the much-beloved “Reflecting Light”.
* Also known as the “George is a pretentious hipster” playlist
I’m a fan of the album as a medium, and determined to do all I can to halt its slow demise, so I’ve stuck to complete albums in the above listing; you should, of course, feel free to pick and choose individual tracks as you go along — and add tracks too. The version I actually listen to includes a few things that don’t really fit the above criteria (honourable mentions to the Decemberists, Ward Thomas, and the Shires). Despite the whole premise of this article being that my study playlist is objectively the best (because it is), there is no perfect solution for everyone, and I’d love to hear your own picks in the comments.