Listening to Music Whilst Reading

by Kristopher Cook
Listening to Music Whilst Reading

Recently, I was speaking with my good friend and fellow book lover, Hoda, and we got onto the topic of listening to music whilst reading.

I cannot concentrate on a book if there’s any noise around. I can put up with birds chirping, or children playing in the park, but anything with an asymmetrical rhythm or lyrics completely throws me off. The same goes for nearby conversations. Contrast to this, Hoda said that she loves to listen to music as it helps with her concentration.

This got me thinking; surely, I can’t be the only one, right?

As I was keen to find out why these things affect us so much, I decided to ask Hoda for her opinion to see if I could gain some insight into what makes us tick (another noise I can’t stand).

Why I Listen to Music Whilst Reading – Hoda

I started listening to music, on the subway if I recall. I did so to shut out the noise around me and to concentrate on what I was reading.

Hoda enjoying reading with music
Hoda enjoying reading with music.

I have been doing this for a few years, and I only did it when I was on the metro. When at home, I enjoy reading in a relaxed environment without music.

At that time, I had started reading Little Women, and I found myself making a playlist for it; not something I have done before. That was when I realised that each book I read had a certain musical mood.

I mostly listen to classical music, with calm tones, and rarely songs with lyrical content, especially whilst reading. I feel this would otherwise negate the whole purpose.

I need a different kind of noise in the background, which is different from the one carrying through a loud, busy subway.

It is never about the music per se because when I start, I only focus on the text and the music is there to keep other noises at bay.

Despite this, when I listen to certain songs, they sometimes remind me of certain books. One of the main reasons I listen to music while reading is merging the two experiences into a unique blend of visual and audio delight.

Why I’m Against Listening to Music – Kris

I should point out that before I start my gripe about listening to music whilst reading, I’m susceptible to both noise and smell within my everyday life.

On top of that, I’m a light sleeper, so the noise of a flushing toilet or a shutting car door is enough to wake me from my slumber; The same goes for when I’m reading.

Not enjoying the noise
Not liking the noise.

When enjoying a book, like most people, I become lost in the world, the story and the characters, yet a jolting noise is all it takes to bring me out. From here, I then have to spend the next few minutes willing myself to get back into the zone.

Equally, if there’s a conversation or a television on in the background, my focus is broken. I think it’s to do with the switching of volume and tones. My comprehension of the text goes entirely downhill, and I find myself rereading sections repeatedly for clarification – thus also slowing down my reading speed.

In contrast, I’ll often listen to calming lo-fi music whilst writing, whether this is for work, or for articles on this site.

With noise-cancelling headphones, they help to drown out all the city’s busy noises: traffic, shouting, construction, etc. The music serves as a steady sound that allows me to think clearly about what I want to write.


There you have it; two contrasting opinions on listening to music whilst reading. For some, like Hoda, music is something used to fill the silence when trying to concentrate. For me, music is an unnecessary distraction that makes it more challenging to focus.

Do you like to listen to music or ambient noises whilst reading? Or like me, do you prefer silence? Does it affect your reading comprehension or slow you down at all? Let us know in the comments below.

Go and read Hoda’s wonderful reviews over on Instagram @Hoda_Fadl.

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Ross January 12, 2021 - 9:48 PM

I can’t listen to music too when reading, unless it’s a background music in a cafe. That sort I can tolerate. How amazing Hoda can concentrate on reading with music on.

Kristopher Cook January 13, 2021 - 8:52 AM

Yeah, Cafe background noise is ok for me too, I think because it’s consistent noise. In contrast, anything else is too unpredictable.

Rayts February 7, 2021 - 4:37 AM

I can relate to Hoda. I also like listening to music when I read. But selected music only, classical or instrumental. It allows me to block other forms of noise and concentrate on the narrative more. 🙂

Kristopher Cook February 7, 2021 - 10:38 AM

I’ve tried it since, but I still can’t get my brain to settle into the story. However, getting used to noise, especially whilst reading is something I want to do because so often we can’t control the noise around us. I need more practice!


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