Stairiker: Choosing the right ‘notes’

Columnist Kevin Stairiker details the dread of deciding the best studying music.

Kevin Stairiker

Kevin StairikerJesus Christ, it’s almost time for finals again.

This time of year is always strange in that way. The days get shorter and colder, and then the slow, cruel, brass-knuckled hand of end-of-semester exams punches everyone right in the mouth almost simultaneously. Most people don’t even have enough space in their brains currently to worry about menial things like the temperature or how dark it is outside.

Thankfully, like a brown bear that’s been taught how to properly interact with humans, music can be the hairy and comforting hug that we all need at a time like this. Many people can’t study with music playing, especially songs with a lot of lyrics. So right off the bat, no Twista or The Hold Steady. Another complete detriment to studying can be songs with just one too many beats-per-minute.

For reasons I can’t explain, I once tried to study for a history test while listening to “Reign In Blood.” I assumed the blast beats and shouting would drive me forward in a one-man cavalcade of unstoppable studying prowess. Despite “Altar Of Sacrifice” being so, so right, I was so, so wrong.

What music to play while studying can be a completely make or break move. After all, whatever collection of songs you choose can sometimes directly influence how close you are to breaking down in hysterics at the TECH Center. However, the music that you allow yourself to work to should be the least of your worries at the point when you start to actually get around to working. But it is important.

I’m not sure about you, but if I choose to get audible with my memorizing, then the go-to is the Ramones. Along with being my favorite band when I was 13, the repetition of the Ramones’ songs makes the best background noise to soundtrack me cramming random words and sentences into my brain.

It’s even better if I’m in my room while studying so I can turn lines from the songs into melodic bits of information pertinent to whatever I’m studying. Nothing quite fits studying for a quiz about colonial invaders eradicating Native American way of life like “My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg).”

There was also the unfortunate time when I filled out a Scantron “C-A-B-B-A” in the sorry hopes of making it almost spell out “gabba” after listening to “Pinhead” far too many times before the test.

While most students will be spending their days studying for finals, others will be facing the onslaught of papers or end-of-term projects. These pressure-cooker situations are the proverbial toast in which music can be spread all over. For papers that are only one-to-five pages in length, sometimes I challenge myself to play music I don’t like and refuse to stop until I finish my work. It can be painful sometimes but it always gets the work done quicker if you pick something bad enough. What’s that latest Mumford & Sons album called again?

If your final paper is any longer than five pages, treat yourself to something that not only has your love, but is upbeat enough to keep you energized when your cocaine boost just can’t anymore.

For times such as these, the easy pick is always The Meters. The best go-go band of them all was born in the mid-‘60s and pumped out New Orleans funk until 1977. Especially with its first two albums — 1969’s self-titled record and 1970’s “Look-Ka Py Py” — a groove is locked in place early on, and if you can get in the same sort of pocket they were in, papers can go by very quickly.

There is no better test of humility that I know of than the slow realization of your own head bobbing to The Meters in the quietest of quiet sections that Paley Library has to offer.

I think it can certainly be agreed upon that if it’s easier for you to scroll through thousands of songs than to study for a final, your priorities fell off a cliff a long time ago, presumably on top of a pile of everyone else’s.

In more cases than not, it’d be best to not have any music playing at all while you’re doing work, especially if you’re easily distracted. Surely no one will fault you for being one less anonymous face in the TECH Center who will eternally never realize how loud that Usher song is in his or her headphones. But if you do, pick something nice. As long as it isn’t Christmas music, you’re already off to a good start in the decision-making process.

Five songs to give you that extra kick while studying:

“Chinese Rocks” — Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers
“Weed Party” — Band of Horses
“Cocaine Blues” — Johnny Cash
“King Heroin” — James Brown
“Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” — The Ramones

Kevin Stairiker can be reached at

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