Students discuss the soundtracks to their study sessions


Fatima Rosales

Some students prefer the natural sounds of their environments, while others may use the power of music to push them through assignments, projects and study sessions

An hour remains before a big assignment is due. Completing the task will take determination, focus, hard work and, of course, Mozart’s “Requiem” playing loudly through a pair of headphones.

“That’s what I listen to if I need to get some homework done real quickly,” said Kai Marshall, a Cal State LA master of fine arts student. If things aren’t too tense and deadlines aren’t rapidly approaching, “I’ll turn on the Undertale soundtrack,” Marshall said. Undertale is a role-playing video game with a soundtrack of tranquil melodies and intense, energetic rhythms.

Students rely on many auditory stimuli to power through assignments or relax while studying for tests. 

Some prefer the rhythm of something energetic, like Ozzy Osbourne’s 1980 track “Crazy Train,” a song that computer science major Alex Alarcon likes to hear while taking care of schoolwork.

“Engaging music from the 80s,” he said,  but also “slowed-down music from video games” when appropriate.

TVFT MFA student Christopher Cid said that film scores are where it’s at when he’s working on something.

“Maybe it’s because I’m a T.V. film theater student, but I listen to film scores,” Cid said. “Anything from an action-horror movie usually helps.”

When it’s not down-to-the-wire for Cid, “it’s still the same [but] I guess I just change composers,” he said, citing figures like Danny Elfman and John Williams as some go-to composers for more relaxed studying.

At Cal State LA’s library and around campus, it’s common to see headphones fastened atop students’ heads or earbuds nestled in their ears as they sit, listening to their chosen tunes while gazing into a laptop or textbook. Rock, metal, film scores or video game soundtracks might be helping these students plug along.

However, that kind of workflow is not for everyone. 

“If I have a deadline or if I want to be done with homework, I’ll probably just turn the music off,” said Aidan Anderson, a Cal State LA music major.

Anderson prefers no music at all while focusing on work, but not because he doesn’t like music. “I love it to death,” he said. “I just want to put all my focus on appreciating good music and analyzing it or learning from it.”

Anderson would instead devote his attention to one experience at a time.

“When you’re trying to multitask, it can get pretty taxing,” Anderson said. “So when doing something where I need all my brain cells, it’s hard to appreciate the music and get work done.” 

While some prefer the natural sounds of their environments, others may use the power of music to push them a bit farther ahead.

“I’m a musicologist, not a neuroscientist, but it seems like we have this ability to adapt to our external environment,” said Beverly Stein, a music history professor at Cal State LA. “We’re all born with a heartbeat. We have a beat that we carry throughout our lives. So external rhythms are very important to us.”