Movie soundtracks to study to

Five upbeat cinematic scores to keep you focused during midterm season


Marsha Gelin / Daily Collegian (2009).

By Shannon Moore, Assistant Arts Editor

We’re in the thick of midterm season here at the University of Massachusetts. This entails late night hours at the library, breakdown sessions with friends and of course, studying. Chances are, you like a little music to block out background noise and keep you in the zone. For me, it’s essential to keep me focused and ensure I stay on track. Instead of basic lo-fi beats, or boring classical tracks, here’s five cinematic scores to try out this study season.


“The Social Network” by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

“The Social Network” is a movie that is fast, upbeat and hard hitting, and the score reflects exactly that. The film is about Mark Zuckerberg and the rise of Facebook, from its beginnings at Harvard to becoming a multimillion-dollar company. Composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the soundtrack portrays Zuckerberg’s villainous tendencies with a cold, synth tone. The score is made up of 19 songs, each no longer than five minutes. This is the perfect soundtrack for studying and focusing, as the multiple layers of synth satiate your ears enough to really let you wire into your work. Each of the tracks feature a well-known instrument, whether it be a piano, base or violin. With multiple layers of synth, each song is sure to keep your attention and energy up. “In Motion” is a personal favorite, a gritty yet playful synth track that perfectly reflects what it feels like to be ‘dialed in.’ “In The Hall of the Mountain King” is an eerie rendition of the composition of the same name, a crescendo of intense strings to motivate you to write, solve or read even faster. If you need to stay awake and focus, or feel like your work will change the world, “The Social Network” soundtrack is for you.


Interstellar” by Hans Zimmer

“Interstellar” is a story about space, time and love across ages. It’s a weighty film with relationships at its heart, but the emotional impact of the film would not be the same without Hans Zimmer’s incredible soundtrack. The tracks range from intense organ crescendos and eerie violin to playful, airy piano melodies.. Each track is different and carries a unique tone, yet the entire album is one cohesive piece. The beauty of the organs, mixed with electronic piano and brassy violins is surely enough to keep your ears occupied as your work. “Cornfield Chase” is probably the most well-known track; layers of organ mix with rapid piano riffs, the just over two-minute track sure to transport you to a place of wonder in that short span of time. “Detach” is another favorite of mine; a mix of deep organ, ticking clock noises and a crescendo of emotion, violin and organ reflect the weight of the scene in the film. It’s intense and rich, but not enough to cause you to lose focus. “Interstellar” is the perfect study soundtrack for any situation: late night grind, casual class reading or paper writing.


“Tenet” by Ludwig Goransson

Accompanying Christopher Nolan’s bewildering, mind-bending, time-bending film, the “Tenet” soundtrack is one of the most intense soundtracks I’ve ever heard. Composed of heavily orchestrated pieces combined with heavy, hard-hitting synth, the score is sure to keep you awake for a midnight study session. Most of the tracks are filled with intense sequences of percussion and multiple layers of reverberating booms, to keep your attention and keep you awake. “RAINY NIGHT IN TALLINN” is the opening track on the album, and one I play when I need to race against the clock for an assignment. It’s an explosion of percussion, fast paced and reverberating through your ears. The steady, pulsating beats keep you focused, while the varying tones and recurring themes keep your ears entertained. Another standout is “THE ALGORITHM,” a string heavy track that sounds like it’s from a completely different movie, at least in the beginning. As the song progresses, the recurring synth beats make an appearance. Soon the two become one, and then are reversed completely. The entire string section is played backwards over the beats, reflecting how time travel works in the movie. It’s slightly unsettling, but a clever technique that’s very fitting for the film. In short, the “Tenet” soundtrack is fast paced, intense and sure to keep your ears entertained for a late-night study session.


Stranger Things” by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein

Composed to accompany the first season of “Stranger Things,” this score somehow encapsulates so many different themes in one cohesive piece: adolescence, fear, mystery and power. Unlike other scores featured on this list, this soundtrack is entirely synthesized, with no orchestration instrumentation used. Tones vary as you listen, reflecting childlike wonder with a playful and airy sound, then reflecting fear with intense bass and eerie tones, mimicking howling. Despite the new technology used to produce the music, something about the entire album feels nostalgic. “Kids” is one of my favorite tracks, used as a motif that continues throughout the seasons. It perfectly encapsulates what it’s like to be a child, biking through the neighborhood while a sense of mystery lingers in the air. It’s a much-needed boost of serotonin perhaps while writing a paper about hard topics. “The Upside Down” is another iconic track used throughout the show, but with a completely different tone from “Kids.” It starts off light yet slightly off-putting and transforms into a track of fear and horror. It feels like the upside down itself — unsettling, mysterious and unknown. Listening to this score when studying keeps me on my toes and reminds me of one of my favorite seasons of television ever.


“The Batman” by Michael Giacchino

Last but certainly not least, this score is the most fitting for October midterm season. Written to accompany Matt Reeve’s dark, noir interpretation of Batman, this score is in a word: spooky. It’s the perfect soundtrack to Halloween week, as the use of high-pitched strings and wild crescendos work together to fit the sinister theme of the film. Unlike the previous scores mentioned, this soundtrack is solely orchestrated, no synth is used. Multiple motifs appear throughout the piece, signifying characters like Batman with a deep bravado on drums, or romantic, playful strings to reflect Catwoman. Overarching all of the songs is an element of fear, something that is deeply important throughout the movie. To achieve this, sinister, scratch strings are seen in almost every piece, building. It’s a more typical movie score, yet unique enough to satisfy your ears as you work. “Can’t Fight City Halloween” is the opening track, and probably my favorite. It’s a crescendo of borderline grating strings and percussion. This track makes me feel like I am Batman, my paper writing qualifying as vigilante work to keep Gotham afloat. “The Riddler” is another favorite of mine, utilizing a ghostly voice singing “Ave Maria” atop of piano. It sounds beautiful and deeply unsettling at the same time. This score transports me into the world of Gotham, a stunning and scary soundtrack to your studying, perfect for the spooky season.


Shannon Moore can be reached at [email protected]