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Heard melodies are indeed sweet

On Twitter, Colleen Barry, writing as @CopyCurmudgeon, requests: “Help me out, tweeps! I need editing music. Should be available on Spotify, up-tempo, with ignorable lyrics.”

I expect that many of you who write and edit prefer to do so in silence. And at the paragraph factory I must forgo background music so that I can be attentive to the groans, pleas, and imprecations of colleagues. But at home, crouching at the iMac in the basement, I can crank it up.

Not that I expect Ms. Barry to share my tastes or explore my recommendations, but I can tell you what I turn to most frequently.

Mozart operas are lively, and if you don’t know Italian or German, the lyrics will not distract. The Mozart piano concerti also work well, and the Sonata for Two Pianos, though it runs only a little over twenty minutes, has agreeably propulsive first and third movements. Handel and Telemann and the other Baroque composers also maintain a steady forward movement that encourages.

But the best music for writing and editing, I’ve found, is by Haydn. Those hundred and three symphonies have a verve and a bounce that cheer the heart and speed the fingers on the keyboard. The Paris and London symphonies are particularly good, as are Number 90 and 91. But you can’t go wrong with Haydn.

Tastes will vary considerably, so feel welcome to file your own preferences in the comments.

Also: It’s Monday, and your word of the week is jactitation.



Posted by John McIntyre at 11:10 AM | | Comments (10)


Your suggestions are excellent, especially the unobtrusive Haydn. I generally force myself to forgo music while editing. For routine tasks, I'll shuffle my classical or jazz collections. But for complex work, I know I focus better in silence.

Regardless, compliments are due for a blog post ready for the world less than 45 minutes after Ms. Barry posted her request. if only all six-paragraph stories appeared so quickly.

For me, music blocks writing: somehow I process music through the verbal channel.

I prefer to edit to chamber music, anything baroque, or anything Celtic, as long as it's instrumental and has no vocals.

Classical or Spanish guitar (Hilary Field is good) works well for me; I also have some good ragtime piano tracks.

I'm fine with any background classical or jazz music as long as it doesn't contain vocals. Otherwise, like John Cowan, I find myself unable to write.

I also prefer to write in silence, but when editing I find that background music helps me concentrate. Instrumental only, as lyrics seem to distract me no matter how innocuous they are. The streaming audio stations of Live365 and RadioTime are my main sources.

I'm with John Cowan (see above comment) on this one. For me, usually it's silence; but, if there's going to be anything on, it'll most likely be Bach (very softly) - I find the chords unobtrusive yet uplifting & inspiring - sounds like a cliché!

First off, hope y'all had a fine Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. A mere 25 shopping days till Christmas........... but whose really counting?

Clearly, maximum focus, mental concentration, and clarity of thought (w/ a modicum of expertise basically a given), should be required for optimal copy editing results on any professional level of journalism.

Having never been a bona fide, pro copy editor, and as some on this particular site might argue from many of my past, ofttimes lengthly, posts, a pretty rank amateur editor of my own material, at best, I can only offer up a handful of recorded musical genres definitely NOT recommended for prime-time copy editing.

Namely, native Tuvan, Mongolian, and Inuit throat singing (not necessarily in that order), classic Klezmer, Punk, Grunge and Zydeco........Mariachi, Salsa, Tejano, and any satirical vocal stylings by William Shatner, or Wierd Al Yankovic. Oh, and Asturian/ Galician bagpipe music. (And that's just my short list of no-nos.)

Seriously, I'm with those pragmatic folks (clearly journeymen journalists) who have opined earlier that non-vocal classical music (Haydn, J. S. Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann et al) would be their preference as working background 'accompaniment', whilst silence, for some, would be just 'golden'. (Good luck w/ that one.)

Here's a little sampling of a YouTube Tuvan throat singing video if you may not be familiar w/ the genre, plus a sidebar w/ other Billboard top 40 Tuvan/ Mongol, and Inuit hit selections:;_ylu=X3oDMTEybGVibTBpBHNlYwNzcgRwb3MDMQRjb2xvA3NrMQR2dGlkA0g0NjVfNzk-/SIG=1203leaf5/EXP=1322610819/**http%3a//

Enjoy........... if you dare. HA!


If you think Haydn is unobtrusive, you aren't listening properly.

I have trouble thinking and writing at the same time.

You might as well throw a string of lit firecrackers: Music throws me off.

And yet, police scanners, ringing telephones, discussions, arguments, assorted shenanigans among news staffers do not bother me.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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