Many writers like to listen to music, ambient sounds, or noise while converting thoughts into words.
In a sea of Apple Music, Spotify, and Pandora, it’s difficult to find exactly what sounds might work for you.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer, so you’ll have to find out on your own. But, don’t fret. Use the music guide below to help start your exploration.
Start Here Before Pressing Play
Some rules before we get started.
- Make a home base for listening. I use Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal for my listening libraries to discover new music, apart from what I own on CD, vinyl, and iTunes. Only use audio sources (watching music on YouTube does not work).
- Choose instrumentals, mostly. Listening to words or lyrics of a song can be a major distraction. For me, if the words are in a language I do not know (like Portuguese), it does bother me.
- Genres and moods are two different categories. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they do not. Categorize what you like into moods and you’ll most likely return to the playlist when you feel (or want to feel) that particular way.
Derived from Jody Michael’s blog post, “Feelings, Emotions and Moods: How to Say What You are Experiencing”
Below are 7 moods and nested within are albums, tracks, and artists that I enjoy which I believe reflect each mood. Some selections work in multiple categories.
Tip: If there is a piece/song you like, check out the album and artist. You might find more to add to your personalized list.
Calm is centered between chaos like the eye of a hurricane. (Click to tweet.)
Solo acoustic/classical guitar can have a calming effect on the mind.
Learn more about Andrew York in this 2021 Acoustic Guitar/Classical Guitar article, Catching Up with Eclectic Guitarist and Composer Andrew York by Joseph Skibell.
Similarly, acoustic piano does wonders for relaxation if the artist performs in a sensitive and understated way.
Learn more about George Winston from his website.
Eudaemonism: a theory that the highest ethical goal is happiness and personal well-being. From the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Almost no music makes me as happy as listening to Tuck Andress. Melody, harmony, accompaniment, and percussion—he’s got it all under 10 fingers. His solo guitar playing and duo with his wife Patti are a go-to in our house.
Looking for uplifting music? Go no further.
Alex de Grassi
If you don’t know about Windham Hill, stop what you’re doing and learn about the history through John Dark’s fan site, discography, and community, Windhaming. (But, come back here when you’re done.)
Alex de Grassi, fingerstyle guitarist, is one of the original Windham Hill artists showing incredible artistry and skill. A few of my favorites are found in the live compilation recordings from the early ‘80s. There, you’ll find Alex grouped with other greats of a similar feeling like Michael Hedges, William Ackerman, and George Winston.
All of his music is exciting and evokes happiness. If you need a starting place, check out the album, A Windham Hill Retrospective.
A quote from Alex’s bio:
Alex de Grassi has been a unique voice in the world of acoustic guitar for the past 42 years; his innovative approach to composing and arranging for solo steel-string guitar has influenced a generation of younger players. -Alex De Grassi Short Bio
Nostalgic or Nostalgia: A sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past. -@jmacoaching
My wife Angela Galestro found Alexis Ffrench when she needed it most.
His solo piano music helps you feel the past. Before now, and before yesterday. Family, friends, and all that you’ve encountered.
Learn more about Alexis on his website.
Any fingerstyle guitarist knows Don Ross by his astounding technique, expression, and rhythm drive. He makes the guitar sound like an orchestra of perpetual emotion.
This album has been in my head for about as long as I’ve played guitar. Listening to it always takes me back, and maybe it’ll take you back, too. (At least listen to Berkley Springs, you’ll be glad you did.)
Learn more about Don here.
No one captures ALL the moods better than Astor Piazzolla. My flute and guitar ensemble, GS Duo, has studied and performed many pieces of his since 2010 and we have felt the depth of his compositions.
Oblivion, the 4 Seasons, and Libertango are a few of his famous works you may have heard of.
Hear the undeniable sense of energy found in the tango style by none other than the father himself, Astor Piazzolla, in this historical compilation, 4 Seasons of Buenos Aires. It is a record which captures the rawness of the style and Piazzolla’s character.
Learn more about Piazzolla here from Wikipedia.
Greg Howe, Victor Wooten, and Dennis Chambers
Extraction is by far one of my favorite instrumental rock albums of all time. Every time I hear the title track, I am injected with a dose of energy. (4:36 of track 1, Extraction, is by far one of the best moments in all instrumental rock history—wait for it…)
It’s the only recommendation today that features overdriven guitar, bass, and drums. But, keep an open-mind and give it a try.
I couldn’t find this album on Apple Music, but it’s on Spotify. Check it out here.
Sadness is but a wall between two gardens. -Kahlil Gibran. (Tweet this.)
Ludwig van Beethoven
If one of his could be called Ode to Sadness, this piece would be it.
Dark, sad, and depressing, Beethoven captures it all in movement 2 of Symphony No. 7, Allegretto. This was not too long after he started to go deaf.
Although there are many recordings of the work, Stokowski conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra unearths a soul-catching interpretation.
A composer is like an author of the dramatic genre—vulnerable, in charge, and alone. (Tweet this.)
Venetian Boat Song II from Songs Without Words by Felix Mendelssohn is a perfect example. Hear Jane Coop perform this work with the great expression and beauty, characteristics of her artistry.
Listen to more virtuosic classical pieces by composers Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, and Brahms on the same album performed by Jane Coop, The Romantic Piano.
Learn about Jane Coop on her website.
What is done in love is done well. -Vincent Van Gogh. (Tweet this.)
South American Guitar is like a love language in itself.
- Words of Affirmation
- Acts of Service
- Receiving Gifts
- Quality Time
- Physical Touch
- South American Guitar
Recently discovered brought to the Smithsonian archives, Luiz Bonfá is an important figure to recognize from South American guitar history.
A musician of virtuosity, subtlety, and passion, guitarist Luiz Bonfá (1922-2001) ranks among the key architects of the bossa nova sound and the greatest masters of Brazilian popular of the 20th century. —Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
If you need to hear right now what love sounds like on nylon-string guitar, check out track 10, Perdido de Amor (Lost in Love).
There are recordings emerging from the archives day by day. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is the place to find them.
Jazz + fingerstyle guitar = Martin Taylor. He is a true master of contrapuntal jazz on a single guitar.
Combine his love for music and guitar with the authorship of your next piece of writing. Before you know it, you’ll imagine yourself in a Parisian café.
Learn from his bio, blog, and guitar courses on Martin’s website.
When I heard this earlier in 2020, it couldn’t have come into my life at a better time. It has been a while since I could lay down, close my eyes, and get lost in an entire album.
Track 11, ekki hugsa, is one of my favorites. The English translation to the Icelandic pair of words is, “don’t think.” Fitting, isn’t it?
See more dimensions of Ólafur Arnalds here.
At 444,579 monthly listeners on Spotify, Bill Frisell undoubtably has a dedicated audience as a solo electric guitarist.
Bill’s fingers on the strings is like a painter with a brush. No two notes are played the same way where in the end, an entire musical picture comes to life.
Where does he take you?
Check out his album, particularly track 1, Pretty Stars.
See everything from his bio to his tour schedule on his website.
Pressing Pause, For Now
Like mentioned earlier, what works for you is highly personal and the suggestions above are to get you started, or to add to your current collection.
Sometimes I write with music on that inspires me and sometimes its in complete silence. Change it up and see how you respond.
If you want to bypass all the Apple Music links and try out all of these suggestions on shuffle, check out this 12-hour Spotify playlist.
But, if you like any of it, please support the artist by buying their music.
I’m always looking for more readers like you.
Please share the word and follow me on social media.