Revision music: the ultimate classical studying playlist
12 May 2022, 17:25 | Updated: 12 May 2022, 17:42
Gina Alice Redlinger plays Rachmaninov's stunning Prelude in G
Classical music and revising for exams go together like hand in glove. But which pieces should you listen to to get the most out of your studying? Find out with our guide to the very best music for revising.
Cramming for finals? Stressing about revision? Struggling to take it all in? Our definitive guide to revising with classical music will help you focus, relax and power through...
Johann Pachelbel: Canon in D
An easy one to start with. The way Pachelbel’s beloved ‘Canon’ gradually builds on that one, circulating chord progression makes it ideal for continued concentration.
Pachelbel's Canon in D - Off the Staff
Johannes Brahms: Academic Festival Overture
It’s time to pick the pace up a little. Your brain’s warmed up, you’ve managed to get your notes in order – it’s time to make some decent headway on that stack of revision cards! Brahms is the perfect pace-quickener – there’s a gentle intro, but once this one kicks off with blistering brass fanfare, you’ll be off.
Brahms - Academic Festival Overture, Op 80 - Järvi
Johann Sebastian Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier
And now that you’re off the ground, it’s important to keep the momentum going. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier is a masterpiece of academic precision – logical tunes crafted with love and dedication, and all designed to improve one’s keyboard technique.
J.S.Bach - The Well Tempered Clavier: Book I: Prelude and Fugue No.1 in C Major - Sviatoslav Richter
James Horner: A Beautiful Mind
The ultimate maths-nerd movie, the incredible story of John Nash (played by Russell Crowe) has several scenes of study overload, so this might be the music to get you in the mood for learning.
A Beautiful Mind 01: A Kaleidoscope of Mathematics (James Horner)
Florence Price: Adoration
Pioneering African American composer Florence Price’s divine ‘Adoration’ was intended for use in church. If you’re in need of a moment of meditative calm while tapping away at that essay, fill your boots with this gorgeous violin rendition by rising star Randall Goosby.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 23
The Mozart Effect is a complex issue, but the signs seem to point towards Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 as a beacon of educational merit. Something about how relaxing, how beautifully balanced and constructed it is will guide you into the right mindset.
Hélène Grimaud – Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 23: II. Adagio
Claude Debussy: Clair De Lune
By now, you’ll have been going full tilt at your stack of revision notes, so it’s probably time to calm things down a bit. There’s no better way than with Debussy’s Clair de lune. So put your pen down for a moment and just give this some time.
Debussy - Clair de Lune on LED piano
Celeste: Strange (Bridgerton)
From its soaring cello line and gentle, steady piano chords, to that warm bath of sound coming from the accompanying strings, there’s a ‘ton’ (Bridgerton fans will know) of good reasons to make this TV favourite the soundtrack to your study session.
Frederic Chopin: Etudes
You can’t just sit back and stare at the wall for too long though – it’s time to get back to it! Chopin’s music plays a huge part in a pianist’s training, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t have the same effect for revision. His Etudes (or Studies, appropriately) are exquisitely composed and designed to bring the best out of a pianist’s technique – see if it works for your revision.
Daniel Barenboim – Chopin: Étude Op. 25 No.1 in A flat Major (Live from Pierre Boulez Saal, 2020)
Alessandro Scarlatti: 30 Exercises for Harpsichord
Scarlatti was a prolific opera composer in the late 1600s and early 1700s. His music marks an important transition between the Italian Baroque vocal techniques used by earlier composers, and the music of the early Classical period.
Domenico Scarlatti - 30 Essercizi for Harpsichord (Scott Ross, 1976) Vol.1
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Othello (intermezzo)
For the Shakespeare many will be studying, here’s something rather appropriate: the ‘Intermezzo’ from Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Othello.
Claude Debussy: Etudes
More Debussy for your revision! With this collection, Debussy’s idea was that each of these petite exercises would focus on a different area of technique. The perfect way to approach cramming for exams.
Mitsuko Uchida - Debussy, Douze Études (complete) 
Philip Glass: The Hours
That’s enough exercising – let’s go back to something a little more relaxing. Philip Glass has arguably turned the piano into the world’s most intimate instrument – and with his soundtrack to The Hours, in particular, he finds that sweet-spot between machine-like minimalism and gorgeous harmonic changes. Blissfully relaxing, and perfect for those moments when it feels like the revision is never going to end…
Philip Glass - Music from The Hours | complete
Ludovico Einaudi: I Giorni
A favourite for revisers everywhere. Gentle, emotional and hypnotic, Einaudi’s music is ideal for when you feel like there’s just too much work to do.
Einaudi - I Giorni played on the Portuguese Guitar
Erik Satie: Gymnopedie No. 1
Another relaxing piano piece, this time from the considered hand of Erik Satie. If it’s all gotten a bit too much with your revision schedule, just clear it and put this on.
Satie - Gymnopédie No. 1
Alberto Giurioli: Tutto è bellissimo
This young Italian composer’s lovely film score-inspired piano piece has just the right amount of movement and passion, all while making you feel like you’re in a safe space amid the plate-spinning of exam season.
Alberto Giurioli - Tutto è Bellissimo (Live in Teplice)
Gustav Holst: The Planets (Venus, the Bringer of Peace)
As the subtitle might suggest, this is perhaps the calmest of Holst’s seven-movement suite dedicated to the planets. There’s also a lovely version of it by the nation’s beloved youth orchestra, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, just here on Spotify.
Holst The Planets – Venus | YORK2 on Holst’s Broadwood | Classic FM Sessions
Michael Nyman: The Draughtsman's Contract
However, there comes a time when you’ve got to face the music, stop relaxing and get back to the books. Michael Nyman’s stately theme to The Draughtman’s Contract is just the job to get you in the right frame of mind again.
Michael Nyman Music from The Draughtman’s Contract
Johann Sebastian Bach: The Goldberg Variations
If you’re in it for the long haul. then you can’t do better than the Goldberg Variations. They are epic in scale, and so mathematically and artistically precise that you can’t fail but be inspired by them. It just shows that all it takes is one theme to set off a whole composition, just as it only takes a little bit of concentration to kick off a whole revision session.
Lang Lang plays Bach's joyous Goldberg Variations
Nobuo Uematsu: Final Fantasy VII (Aerith’s Theme)
A yearning piano melody, gently rising and falling, sits atop lush string harmonies and a woodwind chorus in this gorgeous theme from Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu’s video game soundtrack Final Fantasy VII. This one is all about the importance of still finding time to unwind, even while you’re cramming.
Aerith's Theme (Final Fantasy VII)