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Musical Space

Musical Space: What To Listen To Whlie We Drive


Some kinds of music work better while driving than others, so it can be said that the automobile has had an influence on what kind of music people listen to.

A car is not the ideal listening environment. It’s noisy, so any music that is too soft will get lost.

I hate to say it, but classical music is the most difficult music to enjoy while driving. Any soft string chord or timpani roll is going to be lost in the rumble; and you can’t count on an important part to be repeated, so a passing ambulance could make you miss the climax of the entire piece.

Other styles are better because they have less subtlety.

Vocal music: because evolution has tuned our ears to the frequencies of the human voice. Think country, delta blues, or rap. Songs sung by Patsy Cline go well.

Pop music with drums: anything with a strong beat, so you can pay attention to the road and always know where you are in the music. Stax and Motown releases are all about vocals set to a huge beat, and the mastering is so compressed that even the soft parts are loud. You can never go wrong with James Brown, either.

Repetitive instrumental music could be less distracting from the road than vocal music. House and Disco don’t make sense unless you’re dancing, but there’s always Electronica, Steve Reich, and Krautrock like Kraftwerk or Neu.

So, nowadays I listen mostly to unsubtle music; the car seems to have changed my ears while I’ve been keeping my eyes on the road.