How Music Makes Me Better at Programming

Exploring a few ways that music has helped me in my development career.

When I interviewed PJ Hagerty, I asked him how music makes him better at his job. He talked about how both have similar shapes — they use patterns to come together to make the whole thing.

Programming is math. Music is also math. The rhythm of it, the pattern of it is the way essentially building a website works.

I really like this answer. Some patterns work and some patterns just don't work. And eventually these patterns work together to form a whole set — a song or a website.

Continued Improvement

And in both cases — songs and websites — they can almost always be better. There's a bit of an art. Of knowing when to walk away and consider the thing complete.

But they can't just stay where they are forever. A website also needs to be nurtured over time. And songs often need to continue to be played or they fade away.

It Takes Time

For both music and websites, developing the patterns to make the thing takes time. Often a lot of time. They require skills that need to be honed so you can learn the patterns others have used, and eventually discover new ones for yourself. To build your own style and your own way of working.

Using Music as a Creative Break

One thing PJ and I didn't really talk about is how I tend to pair music with programming — for breaks.

And I think music helps me solve really difficult problems. If I'm really struggling with some code, I'll step back, play a little bit of music, and come back to the problem refreshed. It helps me slow down. It changes my mindset, and often gives me a different way of looking at the problem.

Applying Music to Your Process

This doesn't mean the only way to take advantage of music when programming is to learn an instrument. Listening to music can also have its benefits, just as it does with many other activities. It can be calming to help focus. Or it can be motivating to keep energy up when you really need to crank.

As it goes with most of these things, you just need to find what works for you. And what works for you may also evolve over time.

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