Best Driving Music: Tips to Consider

Before setting off on a road trip, most people try to decide what's the best driving music. Here's a good general principle to follow: the best driving music is the music you enjoy most. In other words, don't bring along music you don't really like just because you believe it will keep your mind focused on the road.

(That's what coffee is for.)

Having said that, I'll share some tips on selecting the right driving music:

  • No loud music. Listening to loud music while you're driving is never a good idea. It's unsafe, and it's illegal in many places. When you overwhelm your ears, your eyes don't work as well. You also run the risk of slowing your reaction times due to your mental preoccupation with the music.

  • Keep it even. Listening to music that has many peaks and valleys can also be a distraction. I love classical music and listen to it often outside the car, but it's tough to listen to it in the car. Why? Because the quiet parts are swallowed up by engine noise. If I turn the volume way up to compensate, there's invariably a fortissimo section that nearly makes me drive off the road.

    I'm not saying "don't listen to classical in the car," but you should probably test out the loud sections of the disc in advance, adjust the volume to a comfortable level, and then promise yourself you won't turn it up during the quiet parts. Or maybe you just need a really good stereo that can compensate for the changes in volume.

    Most rock and pop music stays at a fairly consistent volume. The texture doesn't change much and the instruments are amplified. Plus, you may find that the steady beat gives you energy for the drive.

Here are a few specific suggestions you may not have considered:

  • "Minimalist" classical music: Look for the works of composers such as Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and John Adams. Many of their works feature lots of repetition with very slight, gradual changes in melody. They use plenty of percussion instruments and often include vocals.

    No composer would want his works to be referred to as mere "driving music," but the fact is, these guys write pieces that go really well with a road trip.

  • The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet: I discovered these guys a couple years ago. Four acoustic guitars playing tunes with a definite swing. There's not a boring moment on their albums, and the tunes are catchy.

  • Lectures, sermons, and books on tape: Sometimes, the best driving music isn't music at all. Have you considered bringing some spoken-word discs? A long road trip can be the perfect time to gain new knowledge in your field, enhance your spiritual life, or "read" a book you don't have time to read.

As you can see, selecting the best driving music is a highly subjective matter. But as long as you get there safely and enjoy the journey, that's all that matters. So just focus on picking music that's energizing without being distracting.

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