10 Music Tracks to Study to

Written by Margaret de Valois:

One of the great things about being an actuarial student is that it provides an absolute legitimate reason to lock yourself away for hours on end with nothing to do but some light reading and a list of superb tracks to listen to on your Beats.

Back in my day there was no iTunes or YouTube so I had to physically buy CDs.  Most of the debt I ran into my 20’s was linked to my afternoon trips to the music store (yes, I did go on my study day) to pick up a couple of fixes to get me through the next installment of claims reserving or Black-Scholes derivation.  I must have listened to hundreds of tracks, some good and some definitely not so good.margaret

Fast forward six years, however, I don’t remember anything about claims reserving (I work in pensions strategy), I know very little about the long term health care core reading wording and I’d stand as much chance of proving the Black-Scholes  formula as a my obedience-challenged Chihuahua would.  But, I do remember most of the awesome tracks that got me through my journey to becoming an actuary and I still listen to them.

So, if I had to do it all again.  What would be on my listening list?  Words didn’t really work for me, unless they were particularly motivating or helped channel a particular frustration I was having at the time, so it was the good tunes or uplifting messages that got me through.  Here’s my starter for ten:

pinkfloydPink Floyd, Another Brick in the Wall, Part Two (1979) In the anger channelling category. “We don’t need no education, We don’t need no thought control.”  Not only a banging tune but also perfect for those moments of pure frustration with the whole process of rote learning stuff that, let’s face it, you’re never going to use in the office.

The students of Drake University, An Actuary Song (2011) I just love this parody of Bruno Mars’ ”The Lazy Song”.  It’s funny, brilliant and I’d love to see more from this lot.  I can only assume that they are now qualified and so don’t have time for such frivolous activities such as lip dubbing to Ollie Murs.  If any of you are reading this – when’s the next video out? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBb99KndoQk

picture3J.S Bach, The Cello Suites (Composed 1717-1723) Not really one track but just over 2 hours of the most unadulterated and beautiful chord progressions you will ever hear.  Hypnotic and haunting, with the ability to take the mind to a place of focus that the stuff of actuarial exams demands.  No words so a great accompaniment for rote learning wordy stuff.  Yo-Yo Ma did a great recording in 2006.

Deadmau5, Clockwork from Grandmix 2008 (2008) See 3, but electronica.  Joel Thomas Zimmerman I salute you and your ability to take the work of some of the greatest composers ever living (in this case Henry Purcell) and make them sound, dare I say it, a little bit better.  You need the 11 minute version of Clockwork, which is perfect for a 20 mark question.  The track builds throughout to help the adrenalin flow as you reach the end of the question.   Again no words, but some heavy breathing is involved. http://youtu.be/Kf8pOdTtsT0

picture5Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush, Don’t Give Up (1986) My pick from the 1980s.  Gabriel’s plead of isolation and despair balanced with Bush’s response of hope and encouragement makes for some uplifting listening at the end of a long day with nothing but longevity tables for company.  There are various covers of this, including a great one by Alicia Keys and Bono, if Peter and Kate are not your thing.

picture6B.B.King, Paying the Cost to be the Boss (1968) From a cotton plantation in Mississippi in 1925 to “King of the Blues” and still working at 87.  If the music doesn’t work for you, the story of Riley.B King’s ascent to one of the greatest and most prolific guitarist of all time should be inspiration to work hard in itself.  The lyrics of this track speak for themselves and for more about the great man, see BBKing.com.

picture7Radiohead, Fitter Happier (1997) Should be made core reading for all actuaries which, as we all know, needs to be learned by rote.  The words speak for themselves, plus it’s Radiohead, who I actually believe should be the official group of mathematicians and actuaries.  If you’re reading this and haven’t listened to “OK Computer” from start to finish do yourself then put this on your to do list now.  No one should be awarded FIA or FSA status without listening to “OK Computer” at least once.  Amen, so speaketh the de Valois, epitaph over.

picture8David Bowie, It Ain’t Easy (1972). Written by Ron Davies and covered by Bowie for “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” in 1972.  I never understood Bowie until my lovely husband introduced me to him (not literally of course).    The ultimate showman, and a gifted poet, Bowie never gave away why he included this track on Ziggy.  I like to think it could have been reference to Ziggy’s difficulty finding his place in the society, a little bit like actuaries, perhaps.

picture9Beyonce (featuring Jay-Z), Crazy in Love (2003) First 15 seconds Not so much one to study to but to get your booty off the chair and move it around to 20 seconds.  We know that exercise improves the ability to concentrate and so a few minutes moving around is going to help – believe me.  If you’re feeling particularly up for this (I usually do) then you may want to do the whole track in front of the mirror, whilst trying out the outfit you’re going to wear and the moves you’re going to pull at the exam celebratory drinks.  It’s all part of the journey to becoming a well-rounded actuary.

John Cage, 4’33’’ (1953) No words, no music.  If nothing above works for you then perhaps this is the best track for you.  If you haven’t heard or seen it, then look it up.

Good luck and happy studying!