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Relaxing Sounds: New-Age Music, Classical Music, Ambient, and Lo-Fi

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Relaxing music is popular and widely appreciated for its positive impact on mental health, stress levels, and sleep. This article delves into new-age music, ambient music, classical music, and lo-fi hip-hop, which often center on relaxation.

New-age music

New-age music is a genre associated with relaxation and meditation. Although its history is somewhat obscure, it is believed that the first official new-age recording was released by Tony Scott in 1964.

Producers within the genre usually work with synthesizers, analog and digital instruments, and various tools to create vast, immersive soundscapes. Some of the most commonly used elements and plugins are synth pads, bells, guitars, pianos, flutes, reverbs, delays, and stereo wideners.

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Today, the label new-age is rarely used by artists and music enthusiasts, with the Google search volume for the term having decreased tremendously since 2004. This is partly because, over time, other genres and labels that resemble its approaches have emerged, including ambient or “meditation music.”

Moreover, the genre has sometimes been associated with the New Age spirituality movement. As a result, many artists who do not subscribe to this worldview have decided to distance themselves from the New Age label.

Lastly and most importantly, the genre has often been criticized for appropriating various cultures and their spiritual practices. For instance, it frequently incorporates Buddhist elements, including instruments, chants, or imagery, without accurately representing its cultural roots and teachings.

The many negative connotations are why today, artists rarely use the label. Those curious to find out more should look into GQ’s interview with Peter Davison, an experienced producer within the genre.

Relaxing classical music

Classical music is often considered highly influential in the West as it has substantially contributed to the development of music theory and contemporary genres. Its long history can be broken down into several eras, including the Medieval period, Renaissance era, Baroque era, Classical period, Early and Late Romantic era, and 20th and 21st century classical music.

Each period is characterized by a recognizable style and approach toward instrumentation, music theory, composition, and arrangement techniques. Many compositions aim to express intense emotions, adding much dramaticness and movement to recordings and performances. Meanwhile, other works center on beautiful, calming, and relaxing melodies.

While no specific sub-genre comprises relaxing classical music, a brief Google or YouTube search is usually enough to stumble across hundreds of calming works. Those who want to relax to classical music can explore our Spotify playlists Minimal Masterpieces or Romantic Classics. Alternatively, they can look into various classical music radio stations, such as Whisperings - Solo Piano Radio, or YouTube channels dedicated to relaxing classical tunes.

Moreover, classical music has contributed a lot to other forms of music that center on relaxation, including new-age, ambient, and lo-fi. This is mainly because of the popularity of instruments central to the genre, including pianos and flutes, and the music theory behind melody and harmony.

Ambient music

Ambient music centers on immersive soundscapes and auditive panoramas. Contrary to many genres, it does not follow any set rules, rhythms, or structures. Instead, it is often produced in experimental settings in which artists make use of the sonic space to create instrumental landscapes. It is influenced by various genres, including classical music, jazz, or avant-garde music.

Producer and composer Brian Eno is credited with naming and popularizing the genre in 1978. His album “Ambient 1: Music for Airports” encapsulates the key elements of ambient music in many ways.

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Ambient tracks are characterized by a level of liminality. The production process often begins with envisioning the physical space the track is supposed to represent or in which it is supposed to be listened to. While some tracks are rich in harmony, others are more minimalistic.

Artists usually combine digital and analog instruments with atmospheric elements (such as synth pads or noise), synth sounds, and effects. They then distribute them across the sonic space via reverbs, delays, panning techniques, stereo widening plugins, filters, and automation. Thus, the genre often requires a profound understanding of sound design, composition, and mixing techniques.

Because they are often played at art galleries or integrated into movies to emphasize various emotions, ambient productions are fairly common. Moreover, the genre has transformed quite a lot over the years, allowing for the emergence of sub-genres like ambient house, ambient techno, or ambient industrial.

Examples of well-known ambient projects include “Selected Ambient Works 85-92” by Aphex Twin (categorized as ambient techno) or “94 Diskont” by Oval (categorized as glitch/ambient).

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A further reading suggestion for those curious to explore the genre is the article “An Introduction to Ambient Music” by Barbican, which offers much insight into its history and some of its most influential artists.

Lo-fi music

Lo-fi, short for low fidelity, is an umbrella term for music that sounds somewhat imperfect. It often contains (environmental) noises, such as rain or car sounds, dust, scratches, or warp effects. Although many recordings are intentionally reduced in their quality, not all of them are “made” to sound lo-fi. For instance, many releases of independent artists come with a unique and authentic DIY sound that is celebrated by many.

Nowadays, the term lo-fi is often associated with relaxing lo-fi beats. The arguably most popular online source for such music is the “lofi hip hop radio” by the channel Lofi Girl, which plays beats that people like to relax and study to.

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Lo-fi beats are produced in a way that gives them a vintage feel. For example, producers often use the plugin iZotope Vinyl, which allows them to make sounds or elements of their beats sound as if they were made a long time ago. Moreover, they often borrow from genres such as jazz or soul through extended chords or sampling.

Relaxing sounds to relax your mind

Relaxing music has been and remains popular among music enthusiasts and musicians alike. The sphere of relaxation spans various genres, including new-age music, ambient, classical compositions, and lo-fi hip-hop. Although all genres have their distinct styles, they often interact with each other based on theory, instrumentation, or digital music production. We hope our list helped you discover new artists and genres to relax to.

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