I’m a huge music geek. Because of this, I have an extremely large and eclectic music collection. However, it’s hard for this collection to travel to classes with me, so I started using Pandora. Pandora uses an algorithm based system to play music in a style based on a band or a song as a starting point. Most people just pick a band and hit go, but as a good geek, I see an algorithm and consider it my job my try and maximize it. This post is all my best tips to personalize Pandora so that you enjoy every song it plays.

Check out all my crazy playlists!

Check out all my crazy playlists!


Make lots of very specific playlists. You can mix them later using shuffle anyway, but Pandora works best within a very defined music style. I have over 20 playlists right now including a 90s alt rock, a Capella, nerdcore, Broadway, jazz, country, and two different classic rock stations. One of the neat features if you are using Pandora in the browser is that you can move songs from one station to another. That way when my classic rock station plays Red Hot Chili Peppers I can move it to the alt rock station.

Use the arrow to move songs around

Use the arrow to move songs around

Thumbs Up or Down

This is the best way to train your station to play music that you like. Immediately after making a new station you’ve got to spend at least an hour or two listening to it and rating the songs up or down. Be certain to rate as many songs as possible early in station creation, otherwise things get unofficially tagged as okay even when they don’t fit into the theme. Definitely give a thumbs down to anything you don’t want to hear. I’ve trained both the Broadway and the A Capella station not to play Glee anything for example.

Adding Variety

The best way to add variety is by song not artist. The way Pandora works, it reads the musicality of each song separately so that adding an artist can confuse a station that you’ve already mostly got sorted out. If you add a few specific songs though, it can better maintain the sound. I did that to get my ACDC based classic rock station to play more Led Zeppelin. I added Ramble On and Black Dog and now it plays Zeppelin jam songs regularly.

Make things better with more variety!

Make things better with more variety!

Limitations and Annoyances

I like Pandora a lot, but it’s not perfect. It uses a lot of musical factors in the algorithm, but they tend to be in pitch, tonality, tempo, and theme. It doesn’t know, for example, who is singing. I’ve been trying to make a Female Vocalists station for a while, and it always tries to add things like Bryan Adams and Maroon 5. I also have an odd issue where my A Capella station plays bluegrass. I haven’t figured that one out yet. You can check why songs are playing though, so that can give you insights as to how a piece got added. For example, minor tonality and hard rock feel will land on my alt rock station.

See why a song got chosen

See why my station plays MC Frontalot

Other than a few stations that I can’t get quite right, Pandora has been pretty good to me. It makes for interesting classroom music and I don’t have to mess around or change the stations much and I can play good music while having a lot of variety. I can have students pick a few songs to start a station that they like (although dubstep was a bad idea). There’s new music being added to Pandora all the time as well, so you have to keep an eye on your stations and be sure to thumbs up or down anything you haven’t heard before. Otherwise, enjoy. Let me know what stations you’ve made. Maybe I’ll try a few. Here are some of my best starters:

Bruce Springsteen and Journey for classic rock

Jonathan Coulton and DaVinci’s Notebook for nerdy comedy

They Might Be Giants for general fun rock

Carrie Underwood and the Dixie Chicks for country

Pentatonix and Straight No Chaser for A Capella


  • I like using Pandora to find new artists. I made a Jonathan Coulton station and have discovered a handful of other comedy musicians that I really enjoy. I found Garfunkel and Oates, Tripod, and DaVinci’s Notebook this way.

    Angela 27.Mar.2013 7:14 am

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