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Music and You

A Diverse World of Listeners

By: James Adams

I have always wondered why I like the music that I like and why I like my stereo to sound a certain way. Being a musician, music student, avid music listener, and audiophile, I think about this a lot; do you? Through my research to find the answers to the above questions I have found that the answers are quite comforting. There is no super science answer here and you don’t need a Ph.D. in psychology to understand why you like the music that you like¹.

Certain things just feel comfortable to us. For example: Some of us cross our arms a certain way but if we switch to the opposite way it just doesn’t feel right; music and sound are just like this to us. While skipping through radio stations, it is completely obvious to you when you land on a station that doesn’t feel right/pleasant. And when you land on a station that is comfortable, familiar, or pleasant to you, you are very sure about it. Everyone has a certain taste in music and sound; these tastes have been developing since the day you were born². Some people’s taste in music may be broader than others or completely different but the origins of musical taste come from the same places.

You have been listening to music and sounds for a while now and you have determined what sounds good or bad to you. You know what makes you feel comfortable, uncomfortable, happy, sad, or just plainly annoyed! When I was a teenager, my father titled some of my musical interest as “Racket.” I still got to listen to what I wanted but the “Racket” music had to be played at a reduced volume. Being allowed to listen and explore many forms of music when I was a child is one factor that attributed to the diversity of my music appreciation. Appreciation of musical forms can be compared to our appreciation of different foods: Some of us like many kinds of foods and flavors, while others may be picky eaters.

There are two big factors that have affected your current judgments toward music: your upbringing (influences from those around you such as parents, siblings, and friends) and your cultural exposure (the types of music in your culture). In your upbringing, you were exposed to music through your family and the culture that surrounded you. Through these experiences, you learned how to classify certain sounds as pleasurable, un-pleasurable, etc. You have learned and adapted to what music is acceptable for certain occasions in your daily life: What music is good for dancing, religious practice, background, working, driving, relaxing, or putting you to sleep. Interestingly, the acceptable forms of music for certain occasions may vary from culture to culture; because of this, it is important to be open-minded to musical forms that you are not accustomed to. You may not like a particular form of music but remember that no one form of music is better than another; it is all a matter of perspective.

No matter what your taste in music is, you are a good listener! You may not be aware of all the details as to why you like certain sounds/music but you are automatically listening very closely when you are searching for music that stimulates you. Because you are so good at listening to music and sounds, you don’t even have to think about whether or not you like a certain type of music/sound: You Just Know! Keep in mind that you can always learn to enjoy and appreciate other forms of music. In the same fashion that you came to appreciate the music you do, it takes time and a lot of listening to appreciate music.

¹The study of music and its effects on the human psyche is a very in-depth field of study. This article is meant to briefly explain a few factors that influence our music appreciation.

²Current studies have shown that we actually begin learning via sound before birth.

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