Guest Post: Why do we love music?

Thank you very much to Fi for this thought-provoking birthday guest post on a subject that many of us probably haven’t ever contemplated much – but perhaps we should. Can you trace where your love of or taste in music comes from? Why is music important to you? How has your taste in music changed over time? Plenty of food for thought here, please feel free to share your opinions and views in the comments!

If you’d like to read more, Fi also blogs over at Music vs. The World, where she reviews new and unsigned music, and compiles excellent and eclectic Twitter-sourced themed playlists.

Why are we drawn to music? We hear a song, we either like or dislike it, and we make a choice to make it a part of our collection or never listen to it again. That’s it, right? Well, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that. We just don’t tend to stop and think about it all that often.

SCIENCE

There is, of course, a well-studied science behind people and reactions to sounds – we know that many parts of the brain are activated when listening to music. The temporal lobe recognises and processes sound frequencies, and analyses information from music – pitch, speed and volume. The cerebrum recalls lyrics and stimulates memories associated with certain songs. The cerebellum affects movement, which can be rhythmic in response to music. The limbic system is the part of the brain that produces the emotional reaction to music.

I have a question. If it’s all down to science, why doesn’t everyone like the same kind of music? Why are some people completely averse to the same sounds that another group of people can’t get enough of?

PARENTAL INFLUENCE

It could be down to what you’re brought up listening to. If, like me, you’re born into a household where the staple musical diet is mostly prog rock mixed with a little bit of country, some rock-pop and a touch of electronica, whilst avoiding anything from a boy band and completely denying the existence of rap, then that could map out your listening travels for the rest of your life. OK, so I still absolutely love Pink Floyd, have a soft spot for Don Williams and Queen are my “go to” band if I need a bit of cheering up. However, if my parents’ taste in music was solely responsible for mine, how would that explain why I went through a period of being something of a Take That fan during my teens (I’m not sorry – it was character building. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.), and now have something of a penchant for Ghostpoet’s music along with artists such as Public Enemy and Eminem?

My daughter is hugely into her music. She plays piano and recorder, has had flute and ukulele lessons, and can read music. She’s nearly eleven years old, and at that age kids very much have their own ideas about what they want and what they like. She had a stage a few years ago very much like my Take That loving stage. She was into JLS. I decided to go with it and let her get it out of her system, which I knew she would. A lot of the girls in her class at school liked them, so I could pinpoint exactly where she got it from. Those girls soon moved onto Justin Bieber and One Direction, though, and my daughter very wisely did not follow. I’m not sure I could have coped with that!

Luckily for her and me, she started listening to Blondie, Queen and eventually Jack White. All her own choices, and she has CDs of all of them in her collection at her request. Recently, I took her to see Jack White as her first proper gig (she’s been to a good few festivals). She came home from school that day laughing about the fact that none of her friends had heard of him. She wasn’t fazed by that at all, when she could easily have been affected by her own peers. A mini me in the truest sense! Now I just need to force her to like The Beatles and Pink Floyd… I’m joking, of course! It’s fine if she doesn’t like them (said through gritted teeth)!

PEER PRESSURE

We like what our friends like, or we want to impress someone so we explore the things they’re into so that they can identify with us. I can’t speak for anyone else, but that’s not true for me at all. I vividly remember as a child at primary school being told that I had to like either one of Bros or New Kids on the Block to be in one of the “cool” gangs. I laughed, told them I like Queen and left them to it. I didn’t even care about what they thought, despite the fact I was laughed at and treated as something of an outcast because of it.

That’s just me – I like what I like, not what people say I should like. I listen to a lot of different music, and if it resonates with me I will listen again and again. If not, I tend to avoid it like the plague. I have never by choice stopped listening to music I love, and can’t remember ever deciding to listen to something simply to attract someone’s attention. Besides, if you do either of the latter, it’s not really being true to yourself, is it?

Another example of this is a bit more current – many of my peers are hugely into Morrissey (and The Smiths). I’m not. At all. In fact, I would go as far as to say I actively avoid his music. The flipside of this coin is that people who do like Morrissey do so in a very big way. There’s even a Moz Army on Twitter. Not many musicians/bands have a following like that these days. Fans of Morrissey are frequently shocked when I “admit” I don’t like him – it’s almost like I’ve offended them personally. I’ve even been told I’m “brave” to say I don’t like him! Why is that? I have nothing against people who like him – why would I?! – so why is not being a fan such an abhorrent thing?

PROTECTING WHAT WE LOVE

Once, I casually mentioned on a social networking site that I’m not keen on U2. The reaction I got was, in my eyes, completely bizarre. It was something along the lines of “I’m sick and tired of defending my favourite band to other people”. I was slightly taken aback by this, to say the least. I think that if you feel the need to defend a band or musician to people, then it’s verging on obsessive fandom, is no longer enjoyable and is quite frankly rather odd! But that’s just me…!

Maybe people are naturally protective of music that evokes huge emotion for them. I can understand that to an extent, although I do feel it’s slightly tiresome at times when I’m told in no uncertain terms that I am wrong, and to try listening to the music again. Maybe there are such strong reactions because people are so immersed in particular music that they cannot see another point of view. I don’t really know the reason, but it does genuinely interest me that what one person absolutely adores another completely detests. We’re not in a school playground now, though, so it’s nice when us adults can just live and let live…!

PAST EXPERIENCES

It’s not like people make a conscious decision to dislike someone’s music. Right? I don’t think I woke up one day and said “I’m never listening to any music made or produced by a man who calls himself Bono!” On the contrary – in my twenties I listened to them quite a bit, courtesy of a distant memory of a relationship. When that was over, it felt really, really good to be able to do things I enjoyed again, and that included listening to “my” music.

OK, so there could be a slight contradiction there, but I prefer to think of it as overlapping reasons. It’s possible that we do sometimes avoid music on purpose for reasons other than simply disliking it. Certain songs remind us of specific moments in life, particular types of music conjure memories of sections of our past. Maybe we don’t want to feel like that again – perhaps we want to move on, and hearing the same music can make us feel like we are in the same place, a place where maybe we don’t want to be. For example, I have personal reasons for never wanting to listen to Rihanna again as long as I live, and it’s about more than just the fact that I consider her songs to be really quite awful! Similarly, I listen to Richard Hawley more than is probably healthy, as his music takes me back to a time when I was starting to heal following some unpleasantness in my life. When I listen to his songs, I feel calm and rational. So, it’s certainly not all negativity, not by any stretch of the imagination.

THERE ARE NO REASONS…

I’ve come to the end of my musings, and I for one am no closer to working out why we all like different music.

I like to think that it’s a bit like the reason we all look a bit different even though we are essentially the same. We are individuals, there are billions of us, and not one person is exactly the same as another. However, when I listen to Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd, my neighbour sings along to Still the One by Shania Twain and the person on the exact opposite side of the world performs their crazy dance to 21 Seconds by So Solid Crew, each of us experiences something different, yet in many ways we can identify with each other even if on the face of it seems like we can’t.

Of course, I could just be trying to find an answer that doesn’t exist, and it could just be one of those mysteries that will never be solved… as long as there is never a time without music, all will be right with the world.

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6 comments

  1. Pingback: Guest Post: Why do we love music? | Music vs. The World
  2. rick leach

    Very interesting & thought provoking piece. I totally get what you say about The Smiths & Morrissey yet for me, I increasingly find myself in a very small minority re liking U2; I feel I should apologise for enjoying what is probably the most unfashionable band there is!
    I sometimes do wonder if we actually place too much importance in music; for most people it is a slight diversion within a myraid of interests. For me (and you, and whole bunch of us) we cannot imagine life without it!

    • trickygirl

      *Quietly puts her hand up and admits to liking U2 at their most epic and pompous 80s height*

      My take on it is that most people don’t actually understand how important music is… ;~) Seriously, though – music is the most powerful and immediate of all the various art forms. Those of us who obsess over it are, I think, just that bit more sensitive to its power and impact.

  3. rosewiltshire

    My first record was a Jason Donovan one. I have since recanted for this terrible error of judgement! I honestly don’t know where a lot of my tastes come from though – none of my family were impressed when I used to play my Sisters of Mercy records.

    • trickygirl

      I think a lot of us started out on cheesy pop! I’m lucky – my sister and I have always had very similar musical tastes, but I’m not sure our parents were ever overly impressed by the likes of Slayer and Sepultura…

  4. Pingback: September Update | Another Kind Of Mind

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