Have you ever wondered why people have different tastes in music? Some prefer slower, quieter music, yet some love their music fast and loud. Is it random? Are some of us predestined to like certain chord progressions over others? Does our DNA dictate our preferences between complex rhythms over simplicity? Are we born with a certain musical connection, pushing us towards certain styles of music?
As it turns out, our musical preferences start at a very early age, which is when the seeds are first planted. When a baby is born, they enter the world as a blank slate, an empty canvas. They are capable of speaking any language, and can make any sound for all the languages out there in the world. During the first year of development however, things start to change. Due to their surroundings, the synapses in the brain start to form for certain sounds, while at the same time begin to exclude others that aren’t needed. The same thing starts to happen with music as well. During the first 6 months, babies can follow the syntax of any style of music. As they are exposed to the music of their time and culture, those same connections are forged.
Our own personal musical taste really starts to form in adolescence, when we begin to realize our own identity, which is a way for us to plant our flag so to speak, to say “this is who I am.” We crave to be seen as individuals, which can translate into the rebellion we so often see in the young. This can cause our musical tastes to go against what our parents enjoy. The walls of a teenage bedroom are often adorned with posters of music that they connect to, with their closet full of shirts bearing images and logos of their favourite musical artists.
As we move through childhood, we are mostly surrounded by the music that our parents listen to, but between the ages of 12 and 22, there is what we experience called a ‘reminiscence bump’. This is the time of raging hormones, when we experience so many ‘firsts’ – first kiss, first heartbreak, first live concert, etc., and everything around us feels like it’s the most important thing in the world. During this time, we become emotionally charged as we connect to certain genres of music, and form friendships with people that have the same likes and dislikes as we do. The music we listen to also helps to validate how we’re feeling at the time, and can greatly help in getting us through challenging moments as well. In our early 20’s, this extreme connection starts to subside, and our musical tastes become much more solidified.
Although most people like to hear music from new bands and artists, our desire to seek them out can start to subside a little, as we become more comfortable with the music that has formed us, and we feel that it doesn’t seem to compare to new music on an emotional level as our favourites from the past.
As we get older, we can be sitting in the car or a restaurant, when suddenly a song from our past comes on the radio, overwhelming us with emotion, and bringing back feelings and memories from a nostalgic time. Music has a way of connecting with our emotions and memories on a very deep level, and hits us to the core of who we are.
Our musical taste doesn’t just say who we are, it says who we were. Our musical tastes and our music library can attest to that fact – that we’ve experienced so many things, both positive and negative. We may not be able to physically go back in time, but we can listen to certain songs and through our memories and emotions be instantly transported back to a time when everything was the most important thing in the world.