What determines people's taste in music?
OUR PREFERENCE FOR THIS OR THAT KIND OF MUSIC IS obviously a deeply subjective matter. It can also be highly unstable, changing not only during a lifetime, but even on a scale of months, or even days. Yet despite such variety, there are three factors that I think are the main contributors.
The first is our upbringing, or the musical background which surrounded us in our formative years.
The kinds of music that we were exposed to as infants and toddlers helped to create very specific mental patterns—schemata—of the most typical melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic progressions.
These schemata serve to create expectations when we listen to music, and, as it turns out, we tend to experience greatest pleasure when those expectations are met.
However, even the most stable musical schemata can be overridden by socio-cultural concerns, and these constitute the second contribution to our musical preferences.
Music, likely from the very beginning of the existence of modern humans, has been used to bring people together in various kinds of activities, because it is really efficient at regulating bodily and emotional responses of large groups of participants.
Thus, it has served to create a sense of belonging, of group cohesion, of inclusion. The same mechanism applies today, where music brings listeners together in different activities.
Whether you’re into heavy metal, or hip hop, or jazz, your preferences are guided in part by your desire to be a member of some social circle.
These two factors seem to paint a rather mechanical picture of musical preferences, but this is obviously not the case.
Nothing is likely to be more important than our own subjective feeling at the time of listening, and this is something that draws on a very complex and irreducible network of biological and cultural influences.
Especially today, with nearly unlimited access to all genres and styles of music, we use music as a tool for regulating or maintaining our emotions, and our moods.
This is why when you want to study you might reach for something unobtrusive, without words. Or when you’re trying to relax before bed you’ll probably listen to something calm. All of these point to the fantastic flexibility of music in our lives.
But deep down it’s all about what the music does to you, how it affects you emotionally, bodily and cognitively.