Category: Comparison Essay

Music Preferences: Universal Indicators

Music is a part of a social environment and universal means of conveying emotions. Specific elements of music may influence a decision whether or not people like it. Different genres, styles, and characteristics define music preferences with a number of indicators. In fact, people rely generally on a few basic elements to make judgments about music. These elements correlate with cognitive and emotional processes of listeners and influence the formation of positive and negative impressions. Music preferences also relate to a set of auditory indicators. The tempo and individual traits of a character are the main features that influence music preferences.

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Music preferences correspond to specific elements that convey emotional messages and trigger certain reactions to a musical work. Emotional effects are among the most common empirical evidence suggesting that a set of indicators may be described in relation to music favorability or disliking. To emphasize this idea, scientists (for example, Greenberg, Madden, McDermott, Swaminathan, and Rentfrow) describe emotional and cognitive elements that constitute music preferences. According to their studies, an emotional-rational basis affects the perception of music while listening. Empirical research establishes parts of the listening process that are responsible for deciding whether a work is liked or disliked. Thus, an individual tries to make sense of content in music (perceptual processing), reacts to it (affective reactivity), interprets elements of music and their relevance (intellectual interpretation), and uses the melody to anticipate emotions and thoughts that music provokes (prediction) (Greenberg et al. 2). It should be noted that there is no pattern that may predict whether a certain song would become favorite. However, studies conducted by scientists in the past demonstrate that musical preferences may be described using a universal model.


To address the issue of music preferences, scholars apply various methods to analyze relevant materials. Opinion polls that include answers of independent participants regarding their favorite music are an important part of the process. Obviously, genres and subgenres influence music preferences as well as particular elements of different songs. Various auditory (for example, tempo, timbre, and instrumentation) and psychological (mood) attributes should be considered. Scientists designed a five-factor model to illustrate music preferences. It is known as the MUSIC model which covers five aspects of listening experience, such as Mellow, Unpretentious, Sophisticated, Intense, and Contemporary (Greenberg et al. 2). The model underlies musical preferences on the basis of musical attributes and their configurations. The five-dimensional scale also includes genres but does not depend on genre distinction. The MUSIC model covers various aspects:

1. Mellow music is romantic, slow, relaxing. It can also be sad and quiet. The major attribute of mellow music is its ingressiveness. The main representatives are soft rock and R&B.

2. Unpretentious music is described as soft, unaggressive, and relaxing. It has acoustic attributes present in folk and country music.

3. Sophisticated music is dynamic, inspiring, complex, and intelligent. This dimension relates to classical, jazz, opera, and avant-garde genres.

4. Intense music is characterized by loud sounds. It is distorted and aggressive. Intense aspect may be of punk, heavy metal, power pop, and classic rock genres.

5. Contemporary music is electric and percussive. It includes rap, acid jazz, and electronic genres.

According to the research, people prefer to listen to the combination of Mellow music which consists of the preferences for soul, R&B, and soft rock music (Greenberg et al. 16). This conclusion helps to understand why, for example, a song В“Show Must Go OnВ” by Queen remains popular among millions of people. However, most people dislike Intense music. Therefore, not every individual likes songs of AC/DC. This means that not all people have tolerance to violent and distorted sounds. However, the model does not explain which type of music has the most influence. Therefore, it is necessary to distinguish an aspect that has a direct impact on the preferences. The tempo is one of the most important attributes of music that makes people like certain musical pieces and dismiss others.


Physical abilities help people to distinguish different tempos. Usually, it is possible to recognize a В“range of tempos from around 40 to 300 beats per minuteВ” (Madden). It may be difficult to identify the patterns of music with the tempo below 40 bpm; the tempo faster than 300 bpm may be perceived as a continuous tone (Madden). Regarding music preferences, people like hearing only a narrow range of tempos. According to a study conducted by the members of the BrazilВ’s Federal University, there is a tendency that explains how tempo affects musical preferences. To illustrate the idea, the research included an analysis of over 300 singles and album charts since 1940 until 2011 (Madden). It was concluded that top songs did not vary in tempo. As a matter of fact, the average tempo of the most liked songs is between 117 bpm to 122 bpm (Madden). The majority of people tend to dislike songs that have the tempo slower than 117 bpm or faster than 122 bpm.

The preferred tempo is biologically defined. According to a musicologist, Dirk Moelants, a human body is adapted to the tempo 120 bpm and it is a part of the natural tempo established by evolution (Madden). Several experiments confirm this theory. When people are asked to tap fingers, applaud, or walk, they naturally move В“at a tempo of around 120 bpm (or a 500ms delay in between pulses)В” (Madden). Therefore, the ideal formula of the tempo of a popular song is to keep the average 120 bpm. The pattern has its exception altered by emotional responses. Under the influence of different circumstances, peopleВ’s preferences may range above or below the described tempo. Individual personality traits may have a greater influence on music preferences than the tempo.

Individual Factors

Music preferences are built on individual factors. Apart from physiological abilities that explain the link between popular songs and the tempo, there are psychological aspects. Music is considered to be a means to express emotions and create a certain state of mind. Different emotions correspond to different musical pieces. Generally, people prefer positive songs that are able to motivate and inspire. However, there are moods when listeners choose sad melodies as a setting for their experiences. Music creates associations based on emotions and feelings. This statement is supported by White, Stuart, and Aviva who explain that emotions people В“feel while listening to music are determined in part by the nature of the music, of course, but even more by our individual associationsВ” (32). For example, Frank SinatraВ’s В“I Did It My WayВ” with its slow tempo may be associated with a pleasant personal moment. Other people may enjoy В“I am Singing in the RainВ” В– a song from a popular movie В– and listen it to rise spirits and create a happy moment. In this context, В“Du HastВ” by Rammstein may be liked by individuals who need to express some powerful emotions related to distress. Scientists state that musical preferences correspond to a range of personality traits.

Experiments and opinion polls show that there are psychological correlations between a character of an individual and music that he or she likes to listen. According to Rentfrow, classical music appeals to people who have liberal political values, feel a need to satisfy their curiosity, and are generally intelligent; country music is preferred by people who value friendship, are conservative, and adhere to traditional norms and rules of society. As a result, Rentfrow and other scientists believe that В“musical preferences are manifestations of personalityВ” (183). Thus, some people do not appreciate Metallica and its style while others are fond of Taylor SwiftВ’s songs. Music preferences may also depend on gender differences. Women like soft and tender songs with a slow tempo. This music helps them to relax and find balance. Men often choose to listen to aggressive music with loud bass enhancement (McDermott 246). There are exceptions, especially when individuals try new styles of music to respond to their emotional states.

Undoubtedly, different studies stress the connections between personality traits and genre preferences. These traits include features of extraverts and introverts. According to Swathi and Swaminathan (2015), extraverts like to listen to energetic and upbeat songs that may be found among dance music, hard rock, and pop genres (194). Introverts tend to listen to a wider variety of genres and do not stop on one genre, for instance, classical music, jazz, or rock. This notion may be useful in various situations when people need to please others. For example, it may be obvious that individuals who attend galleries and want to see pictures made by artists of the previous centuries are intellectual people with conservative values appreciating classical music. However, classical music may not bring joy to those individuals who gather to talk about sports. Without a doubt, there is no universal formula that can precisely describe music likeability factor because individual factors have a significant impact on music preferences.

Music brings joy when it helps to relive moments from the past. Moreover, people may like or dislike music if it has associations with childhood experiences. Music creates relationships between feelings and memories. Thus, music exposes people to their past. In this context, people return to the music from childhood as it reminds them of good times. Therefore, familiarity is another important factor that explains music preferences. Familiarity may be an indicator of music popularity and its origin. According to scientists, people are inclined to like music that they heard before. New sounds and music styles do not receive much appreciation in the beginning. Furthermore, men and women tend to choose music of their culture and В“often find the music of foreign cultures to be uninteresting or unpleasant by comparisonВ” (McDermott 241). McDermott supports the theory of familiarity using as an example of dance music. According to him, DJs