Musical Tastes
Music was my first love

“Music was my first love,” as John Miles once sang. What role does our musical taste play with respect to our personality – and why is music so important, especially during puberty?
“Music was my first love,” as John Miles once sang. What role does our musical taste play with respect to our personality – and why is music so important, especially during puberty? | Photo (detail): © Adobe

We love music. Some pieces accompany us a whole lifetime, other songs we most definitely steer clear of. What role does our taste in music play with respect to our personality, to our identity, to social affiliation – and to social exclusion? And why is music so important, especially during puberty?

In hardly any other phase of life do music and personal taste in music play such an important role as during puberty, while growing up. What used to be the music collection in the form of records, cassettes or CDs is now the individual music library on a person’s cell phone. The technology has changed, but the fact remains – favourite songs, the work of individual artists or whole styles of music, are still so important to young people that they want to own them or have access to them at any time. How come this is the case – especially at a time when young people are looking to find their identity and personality?

A Different Song for Every Situation

Often nothing works in life without the music you love: you need it in your everyday life, to regulate your feelings, as background noise against the silence, as a distraction and occupation on your way to school, university or work, as a remedy for boredom and loneliness and as a musical backdrop to your own life , like a very individual soundtrack. Not every song or style of music, however, is suitable for every situation. Some tracks may provide the necessary impetus for housework, others are ideal for dancing and partying, but are not suitable as background music when studying.

For that reason the context is also quite important in which music is listened to and how well it is suited for this use. That’s why our favorite music cannot be placed into just one category – songs that are particularly inspiring at a concert are just as relevant as songs that are perfect for letting out negative energy when you’re in a bad mood. In order for music to be appreciated, it does not have to be universally applicable, but should rather be able to fit in well with certain circumstances. But what is it that makes our absolute favorite songs or artists so special that we love them more than anyone else?

Music Expresses Who We Want to Be

Surveys have shown that both young people and adults most strongly value music that has a connection to their own identity – that expresses who they are. This connection between identity and music plays a particularly important role during puberty. By selecting certain styles of music and performers, young people can show, on the one hand, which interests and attitudes appeal to them, and, on the other, how they experiment with them. This works because music is associated not only with the content of the lyrics, but also with many other qualities that can be attributed to the person or the style of music.

Surveys have shown that both young people and adults most strongly value music that has a connection to their own identity.

Political attitudes, for example, but also the lifestyles, clothing, possibly religion and character traits of the musicians and singers, are made public via interviews and social media and are embraced by their music (and also by their listeners). Even with entire styles of music, certain characteristics and preferences are linked to the artists and fans of this music – fans of folk music, country and Schlager (German hit songs) are considered to have close ties to their home region, conservative, but also loyal, while techno fans are seen as party-loving and adventurous.

Especially during puberty, music enables young people to try out different roles and to emphasize different aspects of one’s personality depending on their situation and environment. It’s easy to find like-minded people at concerts and in clubs, and, after such events, you can post photos to present yourself with this music on social media. With other kinds of music, on the other hand, one might decide to keep quiet about it and only consume it “secretly”.

Hated Music – Musical Exclusion

Personal taste in music includes not only your likes, the pieces and artists you particularly love – but also the music that you don’t like. And similar to musical preferences, dislike also fulfills certain functions with regard to one’s own identity, serving social cohesion and exclusion.

This works on different levels. As a group of friends, for example, you distance yourself from certain styles of music with which you associate qualities that you don’t have and don’t want to have yourself. The rejection acts as a connecting, common element. A simple example here is the rejection of music that is classified differently politically , such as right-wing rock or country, in a more leftwing-liberal environment.

Individuals, on the other hand, can use rejection to dissociate themselves from their friends. So maybe everyone likes the same singer, but everyone appreciates a special album or song, but finds other pieces not so good or doesn’t like them at all. These specific personal likes and dislikes, on the one hand, provide topics for conversation and, on the other, differentiate members of the same group or circle of friends from one another.

That’s Me – My Favorite Music Tells My Own Story

For young people in puberty, this social positioning is very much part of their focus, they discuss their likes and dislikes with each other and show their clothes or concert photos. In adulthood, on the other hand, musical taste becomes more private. A shared interest in music is still a reason to undertake joint activities such as going to concerts. However, differences when it comes to likes and dislikes are discussed less and usually no longer stand in the way of friendships.

While social positioning is in the foreground for adolescents during puberty, musical taste becomes more private in adulthood.

However, what remains in adulthood is the close relationship between individual taste in music and self-image. Memories are linked to certain pieces, other songs convey content that can be related to. The musical preferences reflect qualities that may also play a role in other areas of life or arts, for example, complexity or simplicity, the need for harmony, playful ease or clear order, authenticity or artistry.

Depending on the situation, environment, mood and purpose, music, thanks to the enormous variety of styles and works, offers the opportunity to connect many or even all the facets of one’s own identity with it, to experience it to the full or to represent it. Changes in taste then reflect changes in personality, growing up, new friends and a changed environment – while old music collections always offer the opportunity to go back and relive one’s former self.

Music was my first love And it will be my last Music of the future And music of the past… (John Miles, “Music”)