Finding a deeper insight on our choice of music and its place in our lives

By Ashlyn Lopes

Header image: “C scale notation” by Horia Varlan || CC BY 2.0


There are always those songs you listen to for less than two seconds, then immediately skip, knowing they aren’t for you. On the other hand, there are those you listen to for two seconds and it’s already added to your favorites. We may choose to skip a song because it’s a style we would never listen to or because its too over the top. We may believe our favorite songs only appeal to us only because they sound good, but this isn’t always the case.  

Music Surrounding Our Lives

Kendra Cherry, author of Taste in Music and Personality, includes the multiple values of music that we find ourselves amplifying in our own lives. The many purposes music serves are the factors that play into our own song selection.  “One study suggested that some of the key psychological functions that music serves include improving performance, stimulating curiosity and imagination, and amplifying certain moods or emotions.

In other words, without realizing, we look for the songs that help us move forward in our everyday lives. Whether it be dealing with a tough situation, setting up a party, or working out, music can help us improve or strengthen our state of mind in any situation. 

In MVHS, our drama department takes this aspect in a varied angle by using certain songs to highlight important details of the show. The cast and crew incorporates these ideas when displaying the key characteristics of each role introduced in their productions. They make sure to give the audience an idea of what the play will be about through a specified selection of music. 

Drama and literature teacher Hannah Gould gives a deeper insight on the tempo of the music used in the play and the way it can create a bridge between the audience and the performers on stage. 

“What tempo does is it gets the audience in rhythm with the performers because once you know the tempo, you know what the next beat is going to be,” Gould said. “You are already thinking with the people on stage and so if you use a song at the beginning and end of you piece, then you’re making the audience be on the same wavelength as the performers.”  

The music selection for the production, in MVHS drama’s case, correlates with its ability to bring together the audience and the performer, allowing the audience to have a shared experience with them. The characters in the script often aren’t people we already know and therefore, music is used in this way to bring about the character’s life. After we have a grasp of the character’s ideal nature through the music, we can connect to them more and understand them better. 

The Rollercoaster of Obstacles and Tunes

At this point of time, it is easy to say stress among teens seems to be getting worse. As high school students dealing with a lot of stress on a regular basis, we either search for ways to escape it or face it head on. Either way, lots of students may choose to use music as a way of relieving themselves from a stressful situation. 

Freshman Kashish Naggar says the music she listens to typically has a more mellow, slower tone. She shows how the type of music we listen to when stressed is often close to our choice of music on a regular basis. 

“I’d still choose pop, but just not the super happy songs because all I listen to is pop and there’s a wide variety,” Naggar said.

Naggar also said that she normally listens to pop music, that it’s her usual choice of style. It’s common for people to resort to songs they can relate to and enjoy listening to when in a negative state of mind. Those who have a connection to a certain style may choose that same style when in a bad mood, working as a kind of safety zone. Music we listen to often reciprocates our current state and having a stressful disposition often results in us listening to a song that incorporates lower energy. 

Based on a survey of 164 high school students, 51.2% chose that they listen to pop music more often than four other styles of music and out of the same amount of students, 44.5% chose that they would listen to pop music if they were stressed or having a bad day. Out of the same 164 students, 25.6% listen to rap or hip-hop more often and out of the same 164 students, 25% would listen to rap or hip-hop if they were having a bad day. 

According the close numbers in not only those two styles but also classical, jazz or blues and rock, students would normally resort to the same style of music they normally listen to if they were stressed or having a bad day. 

An article from the University of Reno webpage, Releasing Stress Through the Power of Music, includes the way very specified levels and frequency in a song can reduce stress. The article then mentions that it’s not always this generalized, that we don’t always feel de-stressed when listening to a song with these particular characteristics; rather we may only feel relaxed when listening to a very specific song of our choice. 

The article states that at some point we find the song that allows us to relax. We do this without completely being aware of the standard beats per minute for a song that commonly relaxed people. Later we eventually find more songs closely related to one another and this selection of songs that give us the same effect often end up being played the most. Though despite having a similar rate of beats per minute, a song of a completely different style may not relax us.  

It’s entirely up to the listener to decide whether the music puts them in a good state of mind or causes additional irritation. Though it’s common to believe that music we listen to while stressed is mellow this isn’t completely true.

In The Artist’s Mind

Song choice, for the most part, may distinguish the listener’s preferred perception of the world apart from their reality since a certain song can reveal what we deeply desire. Whether it’s the lyrics or the tune, it has a way of being the script of your mind’s inner dialogue and feelings. 

In a singer or songwriter perspective, the style of music they choose to produce doesn’t always have to be the one that pulls in the most listeners. It can be the result from a spark of inspiration or motivation to work with the style. The music isn’t always produced with a completely mapped out plan; it can be spontaneous and often connects to the creator’s current disposition, creating that script we end up choosing to represent our state of mind. 

Sophomore Zach Forry, hip-hop and rap artist, says that when making music, he incorporates a lot of the way he feels at that point. 

“I go for a lot of styles, it all just depends on my mood actually,” Forry said. “When I go in and I start making music, I don’t usually have a plan. I just write my music and it comes out sounding however I’m feeling in the moment.” 

Forry believes his listeners may respond to his music with sadness. He indicates the very spontaneity of his music production ends up allowing the music to feel more natural and real, therefore increasing the listener’s capability to relate to his music. 

There are some artists, though, that don’t necessarily bring this relatability, often having music that only has a surface level meaning to it. Some artists use certain language, tone and usually lyrics to produce a song that is unlikely to be understood on a deeper level. 

Providing insight on this idea, Forry notes how certain hip-hop and rap artists tend to produce music without a profound sense.

“The lyrics usually invoke a deeper meaning depending on who they are,” Forry said. “If they are like Migos or Lil Pump or those mumble rappers, most of their lyrics have a shallow meaning where if you just want to feel good, you would listen to the mumble rap, which is main street right now. […] They would talk about money, drugs and just feeling good all the time.”

Forry’s words support the idea that the music some artists produce don’t always evoke a deeper meaning that allow you to relate to it. Forry believes that for Migos and Lil Pump, their music is often used to feel good and spark up a confident or energized vibe through ill-natured activities, which doesn’t introduce a parallel between the listener and artists in most cases.

Songs on Rewind

The reason we choose the songs we like is often very obvious but the way our music can connect to us reveals the deeper insight on our music choices. It’s common for a lot of us, as high school students, to be involved with music almost every day of our lives. 

The music we like often seems to have an expiry date, meaning we find ourselves getting over a particular song relatively quickly. The reason is simply connected to the way our minds are constantly facing many obstacles caused by either school or outside life. Because we are facing these challenges, we subconsciously jump to the next song that reflects our current state of mind. 

A lot about music, even for the artist, is connected to mood, the emotions we feel while discovering it. Similarly, the songs we listen to tend to reflect our innermost desires and thoughts as if being the key to our minds. 

Author David M. Greenburg of the article Musical Preferences are Linked to Cognitive Styles includes that our preferences are often linked to who we are and how we connect to a certain point of empathy. The main idea of this resolution surrounds the general overview of personality traits and how we are made up as individuals. 

According to Greenburg, the amount of empathy we hold towards a song can also affect our song choice despite it being in the same genre. It can determine the amount of variance throughout our choices and is often more effective than our personality traits’ ability to control our song choice.

Forry believes certain artists can cause you to relate with them in some ways essentially empathizing with the artist. 

“It’s not always a party,” Forry said. “Like Juice Wrld; he can evoke feelings of sadness but it can help you relate if you’re going through some tough times like XXXTentacion. He made music that was really relatable to teens in high school that are going through depression.”

Both Juice Wrld and XXXTentacion are known for making hip-hop music, and similarly, their songs tend to consist of mellow lyrics with a deeper, more personalized meaning. In this way, their songs do allow listeners to feel a certain emotion due to the tune and lyrics, possibly making it appealing to those who connect with these songs.

At the End of the Playlist 

There is some sort of connectivity between the artists, listener and the song itself. The songs we listen to may be appealing to our ears but do allow us to empathize with the creator and relate our current circumstances to the lyrics we hear. Often without realizing, we choose songs that allow our emotions to be highlighted and because of this there are some songs we listen to with great enthusiasm and those we would avoid. No matter the style we prefer, it is clear that there is a parallel between our emotional sense as well as our current state in life and the type of music we choose to listen to. 

When you open your own playlist, you might notice a correlation between all of your songs whether it is the lyrics, the speed of the song or it’s tune. Then it might seem as if your song’s relate to your life or current situation. It is common for people to have playlists that link together based on its characteristics because it is also common for people to experience a connection to their songs on a deeper level. The songs we have in our lives and in our saved section are often there for a reason and it’s highly likely because our music may be a reflection of our lives. 

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