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How to: Find Good Music

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Although music is considered to be a “universal language,” the most universal aspect of music is that it has no common definition. Musical taste can vary from person to person: we like what we like, and it can be hard to change that. Just like your favorite movies or your sense of style, the kind of music you listen to can provide insight into what kind of person you are. 

When it comes to finding your own musical identity, you must first consider the factors that impact the music you’re listening to. Just like how we have a “critical period” when developing language, music has its own critical period where a preference for certain music is established. A study from the New York Times shows that exposure to music is most impactful in teens, starting at 14 and peaking at 24. As someone gets older, they begin to identify more with the music they listened to in their 20s rather than what is currently popular. 

During this time, teens are exposed to a multitude of genres, based on factors such as culture, age, and even extracurriculars. “When I first started playing piano, that definitely influenced me to listen to a lot of classical music,” junior Aaron Grata said. “If I didn’t play those instruments, I felt like I still would listen to classical music, but definitely not to this amount of depth, and would not know all these different types of classical music and would just know the ‘mainstream’ classical music.” 

Finding an identity with music doesn’t mean that you have to be in the orchestra or the lead in this year’s musical. For example, librarian Geoffrey Greenberg is able to foster his love for music as the sponsor of Maine West Unplugged: an event where students perform acoustic music in the LRC. “I love connecting with people and playing music with them. Especially with Unplugged, getting connected with students that way is super fun and they’re open, motivated, and very talented. I’m trying my best to seek enrichment with music,” Greenberg said. 

A large component of musical identity tends to be personality. Researchers Dr. Samuel Gosling and Peter Rentfrow found that music taste can be divided into four distinct personality types: Reflective and Complex, Intense and Rebellious, Upbeat and Conventional, or Energetic and Rhythmic. While these results are not 100% accurate, it could be useful to try out a genre that’s linked to traits you associate yourself with. Here’s what each one entails: 

  • Reflective and Complex: creative, imaginative (genres: classical, jazz, blues)
  • Intense and Rebellious: risk-takers, intelligent (genres: heavy metal, rock, alternative)
  • Upbeat and Conventional: outgoing, cheerful (genres: pop, country)
  • Energetic and Rhythmic: high-energy, confident (genres: hip-hop, soul, electronica)

Everyone has a different perception of what music is, and in that sense, music becomes difficult to define. “I start off the year talking about what the difference is between noise and music,” choral director James Schiffer said. “What I think the core of music is? Organized sound. There is no line between noise and music; everything is music.” Oftentimes, we associate music with whatever we hear on the radio or the marching band during football games, but tapping your pencil on a desk can be music, too. 

Carving out your musical identity can be difficult when there are millions of songs at your fingertips. Being able to stay open-minded and listen to music you’re not necessarily comfortable with can open up endless possibilities that you otherwise wouldn’t have known about. Looking to expand but don’t know where to start?

Here are just a couple of ideas: 

  • Pitchfork and AllMusic → provide extensive coverage of new songs and albums   
  • Spotify’s “Release Radar” or “Discover” playlists → made just for YOU!
  • NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series (on YouTube)→15-20 minute “concerts” that will tell you all you need to know about an artist

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