From the Function of Music to Music Preference

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Psychology of Music From the functions of music to music preference Thomas Schäfer and Peter Sedlmeier Psychology of Music 2009 37: 279 originally published online 10 March 2009 DOI: 10.1177/0305735608097247 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research

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Psychology of Music Psychology of Music Copyright © 2009 Society for Education, Music, and Psychology Research vol 37(3): 279–300 [0305-7356 (200907) 37:3; 279–300] 10.1177/0305735608097247

From the functions of music to music preference

C H E M N I T Z U N I V E R S I T Y O F T E C H N O L O G Y, G E R M A N Y


To date, not much is known about how the functions of music relate to music preference. This article examines the basic hypothesis that the strength of preference for a given kind of music depends on the degree to which that kind of music serves the needs of the listener; that is, how well the respective functions of music are fulfilled. Study 1, a pilot study, identified the best-known musical styles of the participants, yielding 25 styles that were known by at least 10 percent of them. Study 2 used these 25 styles and found that rock, pop and classical music were liked most. A factor analysis yielded six distinct dimensions of music preference. People showed great variation in the strength of preference for their favourite music. This is explained by the impact of different functions of music. The potential of music to express people’s identity and values and to bring them together was most closely related to the strength of preference. However, the reasons for liking a particular style are not congruent with the functions that people ascribe to their favourite music in general. A theoretical model of the development of music preferences is suggested. genres, musical taste, styles, uses and gratification approach


Knowing more about music preference is essential ‘for the music culture, for the society, [and] for the personal development of the individual’ (Finnäs, 1989, p. 43). The investigation of music preference consists of two central questions. First, why does one person like a certain type of music (e.g., classical music) while another prefers a totally different type of music? And, second, why do people differ in their degree or strength of music preference, which can vary considerably? Good answers to both questions are necessary for building a sound theoretical model of the origin and development of music preferences. However, to date, the second question has received little attention. Let us first look at how preferences for a given type of music can be shaped. In his review of the literature on the topic, Finnäs (1989) concluded that there are several causal factors that can have an impact on music preference: specific characteristics of the music (tempo, rhythm, pitch, etc.), familiarity and repeated listening, the listener’s affective experiences while listening to music and social influences. Other researchers have provided further evidence for the impact of social influences (Adler, 1985; Salganik, Dodds, & Watts, 2006) and affective experiences (e.g., Blood & Zatorre,

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