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Why, when there are hundreds of thousands of songs released each year, do we choose to listen to the same ones over and over?  It is a fact that 90 percent of the music we listen to is music that we have heard before.

The reason may be rooted in science.  Elizabeth Margulis, Professor and Director of the Music Cognition Lab at the University of Arkansas has stated that “Musical repetition gets us imagining or singing through the bit we expect to come next, and a sense of shared subjectivity with the music can arise. When people talk about their most intense experiences of music they feel that the boundary between the music and themselves has dissolved.” For example, like when listening to your favourite band at a live performance.

You play songs on repeat, then, because it feels as if you’re singing it, a sort of “virtual participation.” It’s similar to reading a book or watching a movie over again as if you were creating the music with your mind — as if it were a part of you.

To some extent, that relies on something known to scientists as the mere exposure effect. That is, we like things just because we’ve heard them again and again. That same principle is behind the music industry’s ability to brainwash listeners into liking songs simply by buying up radio play time. The industry has used the science of earworms, too, to build unbeatable pop songs like “All About That Bass”. 99 percent of the population report having had a song stuck in their head before, and often they’re songs with repetitive melodic lines (try reading “All about that bass / Bout that bass / No treble” without singing it).

The music we want to play again and again is a clue to how our minds are made and who we are. Depending on our musical backgrounds and personality, you may enjoy listening to the same AC/DC track again and again, while another person may enjoy a Beethoven Sonata played a couple of times.  Frederick Conrad, Research Professor at the University of Michigan surveyed 204 male and female participants, asking what type of music they were listening to most frequently at the time. Pop and rock genres were shown to be the most popular, but rap, country, jazz, and reggae were also listed.

The questionnaire found 86 percent of those surveyed would listen to their favourite songs once a week at the bare minimum, while almost half admitted to listening daily. What’s more, once a song really resonated with participants, 60 percent weren’t ashamed to reveal they’d immediately re-listen up to four times in a row. Given that the average song lasts about 3 minutes, it means the participants in this research were spending more than 15 minutes at a time absorbing the same sounds.

When asked how to describe their favourite songs effect, the participants’ answers were divided into three categories: happy and energetic, calm and relaxed, and bittersweet. Over two-thirds of Conrad’s study participants favoured tunes that fell under the happy/energetic category. The rhythm and beat of the music appeared to be what was important, driving people to tap their feet, clap their hands, or drum on their furniture.

Soothing music was also popular, as it incited a sense of calm in the listeners, and helped them “put things into perspective,”

Surprisingly, bittersweet songs take the cake, with participants listening to these tracks 790 times on average. Conrad suggests this is because melancholy songs “evoked the deepest connections,” and caused the participants to link sound to memory. The fact that these types of songs are typically easily memorized certainly is a factor. It is the emotional connection you have with a song that makes the repetition so satisfying. Participants reported having high levels of connection with their named song, with higher connection associated with a tendency to close their eyes during listening to devote the fullest attention to it.

The reason why you constantly listen to one or a few particular songs is because that’s what appeals to you at the time; it could be a confidence booster, something to put you at ease, or something that holds sentimental value. The music you enjoy is directly linked to your emotions.

Now you know why you listen to the music you enjoy, talk to Goolwa Music School about learning to play the music you enjoy. Contact us here.