It turns out that enjoying new music is a practice that specifically has to be cultivated.
Research indicates that when it comes to musical appreciation, time makes fools of us all. As we age, we lose the ability to process complex harmonies, and grow to prefer dissonance over consonance. (There’s gonna be a whole generation of old people blaring Nine Inch Nails, just you wait.)
That’s because, at its most basic, music is math. It’s a series of equations that your brain either finds pleasing or displeasing.
There’s a reason that you hate Nickelback but Canada considers them a national treasure (and the amount of airtime they get is only a part of the equation).
For your brain, listening to a new song is like solving a math problem.
We have to sit with a song, and allow it to seep into our memory. We have to process its harmonies as equations, and make the determination that we like the answer.
Frequency DOES help, but those answers also tend to be cultural, regional, generational — if you fit into a specific group, chances are good it has some inherent musical preferences.
And the older we get, the harder making the distinctions becomes.
That’s why you have to make it a deliberate practice.
Or someday, you too will be yelling about how there’s nothing but crap on the radio these days, and we all need to TURN IT DOWN.
So, let’s avoid that, shall we?
How to fit in more of this:
Since it’s math, you can allow the math to work in your favor. Start by utilizing the existing algorithms. Spotify and Pandora make listening to new artists easy, and the more you use the service, the more it’s going to give you songs you’re likely to enjoy. After all, the more you use the service, the more they profit, so it’s to their advantage to make good suggestions.
However. This massively depersonalizes what is, in so many ways, a communal experience.
Music is something we share together.
Its fandoms create communites that one can identify into by mere virtue of being a fan. And while outsiders may not consider them supportive, in many cases, these subgroups can almost become familial. (More on that in #93: Join a fandom.)
But even if you don’t join a fandom, you should still consider the communal experience of music. Ask friends and family for recommendations.
When live music is a thing again, seek out more of it in the ways you find most meaningful.
Like everything we value, if we want to experience it, we must deliberately work it in.
I recently discovered an electro-swing band called Caravan Palace that I’m head over heels in love with, and it’s because of a perfect marriage between the algorithm and the communal experience. My daughter found them first, but didn’t tell anyone. However, she listened enough that they found their way onto Spotify’s family list, which my husband listened to, and then subsequently mentioned them to me.
Then I listened to all their albums in one sitting, and added at least 15 new songs to my favorites.
For me, new music is a deliberate event. I’d prefer to sit and listen to a whole album at once, and process all those new songs at the same time. I find that listening to an album is like reading a series of books. If it’s done right, it becomes an entire sensory experience.
For many of us, sound is one of our most dominant senses. The ability to process our world through sound is an incredible gift, and like everything else, cultivating it is a deliberate practice.
Because while music is constantly changing and evolving, our taste for it won’t, unless we choose to expand our horizons.