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How Powerful Is Music?

What Your Favorite Songs Say About You
What Your Favorite Songs Say About You

Updated April 14th, 2020

"Without music, life would be a mistake."

Friedrich Nietzsche

"Whoa, oh listen to the music."

Listen To The Music

The Doobie Brothers

Who knew that Nietzsche, an early Music Enthusiast, shared something in common with The Doobie Brothers?  He was wrong about God being dead, but he was probably right about the importance of music.  Listening to songs, no matter what the music genre, is such a fundamental, integrated part of our lives that most people don’t ever take the time to analyze it, but when you break it down, you realize just how interwoven our favorite songs are with the most important moments of our lives.  Whether you’re into popular music, rock music, electronic music, religious music, or live music of another type, you know just how important music is. 

From the very first song you heard on the radio that takes you back to that time as soon as you hear the first note, to the song that reminds you of your father and makes you misty eyed…to the song you slow danced to at your Junior High School prom, to that special song you share with your partner, it’s not an overstatement to say that music is life.  It directly taps into the very thing that makes us human – emotion.

The incredible, emotional power of music, and the passion of Music Enthusiasts, is reflected in the economic statistics of the music industry both in the North America and abroad.  The live music, recorded and streaming music business in the United States is gargantuan, worth almost $20 billion per year, the largest market in the world in terms of consumption and music generation.  So, whether you’re into vintage Beatles vinyl or streaming Taylor Swift songs, or seeing as many live Jimmy Buffett shows as you can, you’re part of the 68% of American adults who listen to music every daily - and for over four hours a day, on average. 

What’s even more interesting is that those numbers will likely grow.  Given the uncertain times in the wake of the pandemic, we’re all spending more hours in our homes, out of the office.  With more leisure time, people have more hours to play their favorite songs. 

But it’s not just the extra time that will lead to listening to more music, it’s the fact that songs aren’t just for entertainment and pleasure.  Yes, music therapy leads to real results.  Scientific research shows that music has legitimately soothing, powerful, positive psychological effects.  That’s never been more vital than right now.  As such, music therapists, music therapy services, music therapy programs, and the therapeutic relationship between therapist and patient will only grow in importance in 2020. 

What Are The Psychological Effects Of Music?

It’s trite to say that music makes us feel good - everyone knows that.  We all have our own personal, anecdotal evidence about listening to a hard driving rock song, like Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild”, or a hip hop song like Ice Cube’s “It Was A Good Day,” that really gets us going.  

And we’ve all experienced listening to a slow ballad, like Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” that puts us in a more somber, reflective state of mind. 

But it’s far from common knowledge, other than for members of the American Music Therapy Association, that science shows that music makes us healthier.  A 2014 study in Frontiers In Aging Neuroscience Journal confirmed that listening to music while doing something else can actually improve cognitive performance, particularly in older adults.  The study showed that first, the processing speed in the brain improved when listening to upbeat music and second, subjects’ memory improved when listening to either upbeat or downbeat music. 

So, whether using jazz, reggae, classical, funk, or another music genre as your form of entertainment with your music therapist, your brain function will improve.  The next time your partner complains about your music choice, consider using the “I’m making myself smarter” explanation.

Improving cognitive function is just the first psychological benefit of listening to music.  Listening to tunes has also been found to reduce stress.  In a study published in the journal PLOS, the results showed that music therapy positively impacted the psychobiological stress system.  Listening to music prior to a stress event helped subjects recover more quickly from stressful events.  Yes, believe it or not, listening to Led Zeppelin’s D’yer Maker, one of the greatest hard rock pieces of music ever recorded, is acceptable music therapy – thunderous John Bonham drum fills, contrary to popular belief, actually lower stress.

Further, the right pieces of music can help you shed pounds.  One study found that those who ate in restaurants with relaxing music ate 18% less food than those who ate in restaurants that didn’t play relaxing music.  In other words, there’s a built in excuse to request Captain & Tennille as you eat your steak frites.

Do you feel like you’re having trouble remembering things?  Well, the answer may be working with a music therapist.  Yes, more songs in your life might improve memory.  A study published in Springer Link found that those learning a new language did a lot better in terms of retention when they practiced singing those new words rather than simply speaking them.  For your next French lesson, consider singing your “bonjours” and “au revoirs” rather than just saying them.  Your teacher will love you for it.

Amazingly, the psychological benefits of going to a music therapist don’t end there.  Music therapy may even help you manage your pain.  A group of fibromyalgia patients undertook music therapy for one hour per day while another group didn’t.  The study showed that the music listeners had better pain outcomes than the non-listeners.  A related study found that patients who listened to music required less pain medication after their surgeries.  No matter how annoyed your doctor or nurse gets as you insist on listening to your favorite classical music, or your favorite Bob Dylan song, keep doing it, for the sake of your joints.

Music therapy has also been found to help people sleep.  A paper published in the nursing research publication JAN found that listening to classical music was a very effective intervention in reducing sleep issues.  So, if you’re a person with insomnia, try listening to Mozart or Beethoven, even if you don’t consider yourself a classical music fan.  The worst that can happen is, it’ll put you to sleep.

Finally, and this is an area that affects millions of Americans, especially right now, listening to music may also help reduce depression.  A study in the World Journal of Psychiatry found that music therapy services helped reduce depression and anxiety in patients suffering from neurological conditions.  The news that music therapy featuring Kenny Rogers, Kenny Chesney, or Kenny G can help lessen depression is, obviously, a hopeful development.  You don’t have to be a Journal Of Music Therapy subscriber to recognize that music therapy is a powerful force for improving our mental health and quality of life.  Maybe you’ll even enroll in an approved music therapy program?  For further information on music therapy, click here.

Now that we’ve explored the benefits of music therapy, the next relevant question is, what kind of Music Enthusiast are you, and what does your music preference say about your personality?  There are as many different types of music as there are special interests, from world music to EDM and everything in between.  Your music preference says a lot about who you are - and it may not be what you think.

Who Are You?  Who, who, who, who?

Those immortal lyrics, sung by the legendary band The Who, who created some of the most popular music of the 60s and 70s, implored us to examine who we were, deep inside, as people.  Similar questions were asked by researchers at Heriot-Watt University, who queried 36,000 participants from around the world about their music preferences.  Their answers did reveal who they were - the study found that people’s taste in music was consistent with certain personality traits. 

Pop Music

Popular Music, or pop, is essentially music that’s popular on the charts.  Think Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga, two of the most listened to popular music artists in the United States.  There’s a sense of familiar predictability to this style of music, so it’s not the music genre for everyone.  Researchers found that people who picked Pop as their music preference tend to have these personality traits: extroverted, honest and conventional.  Also, generally speaking, they’re hard working but, according to the study, they tend to be less creative.  So, those of you who like listening to Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber are outgoing and comfortable with yourselves, but you may have a tough time actually writing a pop song.  Sorry. 

Rap / Hip Hop

This massively popular genre has the highest share of music consumption in the U.S., with 21.7% of the market.  You might say it has its mind on its money and its money on its mind (OK, sorry Snoop Dogg).  Those who listed Rap and Hip Hop as their music preference are on the more outgoing side and have high self-esteem.  Who knew that fans of Pop Music would have so much in common with those who love Lil Wayne and Jay-Z?

Country Music

Country Music rules the radio waves.  This format has been the most popular among American radio-listening adults for years, with a 15.2% market share.  A whopping 49.9% of the American population report being active country music listeners. 

Country Music admirers tend to have these personality traits: hardworking, conventional, and outgoing.  They also tend to be conservative and are less open to other music.  So the next time you try to convert your Georgia work colleague from a Hank Williams Jr. fan into a Post Malone fan, well, perhaps stop.

Heavy Metal

Quiet Riot and AC/DC fans can’t compete with Hip Hop or Country for numbers, however, Heavy Metal is one of the fastest growing music genres within the streaming world, growing by 154% last year.  But seeing live music of this genre is a must, according to Heavy Metal peeps.  Believe it or not, they tend to be gentle souls.  So, their head banging seems to be just figuratively, not literally.  These “hard core” Music Enthusiasts also tend to have these personality traits: introverted and creative.  There’s a certain poetic justice in the scientific fact that Ozzy Osborne fans are more artistic than K-Pop fans. 

Indie Music

Welcome to the world of Mumford And Sons and The Arctic Monkeys.  Indie record labels account for roughly 40% of the global recorded music market.  Fans who listed Indie as their music preference have the following personality traits: introverted, intellectual and creative.  They’re also less hardworking and more passive.  So, the next time you encounter an Arcade Fire buff, tell them that you admire their choice of music…but that they really should pick up the slack at work.

Dance Music

Ah, Dance Music.  You know, the music they play “up in the club.”  The global value of dance music / EDM / electronic music is approximately a dance-worthy $8 billion.  Madonna and Daft Punk lovers tend to have these personality traits: outgoing, assertive and more open to new experiences.  Interestingly, they rank lower down than others on the “gentleness” scale - consistent with our prior experience at dance clubs.

Classical Music

Believe it or not, Classical is the fourth most popular music genre in terms of amount of music sold, so you should take “Bach” any criticism of this genre.  Folks who reported that Classical was their music preference tend to be more introverted but are also more comfortable with themselves and the world around them.  They’re creative and have a very good sense of self-esteem, which based on the classic movie AMADEUS, also describes Mozart himself.

Jazz & Blues

Jazz has been around since 1895, but the Blues have been around for even longer – it sprouted up in the 1870s in the deep South.  Those who classified themselves as Jazz & Blues Music buffs were found to be more extroverted, very creative and intelligent.  So you ought to respect all those Charles Mingus and Muddy Waters fans out there for their taste in music and their personality traits.  They’re not only cool, they’re confident.

When The Music’s Over

As Jim Morrison, of the chart-topping, iconic band The Doors sang, “when the music’s over, turn out the lights.”  But before you do, reflect on the awesome power of music, an art form that not only improves your mood but improves your health, according to the science of music therapy.  The immortal words of Nietzsche - “Without music, life would be a mistake” - seem even more prescient, and that applies to every listener no matter what their music preference is, whether it’s Jazz & Blues, Classical, Country or Heavy Metal.

For further information to shore up your Music Enthusiast knowledge, whether you’re an electronic music fan, rock music lover, blues music aficionado, or religious music person, click here.  You can also check out these great sites:,,  When you’re able, you should also go to one of the music meccas of North America, New York City, to take in some live music at a club.

In challenging times like this, when seeing live music isn’t possible, perhaps it’s listening to it that will help us “break on through to the other side.”


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