This shows a person surrounded by musical notes and instruments.
The pop music people liked best was from the decade during which they were around 20 years old. Credit: Neuroscience News

Unveiling the Complexity of Musical Taste: Subgenres and Preferences Explored

Summary: Researchers report personal musical preferences aren’t just about genre, but also about sub-genres within those categories.

Surveying over 2,000 individuals, they discovered that fans within the same genre can exhibit diverse sub-genre preferences. Additionally, they found sociodemographic and personality variables like age, milieu-related attitude, and openness can predict genre group affiliation and within-genre taste class.

The study provides a more comprehensive understanding of musical taste, highlighting the necessity to view genre fans as heterogeneous groups.

Key Facts:

  1. Researchers revealed that even within the same music genre, people can have diverse sub-genre preferences, challenging the notion of homogenous fan groups.
  2. Sociodemographic and personality factors, including age, milieu-related attitude, and openness can predict an individual’s genre group or within-genre taste class.
  3. The research team has developed a new methodology to study musical taste, offering a more accurate representation of the diverse musical preferences within a population.

Source: Frontiers

Liking certain things or styles is an important aspect of peoples’ identities and social lives. Tastes can influence the ways humans act and judge. How to best describe musical taste reliably is – due to the ever-changing diversification and transformation of music – difficult and open to debate.

Using an approach which also considered sub-genres, researchers in Germany surveyed more than 2,000 people on their musical taste and took a closer look at the fans of five genres: European classical music, electronic dance music (EDM), metal, pop, and rock.

“Our analyses revealed that people who like the same genre can have very different tastes if asked which sub-genres they like,” said Anne Siebrasse, a doctoral student at Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics and lead author of the study published in Frontiers in Psychology.

“Accordingly, fans of certain genres should not be perceived as homogeneous groups with the same tastes. Instead, we need to acknowledge differences within these groups that are also related to age, gender, education level, lifestyle, or personality traits.”

Subgroups with different preferences

“When people talk about their musical tastes, they often use genre terms. However, on a genre level, fans of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones would all be rock fans, however they themselves would probably see huge differences,” Siebrasse continued.

To represent these differences empirically, her co-author Melanie Wald-Fuhrmann designed a questionnaire through which participants indicated how much they liked sub-styles associated with the examined genres. By systematically recording liking at genre and sub-genre levels, the researchers obtained a more differentiated picture of musical taste.

As the researchers considered attitudes towards sub-genres, several taste classes emerged. Three of these classes liked all sub-genres to roughly the same degree – very much, moderately, or rather less, the authors wrote.

Two taste classes, however, differed in that they preferred sub-styles that were either more challenging or easier to process, respectively. Across all genres, subtypes that represented the mainstream variant were generally preferred over more challenging alternatives.

The researchers also found that sociodemographic and personality variables, including age, milieu-related attitude, and openness, could predict belonging to a genre group or within-genre taste class.

For pop music, for example, the researchers found a clear age effect. It showed that peoples’ preferred pop music correlates with subgroup age. The pop music people liked best was from the decade during which they were around 20 years old.

The wider picture

What Siebrasse and Wald-Fuhrmann achieved is a more accurate representation of the actual musical taste of the German resident population than previous studies produced. Some of their results, such as the identification of within-genre taste classes are likely applicable across countries and cultures.

Other results, however, including genre-specific findings may be dependent on the history and role of a genre within its respective musical world.

“We have taken an important step towards enabling the further development of questionnaires for researching musical taste,” Siebrasse said.

“In the future, our approach should be extended to other genres and regions. A further step could also be to combine this type of survey with specific sound examples.”

About this music and neuroscience research news

Author: Deborah Pirchner
Source: Frontiers
Contact: Deborah Pirchner – Frontiers
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
You don’t know a person(‘s taste) when you only know which genre they like: Taste differences within five popular music genres based on sub-genres and sub-styles” by Anne Siebrasse et al. Frontiers in Psychology


You don’t know a person(‘s taste) when you only know which genre they like: Taste differences within five popular music genres based on sub-genres and sub-styles

A representative German sample (N = 2,086) was surveyed on their musical taste with a questionnaire that asked about their liking not only of a number of genres, but also of relevant sub-genres and -styles.

Using Latent Profile Analysis to analyze sub-genre liking patterns, four to six distinct taste classes were found within groups of those n = 1,749 people who liked either European classical music, electronic dance music, metal, pop or rock based on their sub-genre ratings.

Across genres, two types of taste classes emerged: one with three classes that differed in the degree of liking all sub-genres, another with one to three classes that were biased in their liking or disliking of easier and more mainstream variants of a genre as compared to harder and sophisticated ones.

Logistic regression models revealed meaningful relationships of genre fan groups and within-genre taste classes with sociodemographic variables and BIG-5 personality traits. In sum, our results demonstrate meaningful taste differences within genres and show that these translate to differences in person-related variables as well.

These findings challenge earlier genre-based conceptualizations of music tastes, since we find similar structures already on the sub-genres level. It also suggests that different reasons and factors underlie tastes for genres and sub-genres.

Future studies should therefore ask about taste in a more nuanced way.

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