Musical Key Experiences

For the most part the development of personal musical taste has been described as a long-term process of learning and socialization. But at the same time, people have repeatedly given accounts of particular, extraordinary events that have changed, expanded, or reoriented their musical taste in a fundamental way. In this project, on the basis of such autobiographical narratives, we are formulating a construct of key musical expariences and examining its explanatory potential for research on musical taste.

The surveyed reports undergo coding and analysis using different methodological approaches: linguistic (for example in respect to repeated formulations, patterns of verbalization, and distribution of different sorts of words), narratological (development of the stories, emotionally resonant aspects of the experience, the role played by the self), and categorical (the constitutive elements of a key musical experience).

The first larger dataset could already show that many such experiences take place in early puberty, often involving a haphazard encounter with previously unknown (or else not particularly liked) music, relatively frequently in a live context. An intensive emotional and aesthetic reaction (in the sense of the “strong experiences with music” described by Alf Gabrielsson) is part of this pattern, together with an often highly detailed memory of place, date, and accompaniment.

In comparison with musical preferences arrived at through socialization, music that people become familiar with and love as a result of key experiences is marked—this an additional preliminary conclusion—by an especially high degree of affection and identification.

As our project proceeds we will sharpen its central construct and arguments and explore the underlying mechanisms that are here manifest. Finally, we will need to address the question of how such sudden “falling in love” with unknown music is possible, in other words how the music involved fits the person.