Music Preference in Introverts and Extroverts

For the majority of people in the industrialized West, music is primarily a means of social identity and unity. Millions listen to the same top 25 songs that everyone else is listening to. Of those top twenty-five a few refuse to fade away each year and the eventual result is a handful of ‘oldies’ that provides a sense of commonality between members of a generation. Members of each respective ethnicity listen to the music associated with their community.
“What music do you listen to?” Is one of the most frequently used conversational ice breakers and one of the most dreaded questions for the introvert.
An introvert tends to listen to music for very different reasons than the socialite and any frank answer to this question must lead to misunderstanding.

The typical popular song is a very simple thing: There is a lead singer to whom any other instruments are subordinate. The song repeats indefinitely, constrained to an unchanging beat and tempo through a few verses. One has heard the entire song quite often in less than a minute.
The lyrics are thus the most important element, sending the message the music seeks to convey in a straightforward unmistakeable fashion.
The point is to create a particular social atmosphere, send a message of group allegiance, and to advertise one’s beliefs by a convenient proxy.

Conventionally, music is first and foremost a social tool. A successful song is short, snappy, and simple so it might concisely serve its function.
Asking someone about musical preference is such a popular conversation starter because in an instant it reveals one’s age, ethnicity, allegiances, preferences, and values. Ordinarily, it is a foolproof Commonality Audit. When the introvert is asked this question and gives a non-standard response, it is as though a scanner at the grocery store has just passed over an incomprehensible barcode. The resulting clash of world views can potentially result in social censure for the introvert; it is just another of the mechanisms that forces him or her beneath the Surface.

The introvert tends to listen to music within a private domain. Its purpose is to please the senses, excite the spirit, and invite contemplation.
The mission of the introvert is to find the sound that inspires before all else. Concerns of self-advertisement are secondary if present at all.
The most engaging music is complex, offering something new to listen to every time.
There is not necessarily a lead singer and if so, the human voice is just another instrument performing beside all the others.
The progression of tones is changing and difficult to predict, tones and silences do not always occur where they are expected, volume varies from thunderous heights to barely audible rainfall, the lead instrument(if any) yields to or joins with others, the pace quickens and slows, there are multiple layers each intricate in its own right.

The message of the introvert’s ideal music need not be stated in words: the sound itself contains the message and inspires a nuanced mood.

It is telling that a popular song never truly comes to an end: it usually just fades out, implying to the listener that they have just spent a few minutes in a world where the song loops forever. The invitation is thus open to return and start exactly where one left off.

A song of the social sphere is thus a single simple thought encased in glass.
The music of an introvert is a living thought process wrought in sound and silence, a shifting sculpture of time and vibration.

When the extrovert asks an introvert “What music do you listen to?” he or she ends up confused, perhaps even angry when not given Correct answers.
The introvert becomes cautious, closed, and annoyed. Going through his or her head is:
-How presumptious and rude to ask such an invasive question so soon!
-How arrogant and narrow-minded that by ‘music’ they mean just mean a handful of popular bands!
-How unpleasant and nervewracking that they have clumsily created conflict and subjected me to a Commonality Audit!

In music itself is the fundamental difference:
-For extroverts music is primarily a social force defining the self from without. It is inseparable from the public domain.

-For introverts music is deeply personal, its main purpose is to inspire, cultivate, and reveal what lies within. It is most potent in private where one can experience it beyond the judgments of others.

20 responses to “Music Preference in Introverts and Extroverts

  1. It’s astounding how your words can so accurately reflect my own inner life.

    I learned early on that when another asks about my music preferences (which seem to follow the general ideals listed here), it’s best to turn it back on the questioner, for their query isn’t really to glean information about my tastes, but rather an attempt to focus more attention on their own. Aka The Loud People. So when faced with such invasiveness, I find it best to say, “My tastes are varied. What band/group/song do you find interesting? Then I can tune them out as they endlessly espouse the perceived merits of their personal musical tastes.

  2. Hah! The “I listen to everything.” answer. I guess that’s one of the most common ways to dodge the question. That’s usually shorthand for
    “I listen to anything made in the last few years and a few very famous things made in the last few decades.”
    Appealing to a Loud Person’s need to talk about him/herself is indeed one of the best methods of escaping discovery and the Social Censure that follows. Excellent advice for successful self defense!

  3. altho this may a year almost two from when u wrote this i hav to disagree with ur views on popular music. yes some popular music how u describe but every music has some kind of meaning behind it and is more complex than u think, ie the beatles. and who says that popular isnt deeply personal to some people or inspires others. and im sure lots of popular music has many of those things u say that the introvert listens to such as the progressions and volume and watever else. i do agree some popular is just repetitive crap over and over again but its all music and shouldnt be shunned just because everyone else likes it thats being closed minded as well.

    • I take it that you are an extrovert since you can obviously cannot comprehend the mindset of the introvert enough to post something like this. I am an introvert and any and all popular music I listen to does not stir any feelings in me and I pass all of them as “too simplistic”. I used to listen to popular music once but then I lost appeal in them as I discovered more complicated music like classical, jazz, rock and metal. These music had varied scales, chord progressions, off beat timings (as opposed to popular music’s heavy reliance on simplistic 4/4 timing) and such music had very little in terms of repetitiveness. I love to observe the complicated intricacies of the structure of such music.

      • It always seems to be the French and East/Central European composers from Romantic-Impressionist who really deeply stir my feelings when it comes to “classical.”

        I’ve never heard a piece by Faure or Dvorak I didn’t like.

        Satie’s gymnopedies and gnossienes are among the best when I’m in a truly pensive, bittersweet sort of mood.

        Like you said, it takes multiple layers of sound and less predictable melody and rhythm to get the attention.

        It’s something I also find in some movie soundtracks, video game soundtracks, some ambient music and trance techno. Metal can be nice if they aren’t just screaming monotonously. Oddly, I’ve heard some dubstep that I really like. All those crazy oscillations keep my ear guessing.
        Indonesian gamelan, Indian ragam, traditional Middle Eastern, Turkish, Greek, and Balkan music, North African griot music, all catch my ear in a good way.
        I like hearing different scales and especially an emphasis on microtones because they’re so lacking in most Western music.

        Have to agree with you though, Desmond.
        On an emotional level, pop music does nothing for me. It’s just predictable noise.

        The last pop song I heard that had any kind of distinctive sound might have been “Poker Face.”
        Even then, I got an image in my head of her slipping on some ice and flailing around trying to keep her balance as she says “whoahwhaowhaoh whaoh whaaaaaaahoh!”
        That got annoying after the 20,000th time.
        That’s what was on the radio right around the time I first started writing Kingdom.

  4. There are usually exceptions to the trend, but I would have to say the majority of Pop music I’ve heard is by a band of a few people for whom showmanship is just as important(if not more important) than musicianship.

    A band’s music often seems secondary to the performers stage stunts and cults of personality. Is KISS the same if all the costumes and pageantry were stripped away? Is it just a coincidence that a hugely disproportionate amount of pop musicians are good looking enough to be models? Is it the music you’re buying when the CD cover is plastered with glamorous pictures of a hero star dressed in the clothes of a certain fashion faction?

    Let’s take the Beatles, a band that is often held up as an example of pop music at its best. They vary their lyrics and delivery more than most pop bands. They live on the extreme as they tell complex(relatively speaking) stories in a few of their songs. We get glimpses of some lonely people, hard working couples, a poor mother trying to support her children, and a yellow submarine.
    However, most of the deeper meaning we assign to the Beatles comes from their cult of personality, ideas, and activism. Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ definitely has a strongly ideological message, but a naive and simplistic one at best. Most of the huge meaning we give to this song comes from the fact that someone who sang about peace ended up dying violently. Most of the meaning comes from the culture without rather than from the music itself.

    This is supposed to be pop music at its very best and I still find it lacking. Like nearly all bands, they repeat themselves over and over again both in lyrical choruses and in their melody.
    “We all live on a yellow submarine”
    “Yellow submarine”
    “Yellow submarine”
    Some new lyrics…
    “We all……”
    is not that far removed from.
    “I want to fly away” x 10-20
    “Fllyyyy away” x1
    “Yeah” x 3-4
    “I want to…” x 20? x 1000? (It all bleeds together for me into endless repetition after awhile)

    So great is the focus on lyrics that the melody of their songs is repetitive and predictable(as with nearly all pop bands). The music itself is subordinate to lyrics and showmanship.

    I’ve never said anything about ‘shunning’ pop music. Only that it is repetitive and lacks nuance. That it is sorely lacking next to music that is about music first. It spoonfeeds a simplistic(or completely nonsensical) message instead of focusing on the music as the principal conveyor of meaning and inviting the listener to use their imagination. Perhaps its main function is to allow listeners a fulfill a social function because each musician’s cult of personality provides a role model for a certain type of archetype. Thus, skaters listen to skater music, country people listen to country music, young black people listen to rap music, young white people listen to rock. Also, people listen to country because they find the image of down home, hard working, drawling cowboys/girls to be appealing. It’s an image they want to associate themselves with by listening to the music. The white people I’ve known who were really into rap also dressed black and tried to imitate everything black people do. The urban people I know who are really into country are usually political conservatives trying to form an association with true red blooded middle American-ness.
    Is this all coincidence or have I noticed a pattern?

    Extrovert- The meaning and message is assigned from without through cult of personality and archetype associations. The music itself need not be evocative or unpredictable, it is just a suitable delivery vessel for more important socially meaningful content.

    Introvert- The meaning and message lies within the music and within the imagination of the listener. It is critical that the music evoke nuanced emotions and perhaps change in mood. It makes little difference if one doesn’t know who the musician is or even what they look like. The music is the content rather than the vessel.

    In short: I’ve never said that extroverts absolutely can’t approach popular music on deeper level, rather that their priorities and expectations are vastly different. First, extrovert music is a carrier of social meaning.

    • Sorry to reply so long after you posted this, but a couple of things I want to say. Firstly, being asked what music I like is something I hate so much I can’t put it into words. People always think I’m peculiar for this, and dislike that I’m not sharing with them something that seems to them quite an easy thing to divulge, but it is in actuality incredibly hard – I’m glad to finally see I’m not the only one.

      Secondly, you seem to me to be exhibiting behaviour you chided as an extrovert character: that is, using music as a “commonality audit”. “The introvert” likes complex music, not popular music, and not music that is influenced by the personality of the performers. To say this, as you do, is exactly what you chastise extroverts for doing.

      For me, personality and lyrics are an important part of listening to music as a holistic activity. My favourite musical artist I was first attracted to by seeing him on the television and seeing in him a kindred spirit. I was right, and listening to his music subsequently is thus a deeply personal experience and one that I relish entirely.

      Does this make me not a “proper” introvert? I think you seem to imply that meaning – such as the personalities of the Beatles – superficially external to the music is always a carrier of social meaning, but I believe it can also be a carrier of individual meaning. I find this especially important as it gives me connection with other people (i.e. the musicians) in a way that is not always easy when interacting with people personally.

      So – forgive me if I have misinterpreted your meaning – please don’t be snobbish about the sort of music one should like to be Subtle! It is bad enough trying to protect my musical preferences from those who are unlike me, let alone feel more inclined to hide away my tastes from those I would consider like-minded, lest they judge me too.

      • Looking back on my post from over a year ago I can see that there’s a good measure of anger in my description of pop music. I would even call it a rant.

        You must understand that the mainstream music has a deep social meaning for me as well.
        It was the tribal music of my childhood enemies.

        Worse, I see most pop music as an intruder and a usurper: our music is now handed top-down to us now from a bunch of elite ‘stars.’ It no longer comes from the people. Music used to be everyone’s birthright!

        I have chastised those who listen to their music mainly to cash in on some archetypal ‘image’ that fits their demographic. I chastise them because I know the moment their idol goes out of style, they will forget.

        Since that music was just a social tool to help them get things they wanted from people, they will dispose of it when it is no longer useful.

        We cannot isolate ourselves from the cultural and social meaning of music.
        I probably even selected my own music in part as a means of distancing myself and as a gesture of defiance.
        We tend to make decisions like these from our deepest emotions and the subconscious. That is precisely why the Loud person audits music preferences. In one question they will find out who you are. In music, the truth. And for the misfit, this is a scary question. Even hesitation tells the questioner far too much.

        The most important distinction I am making here:
        Would you still listen to the same music if no one else ever knew about it?
        Or is it primarily a ploy for ‘friends’ and attention?

  5. Interesting, I actually like to find a little about someone’s musical taste because as a music lover, I feel I can get to know someone through it. I’m not auditing. Some may be but as an introvert, I’m looking to dig deeper as in emotions.

    The only issue with an extrovert asking such a question is, they rarely actually want to hear the answer. A cerebral conversation on Coltrane’s A Love Supreme usually bores them out of their senses. Or they simply were looking for a short shallow answer which turns such a question into silly small talk. I can usually tell and brush them off.

    The few ppl I have managed to connect with was due to our similar tastes and desires in music.

  6. Pingback: Music Preference in Introverts and Extroverts | Neurodiversity

  7. I HATE this question. The context in which it is asked is often an insult to music.
    I just say that I listen to good music from a lot of genres to which most don’t know what to say except “oh, that is good”.

  8. Pingback: Music Preference in Introverts and Extroverts /  For the IntrovertiSHly inclined

  9. I find your site to be very interesting. I see myself as an introvert, been tested, proved. The question is, How do I live life in a way that is enjoyable and uses my personality and talents to aid me in my daily struggles?

    That was off topic.

    Anyways, I just had that question asked to me yesterday. As always, I answer: I like all kinds of music. Then the conversation oddly ends.

    I listen to a band named Owl City. I suggest you listen to them then think about this post, you’ll understand.

  10. For your consideration, I’m very much an extrovert, but I find a lot of mainstream pop to be vile filth and greatly enjoy music that is more “musical”. I like jazz, technical metal, instrumental rock/metal, progressive rock and really non-mainstream stuff like noise rock, math rock and drone. Although I tend to enjoy most of it on a more textural or rhythmic level, rather than a cerebral one.

    Your entry was of course posted many years ago, but I wonder if you’ve come across extroverts like me since then and realised that we’re not all house music thumping assholes.

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  12. Pingback: Introvert music | Premiervirtual

  13. As an introvert, I agree with almost everything in this article. Most of my friends are huge extroverts, and they all have the same exact taste for music: whatever is most popular. They are so easily pleased that the actual music hardly matters. What matters to them more than they’d like to admit is just what the band looks like, whether they are “cool” or not according to culture, and the personality of the singer. To me, what matters most is the creativity and talent in the music. What others think of the music, or whether the band’s singer and other members are “cool” or not does not matter the slightest bit to me. And as this article says, a human voice is more like another instrument to me.

    I think introverts have a much better taste for music since they tend to judge music based on it’s quality and creativity (the way all music should be judged), but extroverts tend to judge music based on the culture’s opinions about it even if the music is complete garbage quality and creativity-wise. So extroverts are typically much more biased.

    Thank you for writing this article! It put into words many things I’ve been wondering myself.

  14. The only thing in this article that is not true for me is hating it when people ask, “What kind of music do you like?”. I actually enjoy the question. I’m a little proud that I don’t like certain music just because it’s popular, and that I am seriously into music and really picky about what I listen to. :/

  15. “I believe that the justification of art is the internal combustion it ignites in the hearts of men and not its shallow, externalized, public manifestations. The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenalin but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.”
    — Attributed to Glenn Gould (1962) in Payzant (Glenn Gould: Music and Mind), p. 64

  16. There is no magical dichotomy that separates the socialite. An ‘introvert’ can be just as much an extrovert put in the right environment. Indeed, these labels are just the egos way to feel superior to ‘less intelligent’ people because they don’t listen to ‘complex’ music. But introversion connotes introspection. Listening to technical music doesn’t make you clever by any stretch of imagination, you just resonate more with music that isn’t confined to a social class (which it is. You’re being trendy by listening to jazz/progressive rock for example) Its all paradoxes kiddies, you ain’t no special snow flakes. And really, you want out there music that no one listens to? Avoid anything classical. Go into experimental. Throbbing Gristle, Frank Zappa, Stockhausen, Eno, Reich, music concrete works? Then would you feel original and a sense of identity?

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