At least some of our music preference is cultural.
Certain combinations of sounds may be more common in particular geographic regions. Lifelong familiarity with these patterns would be a reason to prefer them.
Consider that each infant had already spent several months during gestation listening to the music of its own mom (as well as its mom’s voice and heart beat). All of these auditory inputs were familiar and calming to the baby.
Nim Tottenham studied musical preferences of kids who were born in 1990. She went through the “Hit Parade” and selected songs which were on the “ top of the charts” during the time these kids were 7 years old (for her group, the number one tune in the USA was by the Backstreet Boys).
In 2012, when these kids were 22, she looked at musical preferences (and emotional comfort- defined by biorhythms) while listening to various songs from different eras including those which were on the charts when these subjects were children.
That music experienced by these subjects when they were children had the greatest capacity to reduce anxiety at the point in life when they were 22 years old. Tottenham’s explanation is that, in early childhood, before the higher brain networks are developed, learning is much more driven by emotions. So musical experiences acquired at that time would be more emotional than cognitive.
(Note: this was not true among age-matched peers who were raised in other countries and did not grow up listening to the Backstreet Boys. Those newcomers preferred songs which were popular when they first arrived in the USA.)
Another feature which shapes our musical preferences is influence of our peers. Every generation seems to have its own music that the older generation “doesn’t understand”. Young people introduce each other to different musical styles and bond around their own brand of music.
Of course, this answer doesn’t explain why some people like rap music while others in the same social circles might hate it.
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This article can be found on Forbes.com