If you want to listen to some music, you have plenty of options for how to do it: alone or with others, live or on a recording. And as it turns out, all these ways of listening to music are different.
If you listen by yourself on headphones versus with other people at a concert, you’re setting yourself up for a different emotional experience. But none of these ways of listening is necessarily “better” than others – the research that’s been done suggests that each way of listening to music has unique advantages.
Most recently, for example, a group of researchers in China and Germany discovered that listening to music alone may amplify the music’s emotional effects. They found that solitary listeners experienced more intense feelings of both happiness and sadness in response to music, compared to listeners who were in the presence of others.
According to the researchers, one possible explanation is that listeners were able to focus more intently on the music when they were alone.
However, listening to music with other people appears to have its own benefits. A 2016 study found that listening to music in the presence of others appears to enhance the stress-reducing properties of music. The same study found that while people can also relieve stress by listening to music alone, this effect is only present when people specifically listen with the goal of relaxing.
Whether you listen to music through a recording or at a concert also makes a difference.
One study of people who watched a classical music performance either on video as part of a group or live at the actual performance found that when people watched the performance live, they had a more similar emotional experience. That is, people who watched the recording had more variation in how they responded to the music while people who watched in person were more emotionally synchronized. It may be, then, that there is emotional information being conveyed in a live performance that’s lost even in video recordings.
In the end, none of these differences make one way of listening to music superior. Rather, they suggest that each method of listening to music has its own flavor and that for a full musical experience, seeking out different ways of listening to music is the way to go.
Image: Flickr/Hernán Piñera