Medical Mysteries of Music

New study says that musicians like to listen to music louder than the rest of us

My first reaction was “Well, duh.” But then I read the whole report, always a wise move.

According to a new research paper published in PLOS One, boffins at the University of Manchester collected together a group of musicians and non-musicians and gave them control of the volume knob for a listening session. They were all asked to listen to the same six songs: Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” “Sad But True” from Metallica, “Crazy in Love” by Beyonce, “Heartbeats” from Jose Gonzales, Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity” and a big of Beethoven’s Fifth. “Turn it to the volume that you find most enjoyable and comfortable,” they were told.

In each case, the musicians turned up the music louder than non-musicians. Why?

“Duh,” you’ll say. “They’ve all been exposed to high volume music for years. Their hearing has obviously degraded. And the older ones would have had even more trouble.”

That was my first thought, too. But then you realize that before the study, everyone had hearing tests and that all of them were determined to have pretty much exactly the same hearing levels. And everyone in the study was between 20 and 40 with the average age being under 30.

So why the results? One theory is that musicians require music to be louder for them to classify it as “enjoyable.” Or more likely, the musicians need more volume so they can sink deeper into the music and hear the subtleties and nuances better.

This explains this.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38410 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

2 thoughts on “New study says that musicians like to listen to music louder than the rest of us

  • Can concur with the last hypothesis. I listen to my music louder so I can hear all of the subtle nuances that you just can’t hear at lower volumes. Source: am musician

  • Thank you for addressing this subject. I’m a musician who likes to listen to music louder than family and friends, and some suggest that I must be losing my hearing. But for the reason you point out, I like to hear the subtle layering in the music mixes that a lot of non-musicians don’t pick up on. Now I have some proof for my argument. 🙂



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