Why Do Teens Specifically Love Music?

Studies have found that there is significant meaning attached to music in teen’s lives.

Teenagers love music. This is not surprising, most people love music. But teenagers, specifically, attach meaning to and take aspects of their identity from music. NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) has come forward with results from a study identifying how and why music holds so much meaning for today’s teens. 

Teenagers love music because they find aspects of their personal lives in it and identity with listening to or making music. 

The Research

The research study was performed by Patricia Shehan Campbell, Ph.D., of the University of Washington as part of the Foundation’s "Sounds of Learning" research initiative. The study was called “Adolescents’ Expressed Meanings of Music in and out of School,” and was based on the responses of 1,155 teens who submitted student essays to Teen People magazine as part of an internet contest. In their essays, the students shared their thoughts regarding learning and playing music and revealed that they value music as a central aspect of their identities.

Furthermore, there were substantial themes in the essays indicating a plethora of beliefs held among teenagers relating to music. These included: 

  • Playing music creates a sense of belonging for teens
  • Making music gives teens the freedom to just be themselves. It gives them the freedom to be different; to be something they may have thought they could never be; to be at ease and relaxed in school and elsewhere in their lives
  • Music helps teens release or control emotions and helps them cope with difficult situations such as peer pressure, substance abuse, pressures of study and family, the dynamics of friendships and social life, and the pain of loss or abuse
  • Teens believe developing musical skills and performance is important since it paves the way to musical opportunities as skills develop
  • Teens wish for more variety and options for making music in school, including the expansion to instruments and technology used in popular music
  • Teens are genuinely committed to their instruments and their school ensembles because they love to be involved in these musical and social groups
  • Teens believe that music is an integral part of American life, and that music reflects American culture and society
  • Teens feel that playing music teaches self discipline such as “there are payoffs if you practice and stick with something”
  • Teens are of the opinion that playing music diminishes boundaries between people of different ethnic backgrounds, age groups, and social interests
  • Teens associate playing music with music literacy, listening skills, motor ability, eye-hand coordination and heightened intellectual capabilities.

As can be determined from reading this extensive list, music; the making of it, playing of it, and listening to it, is incredibly important in the lives of teenagers. 

Music is important to teenagers for a variety of reasons, and understanding those reasons can help us learn more about the power of music. 

Unpacking the Findings 

Music appeals to and provides remedy for many common teen needs. These include the need to feel a sense of belonging, the need to relieve stress, and the need to bridge societal gaps.


Music creates a much needed sense of belonging in the lives of teenagers. Teenagers are known for feeling isolated from society and friends. Music, as an art form, can serve as an outlet to express the feelings of frustration that come with feeling isolated. Listening to music can also give teens the chance to feel connected to musicians and other fans of specific musicians. 

Fandoms and the online fan-world have allowed teens to connect with each other and make friendships that might be hard to find in the teen’s real lives. Music is also something that can be enjoyed fairly privately and away from judgement, allowing teens to tailor their experiences to what they actually would like to listen to or play. Learning how to play music also gives teens real, impressive, marketable skills, making them feel useful and capable. Writing and making music is also a way for teens to express themselves as privately or as publicly as they wish. 

Stress Relief 

Music is a well known outlet for stress relief. Many people actively turn to music as a coping strategy when processing stress or sadness, because it helps shut out the noise of the world and the noise inside our heads. Furthermore, music is increasingly being used as a form of therapy, and music therapy in some capacity has existed for centuries. Teenagers, especially those going through puberty, conflicts with friends, or the college process, are under a high amount of stress. Listening to music has been seen to help teens process or release difficult sensations or emotions in a healthy way. 

Bridging Societal Gaps

Our society tends to be very racialized, and experiences tend to be very different depending on race or ethnicity. Music provides the opportunity for teens of all races and ethnicities to share a common bond and learn about each other's cultures and backgrounds. For instance, much of the Rap and R&B genres are rooted in Black culture, and many of the prominent performers and names in those genres are Black. Music is also usually very personal to the experience of the artist, so through those things, music can be used as an educational tool for teenagers to learn about backgrounds differing from theirs. 

Music can also provide teenagers with a skill or hobby that is special to them, which can help further build identity and give teens something to be proud of during a period of life that is often characterized by low self confidence. Music is an incredibly powerful tool that can be accessed and appreciated by people of all ages and backgrounds, and for that reason alone, it should be appreciated and utilized by anyone and everyone. 


Edited by Cara Jernigan on March 12, 2021.

Macie Gelb
Macie Gelb is a writer based in Pittsburgh, PA.
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