Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Identity in Music

What are musical identities, and why are they important?

David J. Hargreaves, Dorothy Miell, Raymond A. R. MacDonald

The implications of identity creation in music are of great interest to me. In my independent research this year, I am exploring the various ways in which music has the potential and the ability to act as not only a platform, but also a vehicle for social change. Specifically, I am examining the ways in which, through a united cultural identity social movements have progressed, and triumphs have occurred. For example, the Estonian people resisting and revolting against the existing Soviet rule, or occupation, and the African Americans living through and fighting in the Civil Rights Movement found their primary motivation, their unifying ties, and their final triumphs through the medium of music. This cultural identity is transcendent throughout all aspects of the movements. Music served a great part of the creation of identity, as is suggested in the Hargreaves, Miell and MacDonald article “What are musical identities, and why are they important?” In this article, the authors speak of the different aspects of identity creation, examining this creation from the angles of music, social and developmental psychology. The work as a whole examines identity in two distinct ways: that of identities in music, and music in identities. Identities in music (here referred to as IIM) “deals with those aspects of musical identities that are socially defined within given cultural roles and musical categories.” (Hargreaves et. al., 2) This speaks to the different identities that are associated with various musics, and the willingness (or hesitance) to associate oneself through music. From there, the article examines Music in identity (here referred to as MII) focuses on “how we use music as a means or resource for developing other aspects of our individual identities.” (Hargreaves et. al., 2)

I found the guest lecturer (Walker's) presentation on musical preference to be of interest for many reasons, but one in particular. It was presented that music served as an escape method, a way of escaping the outside world, and finding solace in the abstract. Oftentimes, those who find themselves on the outskirts of societal conformity find themselves drawn to music of the same level of recognition, acceptability and popularity. The presence of music becomes almost equivalent to the presence of a friend, or a comforting figure, and it’s interesting to think that oftentimes, people choose music who’s reception is similar to their own in terms of social acceptance.

I think another important issue to consider is that of which came first; the associated musical identity, or the music itself? That is to say that oftentimes one can assume what a persons personal musical preference will be simply by examining the way they dress, act, and present themselves to society. This is of course a generalization, but take for instance Rap and Hip Hop. These genres have music have become a societal and cultural group unto themselves. The music has created the culture. There is a mode of dress, of speech, of overall comportment. But did the identity come purely from the music...or did the preexisting identity determine the type of musical preference?

In my opinion, the predisposition for the behaviour has to already be in place, but I believe that music is such a powerful that it has the ability to, in some cases instill that socio-cultural identity, and in many, the identity is accelerated by the music.

As far as my personal identity, I feel that my current social psychological identity has been created in great part by my involvement in music, more so than my personal musical preferences. As far as my musical preferences are concerned, I’ve never really fit into one specific category. Growing up, I was exposed to the musical preferences of my parents, my grandmother, my sisters, and my friends. Through this exposure, I developed a great love for a myriad of different musical styles. But, so much of my life, and my identity has been created due to my musical involvement. My social environment, my academic pursuits, my extracurricular activities, my work, and my volunteer affiliations have all been directed by my involvement in music; thus my identity, or rather all of the separate components of my daily life which culminate to create my overarching identity has been created by music.


  1. According to me its a fantastic post for each and every professional musicians because in this post very nicely describe all information about Identity in Music. You also provide great info like music of the same level of recognition, acceptability and popularity.
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  2. Hello Natasha, I found your work very helpful, for that I am very greatful. I am undertaking a piece of work at university in the module "psychology of music". I am currently working on a question of music in identities in relation to personal identity. If you have any suggested reading, or theories that I could look into it would be an even bigger help, thank you for your time.

    1. Hello Luke, have you finished writing your study or published your research? I find it very interesting and would love to indulge in reading it. Thank you!