Music That Moves You

Sep 19th, 2009
This post was originally written on the blog.

How many times have you heard someone verbally tear apart a band or an artist that you respect? Maybe you’ve done it to someone else’s hero. Sometimes these poor examples of objective critique come from jealous never-were’s, or over-trained has-beens. Other times it comes from someone with an honest conviction that a certain artist’s music is just trash.

But just because certain music doesn’t move  you, doesn’t mean that the music is the problem.

Why Do You Listen?

I believe people listen to music for different reasons. Just like people play sports for different reasons. I mentioned in my last post that I play volleyball because I love the competition. I play to win, not to relax. Other people play to relax, and hate playing with competitive players like myself.

So…why do you listen to music?

I listen to music because of it’s power to move me emotionally. The way it can lift my spirits and change my mood. That is the only reason I listen. I don’t care about being intellectually challenged by the music I listen to. I don’t care about cerebral lyrics, or whether the song is complex and challenging. Only about how it makes me feel.

I suspect that many of you are probably the same way. And even if you like songs that have clever, intellectually stimulating words, or complex, intricate instrumentation, it’s probably because of how those things make you feel.

So the real question is….

What Moves You?

There are some pretty universal things that move people. The birth of a child, an exchange of wedding vows, learning that someone has survived an accident, etc…

But when it comes to music, it’s not so easy to figure out what moves us. There are so many elements at work inside every song, it’s really kind of amazing that any artist manages to move us with more than a couple of songs.

Resonant Frequency

Those of you in bands know that when you hit a certain note on your guitar, the drummer’s snare drum will rattle.  Not on every note, but only on certain notes.  That’s the principle of the resonant frequency at work.  When your amp’s speaker vibrates at just the right number of times per second (the frequency), it matches a built-in, or resonant frequency of the snare drum head to vibrate against the snare. As the sound waves continue to hit the drum head at that exact frequency, it’s like pushing a swing at the perfect moment, it keeps going higher and higher, limited only by they tension on the head.

I think that our perception of what is ‘good’ music has a lot to do with our own internal emotional resonant frequencies. Not in the physics sense of course, but in a more emotional sense. When we encounter music that vibrates at that same frequency, it causes a change in our emotions. We can’t help it. It just seems ‘right’.

Alternatively, when we listen to music that doesn’t quite hit our particular frequency, nothing happens. We just…..don’t care. Sometimes it’s such a mismatch that we actually experience displeasure upon hearing it, other times we just don’t feel anything. Just boredom.


To listen to a song and feel nothing is like extreme boredom to me. It’s worse than having to take out the trash on collection day because at least when I take out the trash, I can be pissed off for 10 minutes that I have to do it and then it’s over. At least I feel something.

There are some legendary guitarists and bands who, despite their popularity, bore me to tears. Their music seems uninteresting, uninspired, random, and without purpose. I really can’t stand listening to it because it makes me feel nothing.

I used to think the music was at fault, but I’ve reached a point in my life where I realize that their music just isn’t hitting my resonant frequencies. That doesn’t mean that it sucks, or that they have no talent. It just means that their music isn’t meant for me. It’s meant for other people who are moved by it, and that’s ok.

This realization has allowed me in some cases to appreciate certain aspects of a song, without feeling the need to accept or reject it wholesale. I know that it’s not a song meant for me, so I don’t feel any need to judge it.

That doesn’t mean I won’t tell a friend that I really don’t care for someone’s music, but it does mean that I won’t go shooting off my big mouth on some internet forum about it, proclaiming how much this artist’s music sucks.

Fat And Skinny

One of my favorite phrases is “with some people your words will be fat, with others, they will be skinny”. I believe that this applies to music we listen to. If you’re not the one creating the music, recognize that to you, some songs are skinny, but your skinny song is another man’s steak dinner.

Don’t waste your time wondering why skinny songs don’t fill you up. Just enjoy the music that makes you fat, and leave other people to eat what they like. There are enough self-righteous musical opinionists out there. You’ll be more respected, and happier if you spend your days proclaiming the virtues of the music that moves you instead of panning the music meant for others.

EDIT - I changed a few words in the paragraph about our internal resonant frequencies to make it more clear that I’m referring more to emotions, not physical vibration.  Sorry for the confusion :-)