I remember it clearly: my brother and me, young elementary schoolers, bickering over which song to play in the car first, The Who’s “Slip Kid” or Tom Petty’s “American Girl”. Just hearing the beginning instrumental of “American Girl” still puts a smile on my face.
After doing further research on parental influence on musical taste, it turns out this nostalgia is not uncommon. There are numerous accounts of average joes still loving the music their parents may or may not have forced them to listen to, and similar responses have been officially recorded as part of study.
One study was conducted in Cornell University’s psychology department last year, testing “cascading reminiscence,” referring to the “pattern of musical cultural transmission over generations.”
The study tested musical memory in college-age participants (musical preference is usually set in stone by age 18). In an earlier study, scientists were shocked to find the youth could identify older songs as proficiently as they could identify modern hits. However, the Cornell study found that not only did the participants identify their parents’ music but tunes from their grandparents’ era as well. The result is due to the likely roadtrip scenario of the driver blasting the music of their generation, influencing the kids in the backseat.
Another study conducted using Union college students covers the same topic, adding more information. It turns out the partakers have a stronger positive connotation connected to the nostalgic music than that connected to the current music listened to with peers. A crucial factor explored in this study was the status of the parent-child relationship. The guinea pigs of the study were asked to describe their relationship with their parents by choosing one of two descriptions: “warm and nurturing” or “cold and over-protective,” referencing their parents’ willingness to converse and show affection towards their children. The reason behind the distinction was to map the correlation between quality of parental relationships and emotional connections to songs.
It was recorded that participants who described their parental relationship as “warm and nurturing” recalled the music with greater fondness, while those who described their parents as “cold and over-protective” did not.
Personally, there are several examples of the connection between relationship and musical preference. My relationship with my father can be described as loving, and I am aware that he has had the greatest influence on my current musical preferences. Without that influence, classic rock from the 70s, 80s and 90s most likely would not be featured on my playlist. Indeed, there is a certain fondness attached to the voices of Tom Petty, The Cars’ Ric Ocasek, etc.
However, if my father’s past were to be examined, the truth in the results of the Union college study would be evinced. The relationship he had with his parents was less than that of our own relationship. Attached to this, he has negative memories of “terrible” 70s singles such as all of the versions of “Muskrat Love.”
Sorting through countless personal stories of musical memories posted on the internet, the consensus tends to be a grateful one. In a related today.com article, contributor Randee Dawn described her experience with Paul Simon: “I discovered I hadn’t just been handed an awesome musical legacy, but an education.”
At Leesville, many students have experienced the same musical influence I did. Anna Phillips, a sophomore, is one of them.
“[My parents] influenced my music choice a lot because they listen to a lot of older rock music…It’s not what I would be listening to if they didn’t,” said Phillips.
She also has memories tied to her parents’ tunes.
“On car rides to the beach during the summer my parents would play this AC-DC CD that they had and me and my sister would go absolutely crazy in the backseat because we loved it so much,” said Phillips.
When asked how she would react if she heard the album today, Phillips smiled and said, “I pretty much know every word so I would sing along with it!”
Maria Codispoti, a sophomore in chorus, echoes the sentiment. She is aware of her parents’ influence on both her and her siblings. “All my sisters and brothers were in the band, and my mom and dad always played music in the house,” said Codispoti.
Parents aren’t the only ones with influence in her life. “I used to go over to [my grandparents’] house…when they would babysit me and they would play the Beatles. I still like them; I still listen to them. I think about the times they used to play it, the ‘old times’,” said Codispoti.
Whether we like it or not, our parents influence our music choice by either attracting or repelling our interest in certain genres. And, as we get older, we will most likely pass on our taste in music to our kids, just as our parents did for us and their parents did for them.