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The Value of Music in Lifestyle: A Study on Young People's Use of Music for Psychological Well-being


Music is especially popular among young people and is the most favoured leisure activity among adolescents (Lonsdale and North 2011). The relationships that young people have with music have been explored from diverse academic perspectives. For instance, sociological research shows that music is used to claim cultural space – both in public (Bennett 2000, 73–102) and in homes – such as when adolescents select a genre and volume of music to set up a barrier between themselves and other family members (Frith 2007, 200). Social psychologists have examined how music is used to explore and establish identity, and find that adolescents attribute personality characteristics to others on the basis of their musical preferences (North and Hargreaves 1999, 2008). Sub-cultural researchers have examined connections between the sounds of music and the (minority or marginalised) social or cultural groups of people that produce and consume it (Frith 1996).

 Sociologists Katz, Blumer, and Gurevitch (1973–1974) proposed the ‘uses and gratifications’ model to describe how media is used by the public to achieve particular goals. This model has been applied to music use (Christenson and Roberts 1998; Lonsdale and North 2011) to identity the various functions fulfilled by music, including pleasure, tension reduction, identification with a sub-culture and socialising. Similarly, DeNora (2000) described the range of functions that music can hold in everyday life; from creating an ambience, to selling products, to individual self-regulation and self-modulation (DeNora 2000, 53–62). It is this last theme – self-regulation and self-modulation – that we focus on in the current study although here we use music psychology and clinical psychology theories as the framework in exploring how young people engage with music to enhance their psychological well-being.

The first study involved 11 participants (six males) aged 16–25 years (M = 20.18 years, SD = 2.60 years) who participated in one of three focus groups. The study formed part of a larger project being conducted through the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre.1 In the larger project, the authors and colleagues were developing a phone application using music to enhance young people’s well-being, so we wanted participants with some knowledge and interest in music and technology. The sample was recruited by word of mouth, and included a pharmacist, a logistics worker, a secondary school student and eight university students. Ethnic backgrounds included four Caucasian Australians, four Chinese Australians, one European born Australian, one Fijian and one Indonesian.


Each focus group lasted approximately 2 hours and was led by three of the authors (two psychologists and a communication design expert) who had prior experience in the interviewing process and held substantial knowledge about the topics under investigation. The range of topics are summarised in Table 1. The focus groups were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Each participant was reimbursed $40 after the workshops.

A thematic analysis of the focus group transcripts was conducted according to the methods described by Braun and Clarke (2006). The transcripts were read and separately coded into themes and sub-themes by the first three authors, who then met on several occasions to discuss and refine the analysis. There was a high degree of general agreement on the four content themes arising from the data as well as the detail of the sub-themes, indicative of inter-rater reliability (Boyatzis 1998).

The interviews indicated that music played an essential role in the young peoples’ daily lives across multiple contexts and activities. Young people knew which music to play in particular circumstances to achieve their desired needs and goals. Self-selected music emerged as an important prerequisite for meeting young people’s needs through musical.

Music played an integral role in building, enhancing and maintaining social relationships with friends and family. Young people identified that music facilitated positive interactions with others, healthy social relationships and ‘feeling connected with others’ which were all viewed as important aspects of well-being.

music Participants reported sharing music with friends through a number of activities which allowed them to achieve goals, such as strengthening relationships with or communicating and expressing emotions to important others. Sharing online was a prominent way in which young people shared music with their friends, often through the socialnetworking website Facebook. Sharing music with others required and implied intimacy, with participants reporting that they selectively shared music only with those close to them. One respondent commented: 


Figure 1. Thematic map displaying commonly reported ways in which young people saw their music listening being linked with their well-being.

 share it’. Some young people reported sharing songs with others as a way of communicating their mood, particularly if they were experiencing a negative mood: ‘That person is trying to tell you, “Look, I’m sad. I just want the world to know that I am sad at the moment”’. Attending live bands and concerts Respondents indicated that attending live music events was a highly enjoyable experience that enabled them to connect with and share the live music or festival experience with friends and family.

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