The Playlist Swap Challenge

Do you have a favorite playlist for working out, doing work around the house, driving from one place to another, or maybe just relaxing at home in the evening? If so (or maybe even if not), this is challenge is for you. It is a chance to add some musical variety to your life while also connecting with other people in a new way.

“As you begin to realize that every different type of music, everybody’s individual music, has its own rhythm, life, language and heritage, you realize how life changes, and you learn how to be more open and adaptive to what is around us.”

Yo-Yo Ma

According to this article, research points us to three main reasons why people listen to music: to enhance their performance in some way, to stimulate curiosity, and to achieve a desired emotional state. However, none of this explains our different musical preferences.

Psychologists and other researchers have insights on that as well. Some look at how our core personality traits influence our preferences. For example. people who score high in openness on the Big 5 Personality Test are more likely to seek out complex and novel music. There is an entire field of what scholars refer to as the psychology of aesthetics. These researchers seek to understand people’s preferences and experiences with the arts.

Yet musical preferences are not only grounded in our largely fixed personality traits. Our social connections make a difference as well. Scan the journals and you will find research describing how our musical preference is influenced by age, social class, and social upbringing.

This points us to the reality that music is deeply social as well. We connect with other people through music. We connect with the composers, the musicians, and the patrons. We cultivate shared preferences and interests, and music becomes of sharing stories, celebrating, grieving, exploring questioning, and experiencing life…alone and together.

In some ways, this challenge is an experiment about musical preferences. It is also about embracing change and novelty in your life. More that either of these, it is about connecting with and learning from people around you in a new way.

Here is how it works.

  1. You can do this as an individual or a group challenge, but the goal is to experience the favorite 5-10 songs of at least 3 different people over a 15-day period. You will devote 5 days to listening to the playlist of each person that you select.
  2. Find three friends, co-workers, people at the gym, neighbors, or family members who have different backgrounds, interests, and/or musical preferences from you. Be creative and have fun with this. Maybe it is a chance to connect with a younger nephew, a grandparent, a classmate or co-worker, or someone else that you want to know better. Use this as a chance to connect.
  3. For each of the three people that you select, ask them to share their top 5-10 songs. Some might have a playlist that they can share, but depending upon who you talk to, others might not even know what you are talking about if you mention a “playlist.”
  4. Once you get the songs, your job is to build a playlist named after that person, and to make it your daily source of music for the next 3-5 days.
  5. At the end of the 3-5 days, switch to the playlist of the second person, doing it again for the third person as well.
  6. During each week, take time to write down some of your thoughts, questions, observations, and feelings.
  7. To really enrich the experience, consider talking to the person once or twice during the week. Take time to learn about why this music is valuable to them. Enjoy what may end up being a wonderful and meandering conversation and connection.


  • To really immerse yourself, make that weekly playlist your sole or main source of music. Try to get through the playlist at least 2-3 three times during the week.
  • As always, time for reflection and journaling will only enhance your discoveries and learning. Do it as you are getting started, recording your thoughts, emotions, and experiences selecting and connecting with people, and building your playlists. Do it during, reflecting on lessons and experiences along the way. Do it at the end, using this as a time to debrief the experience, but to also think about any way that you might want to incorporate any lessons or experiences into your life.
  • This might be a great experiment to do with a group of people. If you can arrange it, consider finding three others. This allows you to rotate playlists from person to person each week. This can make for great conversation as well.
  • While it is wonderful to make these connections in person, you can also invite people to be part of your experiment through your favorite social media network. It doesn’t take much effort to write a message, explain what you are doing and why, and asking others if they will join in the fun.

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”


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