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The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can't Do Without It 1st Edition

8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199754274
ISBN-10: 0199754276
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This book basically concerns itself with music theory—pitch, timbre, melody, harmony, rhythm, musical styles—with the added boost of exploring music’s effect on its listeners, which at times can be as joyless as the deconstruction of humor. Still, Ball draws on enough current musical theory and cites enough good musical examples, across time and national borders, to offer engaging ideas: for example, that there is a deep syntax to music, that we listeners are far more musical than we ever knew (and in more complex ways), that context is essential in determining how we hear music, which explains why a listener from one country might not respond immediately to the music of another. The result is a book that could expand not only readers’ thinking about music’s effects but also their enjoyment and appreciation of music beyond their usual comfort zone. A helpful Web site of music samples is promised. --Alan Moores


"Ball is to be applauded for the range and aptness of the musical examples he does choose - from Albinoni to Led Zeppelin, Bach to The Sound of Music - as well as for his attention to musics outside western traditions....the book is impressively engaging for one so dense with detail and argument....fascinating." --The Guardian

"Using plentiful examples drawn from a refreshingly wide range of different kinds of music, from Bach to the Beatles, and from nursery rhymes to jazz. If you can read music, you will find yourself humming aloud to see what he means. If you can't....Mr Ball's facility for conveying complex facts in simple language comes to the rescue." --The Economist

"One of the finest and most versatile of current nonfiction writers.... I defy anyone to read this book without coming away better informed about why music affects us in such a profound way...His passion for music is evident on every page, and his enthusiasms (whether for gamelan or Glenn Gould) are infectious. Most powerful is his message that music is a part of the chaos and splendour of human life itself." --The Sunday Times

"Ball's writing is excellent - vivid and colloquial in the best sense, intelligent and stylish without pretense. His explanations are engaging and clear; he lays out complex materials without the condescending oversimplification that is the curse of popularization...A treasure trove of information, explanation, questioning and thoughtful response that will delight and instruct a wide audience of intelligent, sensitive people who love music, who have perhaps felt intimidated by it, and who want to think about and love it better." --American Scientist

"Fact-rich, gracefully written, and deeply insightful: Philip Ball's The Music Instinct is the best compendium on the creation and experience of music so far available. Rare is the writer who can describe the aesthetic pleasures of music in a way that connects it with the best that psychology and brain science can offer to musical understanding. Ball's achievement is altogether remarkable." --Denis Dutton, author of The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution

"Provides easily the best evaluation of the field to date...An important landmark." --Diana Deutsch, Professor of Psychology, University of California, San Diego, and Founding President, Society for Music Perception and Cognition

"By focusing on the intersection of music theory and cognition rather than neuroscience...Philip Ball fills a niche. The Music Instinct does a great job of explaining rhythm, pitch and timbre and how they combine to make compositions that capture our attention and emotions...The Music Instinct offers an expansive and high-level overview of a complex field. Ball is both an enthusiastic writer about music and a passionate listener engaged with its emotional meaning as much as with its intellectual puzzles--an Aristoxenus for his time." --Daniel J. Levitin, Nature

"One of his great strengths, besides the breadth and solidity of his knowledge, is his consistent refusal to turn intriguing but incomplete evidence into glib take-home stories. Instead, he is meticulous in his attention to both the details and the limits on what they can tell us at present." --The Independent

"Ball weaves fundamental explanations necessary for an amateur's understanding with sophisticated current research, science, and philosophy that broaden the horizons of even the most enlightened connoisseur...Through probing questions and challenges to philosophies, theories and attitudes, Ball's fresh insights promise to deepen the reader's appreciation for all types of music." --American Music Teacher

"Offers an expansive overview of music's fundamental properties and values." --Music Educators Journal

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199754276
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199754274
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 1.5 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #893,609 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Michael Tenzer on September 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I'm a music prof. looking for a good text to use for a new course open to the general student that does not place music in any of its old boxes like culture, identity, "art", and so on...something that treats music as the kaleidoscope it is. That includes of course culture and art, but also math, biology, cognition, imagination, and more. I found what I'm looking for here: Ball's "Music Instinct" is comprehensible, thorough, and wide ranging. It was not perfect, sometimes elliptical and hung up on details, laced with venom for old-time musicologist Deryck Cooke (for some reason--must be some kind of vendetta) and I wished some of the later chapters had come earlier and vice versa. But there is so much wonderful information and it is brilliantly conveyed most of the time. There is an extremely refreshing love and unprejudiced openness to all music of the world, ample examples from diverse places and times, and still with a sophisticated appreciation for the Western art tradition. Ball embodies the 21st century musical omnivore that so many of us have become, and he has found a way to explain music holistically that I personally believe models the kind of undergraduate music education we should be striving to offer.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Georgi Dzhambazov on January 21, 2013
Format: Paperback
In general the book presents an excellent introduction to music elements in an intuitive but yet scientific way without wading too much into theory. It resorts often to different viewpoints or explanations for the same phenomenon, which makes it friendly for an interested beginner. Further it has a plethora of good illustrations with musical works.
Chapter 3 is a compact elucidation of the phenomenon of sounds, frequencies and tonal rules done in a very intuitive manner. It is a must for the interested music listener. Although I knew the music theory when starting reading it, it shed some insight on the mathematics behind, enriching the big picture.
Chapter 4 is somewhat more elaborate and analyses why melodies have effect on the listener and what are the unwritten rules of composing melodies to be assimilated as genuine. It introduces concepts such as intervals.
Chapter 6 is of somewhat dual complexity: On the one side, it points out some basic perceptional truths for example about dissonance, which is definitely interesting for the music beginner who wants to know further than the absolute basics. On the other side it elaborates on harmony to a rather advanced degree: Presents almost the big picture of harmonic relations and cadences.
Chapter 7 and 8 present some basic observations on two of the aspects of music: timbre and rhythm. I find them conveying the most important messages for a compact introduction into the matter for a non-music expert reader.
All the rest are chapters in which the author argues about different views on rather ambiguous more high-level topics. One that like is chapter 11 about musical style.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Gerard Rejskind on July 8, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is but one of recent books written on music and its importance to humans, but it is unique in its sweeping analysis of music across very different human societies. Ball has a broad understanding of sociology and anthropology and brings it to bear upon an always fascinating subject, and an important one. Recommended without reservation.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Aaron Wolf on January 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The Music Instinct is a substantial work but quite imperfect. It is simply not accessible to lay readers without music notation and terminology knowledge. It is not substantial enough for advanced theorists. It is a book for the few people somewhere in the middle who are trained in music somewhat but have questions about its inherent nature. Ball does a remarkable job of bringing together a lot of the most current research, but he fails to quite make it work as a complete unit.
I agree largely with the other reviews here by George Erdosh and by Michael Tenzer (though I think Ball's attacks on Deryck Cooke are justified and seem not driven by any vendetta but rather by Ball's disagreement with Cooke's approach; Cooke is used as an example of an outdated and misguided attitude which Ball contrasts with the newer attitudes today).

On my blog, I've written a thorough review of this book. See my comment below.
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