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This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult (August 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525949690
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525949695
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (244 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,258 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Think of a song that resonates deep down in your being. Now imagine sitting down with someone who was there when the song was recorded and can tell you how that series of sounds was committed to tape, and who can also explain why that particular combination of rhythms, timbres and pitches has lodged in your memory, making your pulse race and your heart swell every time you hear it. Remarkably, Levitin does all this and more, interrogating the basic nature of hearing and of music making (this is likely the only book whose jacket sports blurbs from both Oliver Sacks and Stevie Wonder), without losing an affectionate appreciation for the songs he's reducing to neural impulses. Levitin is the ideal guide to this material: he enjoyed a successful career as a rock musician and studio producer before turning to cognitive neuroscience, earning a Ph.D. and becoming a top researcher into how our brains interpret music. Though the book starts off a little dryly (the first chapter is a crash course in music theory), Levitin's snappy prose and relaxed style quickly win one over and will leave readers thinking about the contents of their iPods in an entirely new way. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Levitin's fascination with the mystery of music and the study of why it affects us so deeply is at the heart of this book. In a real sense, the author is a rock 'n' roll doctor, and in that guise dissects our relationship with music. He points out that bone flutes are among the oldest of human artifacts to have been found and takes readers on a tour of our bio-history. In this textbook for those who don't like textbooks, he discusses neurobiology, neuropsychology, cognitive psychology, empirical philosophy, Gestalt psychology, memory theory, categorization theory, neurochemistry, and exemplar theory in relation to music theory and history in a manner that will draw in teens. A wonderful introduction to the science of one of the arts that make us human.–Will Marston, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Daniel J. Levitin is the James McGill Professor of Psychology and Music at McGill University, Montreal, where he also holds appointments in the Program in Behavioural Neuroscience, The School of Computer Science, and the Faculty of Education. An award-winning teacher, he now adds best-selling author to his list of accomplishments as "This Is Your Brain on Music" and "The World in Six Songs" were both Top 10 best-sellers, and have been translated into 16 languages. Before becoming a neuroscientist, he worked as a session musician, sound engineer, and record producer working with artists such as Stevie Wonder and Blue Oyster Cult. He has published extensively in scientific journals as well as music magazines such as Grammy and Billboard. Recent musical performances include playing guitar and saxophone with Sting, Bobby McFerrin, Rosanne Cash, David Byrne, and Rodney Crowell.

Customer Reviews

After reading the book I find myself listening to music in a new way, as I think about the music I'm hearing.
Alan Mazer
Summary Daniel J. Levitin's "This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession" is an interesting read that exposes how the brain processes music.
Jenna Fair
It seems as though the author wrote it off the top of his head without researching his points or his examples, and a number of statements are false.
Andrew Palmer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

466 of 507 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on August 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
There are questions that are too big for science; are there gods, for instance, or what is love? And maybe we will never fully find out scientifically why music does what it does and why we care about it so. But for many reasons, music ought to be a profitable subject for scientific enquiry. It is, as Pythagoras knew, an activity strongly rooted in mathematics, and the physics of music is fairly well understood. It is as universal as language; all human cultures have some sort of music, indicating it does something indispensable. And we are increasingly able to figure out, with our sophisticated brain imaging gadgets, what brains do when they hear or think about music. The neuroscience of music is the area of expertise of Daniel J. Levitin, and he writes of it in _This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession_ (Dutton), a fascinating account of current music psychology. Levitin has produced a book wonderfully accessible to lay readers, since although he is an academic (he runs the Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill University), before he became a scientist, he had been a performing musician, sound engineer, and record producer, working with names like Steely Dan and Blue Oyster Cult. He does pull examples from Bach and Beethoven, but he is obviously more comfortable citing universally-known tunes like "Happy Birthday to You", "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", or "Stairway to Heaven". (Readers whose tastes range in previous epochs will possibly be surprised at the sophistication modern popular musicians have displayed.) Levitin has a good sense of humor and is a genial explainer.

He starts out with a forty page first chapter "What is Music?
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482 of 538 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Palmer on December 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
I'm a musician who's been thinking about reading this book since seeing it favorably reviewed. I read it after receiving it as a gift this Christmas, and unfortunately found it to read like an extended Wikipedia entry. Opinions and speculation are stated as facts, claims are not justified with evidence, the author frequently oversteps his expertise, and the writing is otherwise amateurish, lacking direction and leaving loose ends. It seems as though the author wrote it off the top of his head without researching his points or his examples, and a number of statements are false. Other reviewers have listed their pet gripes (some of which have been fixed in the paperback copy), here are a few of mine that haven't been mentioned (and that still exist in the paperback):

-The detailed discussion of the Haydn's Surprise Symphony theme (p92-93) is flawed at every turn: He uses the term parallelism (a term reserved for describing a particular harmonic device) incorrectly to refer to the melody. He describes the melody as going up "just a little" when what we have at that point is the *largest interval leap* anywhere in the theme. Then, "the highest note we've encountered so far" in the melody is incorrectly identified as the fifth. We have already (just two notes ago) heard the C above the G he is referring to. (The highest note is the tonic, not the fifth). Finally, the "surprise" in the Surprise symphony, is identified in the wrong place--eight measures too soon. Why so much detail about something the author hasn't researched? Not only that, but the misunderstandings lead him to bad analysis.
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Format: Hardcover
The first thing is that this is a book expressing ideas about how the human mind processes music and how the brain is involved with that processing (not HOW the brain processes it, which no one knows), rather than a book on music. While I am not obsessed by the topic, I find the exploration of the mind and brain function fascinating. My interest was piqued when my father was taken by a brain tumor and I tried to find material on the subject. I read "Phantoms in the Brain" by V. S. Ramachandran and then some articles by others in the field who claimed the mind is simply an illusion created by brain function, that our sense of consciousness and choosing is simply false.

This has always seemed wrong to me, no matter how much of our brain function occurs without our "mind" or "consciousness" being involved in any way. Being a pianist, it has seemed to me that there is no biological necessity to play Chopin. And when I sit down at the piano, I choose what to play, how to play it, and whether to learn the piece in the first place. I was amused when I read articles by Pinker and others struggling in trying to come to terms with some evolutionary reason for music. Some simply dismiss it (I think because it is so inconvenient to their models), others try and find it a way to attract mates (as this author does), others find it an accidental use of some other evolutionarily advantageous trait even though they can't quite identify what it is or was.

So, I was glad to read this book because of my interest in the brain and mind along with my passion for music. It is indeed a very interesting book that I could not put down. Daniel Levitin is a scientist whose work involves trying to understand how the mind perceives music and how that maps into the brain.
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