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This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession Paperback – August 28, 2007
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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.
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Top Customer Reviews
This a fantastic book, if for nothing more than it gets you interested in wanting to read more. The author, much like modern astrophysicists like C. Sagan and L. Krauss might describe space ("billions and billions..."), has quite a way with words. He embeds in the reader a sense of wonder, and of amazement, at the magic that happens when you listen to music. If you're an audiophile who does not have an over inflated view of yourself and has a generally open mind about music, then this book is for you. I am not educated in this field whatsoever, and I found the analogies, comparisons, and even the really "dense" material very enticing and interesting.
I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the statements and claims the author makes because I am not educated in this field. He could be completely wrong and pushing his own agenda (although it's a little hard to arrive at that conclusion unless you have some sort of raging superiority complex). But that kind of conversation, which fills many of the lower rated reviews, is missing the point.
The language, the examples, the ranges of simple description to complicated extrapolation, it is all nourishing. These are interesting things to think about. And for a layman like myself, the point is not to be right, but to be interested. After reading this book, I don't care if he's right (although I doubt his inaccuracies, if any, surmount to much). I just care that he made me think about music in a new and interesting way.
And for the average reader like myself, that is all you should want from a book like this.
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. Levitin employs a variety of musical selections throughout his book and utilizes them to illustrate how different parts of the brain interact to produce what we interpret as music. As Levitin says, "music is organized sound," and he tries to expose the inner workings of this theory in his book.
The book is organized into nine chapters with an introduction, two appendices, and an index. The first chapter, titled "What Is Music?," provides a basis for understanding music on a theory level. Definitions are heavily utilized in this section. The subsequent chapters deal with rhythm, processing music, anticipation, categorization, musical emotion, and musical instincts. The first appendix contains an image of the brain with labeled structures involved in hearing and music processing. The second appendix has extra detail on harmony and chords. The index is very detailed and helpful.
"Brain on Music" focuses heavily on relating music theory to how our brain works. Why do we like different kinds of music? Why is music even a part of our lives? How do we distinguish between different voices and instruments? Levitin uses a variety of musical references to answer these questions: Bach, The Beatles, Mozart, Led Zeppelin, Ludacris. Levitin begins the book by providing a general set of musical terms for reference: pitch, tempo, rhythm, timbre. These terms set the stage for the rest of Levitin's book. The subsequent chapters (chapters two through nine) address rhythm, the brain, anticipation, categorization, emotion and music, musical expertise, taste in music, and musical instinct respectively. Levitin infuses these chapters with personal anecdotes and different scientific and psychological studies.
Levitin begins his book with an explanation of his history and interaction with music and what continues to drive him in his research today. He also explains the structure of the remainder of the book.
Chapter 1: What is Music?
Here, Levitin defines pitch, rhythm, tempo, contour, timbre, loudness, and reverberation as well as higher order concepts such as melody, harmony, meter, and key. This chapter sets an informational basis for the rest of the book.
Chapter 2: Foot Tapping
Levitin more specifically defines and discusses rhythm, tempo, and meter. This is the point in the book at which Levitin presents the idea that music and sound are not real; rather it is all part of our perception.
Chapter 3: Behind the Curtain
This chapter focuses on the differences between the mind and the brain and the physiological basis behind the processing of sound.
Chapter 4: Anticipation
Levitin frames the idea that anticipation and expectations are what drive us to be intrigued by music. Those songs which surprise us intrigue us the most, but too much intrigue can turn us off to a song.
Chapter 5: You Know My Name, Look Up the Number
Levitin proposes two theories of memory: (1) that we retain all of the details of an event and (2) that we have relational memory. He explains how both are technically wrong and that we rely on a series of cues to trigger a musical memory.
Chapter 6: After Dessert, Crick Was Still Four Seats Away from Me
This chapter discusses the connection between music and emotion and its relation to the reptilian brain.
Chapter 7: What Makes a Musician?
Levitin suggests that genetic predisposition, such as having larger hands, plays an important role in giving musicians an edge over non-musicians. He further explains that other factors may play a part: patience, emotion, and creativity.
Chapter 8: My Favorite Things
This chapter delves into answering why we like the music that we do. Levitin proposes that a large part of our taste in music comes from environmental influences including the culture that we are raised in.
Chapter 9: The Music Instinct
This chapter, potentially one of the most interesting in the book, examines how music, once used in mating calls as a tool for survival, has evolved into a source of entertainment.
For Neuroscience Enthusiasts
This book is not nearly as neuroscience-heavy as I expected it to be. There is little in the way of pure neuroscience. A lot of the studies utilized throughout the book are neuropsychology studies whose neurological mechanisms are not understood very well. Though the methods of how we interpret and find meaning in music are not clearly addressed, there is an excellent explanation of the anatomy and physiology of the ear and how it works. The concept of timbre, also known as tone color or tone quality, is extremely well explained and is one of the most interesting topics of the book.
As a musician, I did not find much value with this book, but looking at Levitin's work through the eyes of a non-musician, I can see the value that it would have to understanding music in a broad sense. The most valuable and interesting part of the book that I found was understanding how timbre and overtones work. The material I was most interested in learning at the outset did not have great scientific support in the book: why we like the music we like and why music even came to be in the first place. Levitin's literary solution to these questions was based heavily on psychology and predictions, and it fell very flat. Many of Levitin's references were very old-school, so young neuroscientists and those interested in pursuing a career in auditory neuroscience may not be able to quickly grasp and understand his musical references which ultimately set the framework for his book.
For non-musicians who wish to learn more about music theory and the scientific basis behind it, this is an excellent read. However, for those who consider themselves skilled musicians (singers, instrument players, conductors, etc.), this book could have a two-toned effect. If you're looking for a general overview, I highly recommend it. However, if you're looking for a heavy neuroscience background, I would not simply because it seems that Levitin's ultimate goal was to provide a broad overview with a spattering of neuroscience.
I read almost the entire book before giving up. This book was so poorly written it gave me a headache.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Sometimes books in the field of neuroscience can become information dumps. This Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin does the complete opposite.Read more