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This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession Paperback – August 28, 2007
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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
“Endlessly stimulating, a marvelous overview, and one which only a deeply musical neuroscientist could give....An important book.”—Oliver Sacks, M.D.
“I loved reading that listening to music coordinates more disparate parts of the brain than almost anything else - and playing music uses even more! Despite illuminating a lot of what goes on, this book doesn't 'spoil' enjoyment—it only deepens the beautiful mystery that is music.”—David Byrne, founder of Talking Heads and author of How Music Works
“Levitin is a deft and patient explainer of the basics for the non-scientist as well as the non-musician....By tracing music's deep ties to memory, Levitin helps quantify some of music's magic without breaking its spell.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Why human beings make and enjoy music is, in Levitin's telling, a delicious story.”—Salon.com
“Dr. Levitin is an unusually deft interpreter full of striking scientific trivia.”—The New York Times
“Every musician, at whatever level of skill, should read this book.”—Howie Klein, former president, Sire and Reprise/Warner Brothers Records
“Levitin’s lucid explanation of why music is important to us is essential reading for creative musicians and scholars. I've been waiting for years for a book like this.”—Jon Appleton, composer and professor of Music, Dartmouth College and Stanford University, inventor of the Synclavier synthesizer
About the Author
Daniel J. Levitin, Ph.D., is the New York Times bestselling author of This Is Your Brain on Music, The World in Six Songs, The Organized Mind, and Weaponized Lies. His work has been translated into 21 languages. An award-winning scientist and teacher, he is Founding Dean of Arts & Humanities at the Minerva Schools at KGI, a Distinguished Faculty Fellow at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, and the James McGill Professor Emeritus 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. 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, Cris Williamson, Victor Wooten, and Rodney Crowell.
Top customer reviews
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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.
A more challenging question is where does music come from? Unlike other arts which date back thousands of years, even to the days of the Pharaohs, the history of music does not go back more than fifty thousand years, as far as we know. Not only that, but little is found in archeology about the type of music or the instruments used. However, it is generally assumed that whenever there were gatherings for social occasions there was dancing and some primitive form of singing.
Was music the outcome of the overall Darwinian evolution? Scientist ( e.g. Pinker, Barrow and Sperber) say ‘absolutely not’ . Music was always a parasitic addendum to evolution intended always for amusement. It did not fit in the ‘ survival of the fittest concept’. But Levitin and his colleagues think otherwise. They maintain that sexual selection is also part of the evolution movement. As such, it involves the attraction of the male partner for mating and reproduction. What more convincing evidence is there than the charming colors of the female birds as well as the melodic tunes of some of the male species?
As the book title indicates, however, the author’s focus was mostly on the role of the brain. Was there a correlation between the type of music and the activity in any of the regions of the brain? Neuroscientists think so. Numerous experiment where brain mapping was carried out in conjunction with musical performances showed that different part of the brain lit up, but mostly in two areas: the cerebellum in the back of the head ( the center of rhythm and movement), and the amygdala (the center of emotions). In addition, the cortex as well as the memory region in the hippocampus also were activated but played only a secondary role.
What about the emotional effect of music? Here we don’t need neuroscience or research to confirm its effect. We need only to observe the teary-eyed audiences watching one of those breath-taking performances of a famous musical piece (e.g. Beethoven’s 9th, 4th movement, or Shubert’s Serenade in D...); or just to listen and observe those gifted, little children hitting the high C's as they sing so naturally and sweetly . One thing is always certain - whenever there is a moving piece of music, humans will feel a thrill and a chill and the amygdala will vibrate!!
Fuad R Qubein