This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin

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

Whether you load your iPod with Bach or Bono, music has a significant role in your lifeā€”even if you never realized it. Why does music evoke such powerful moods? The answers are at last be- coming clear, thanks to revolutionary neuroscience and the emerging field of evolutionary psychology. Both a cutting-edge study and a tribute to the beauty of music itself, This Is Your...

Title:This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession
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ISBN:0525949690
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:314 pages

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

  • Matthew

    There's a lot of amazing stuff in this book to contemplate, but the author tries too hard to make it relevant for readers who listen to the Eagles and Mariah Carey (musicians he specifically sites), and he gets caught up in the most mundane details of his personal interactions with his colleagues at meetings and dinners and such, and who ordered what, and how everybody was dressed, and where everybody got their degrees.

    My girlfriend got me interested in it because I found her passionate explanat

    There's a lot of amazing stuff in this book to contemplate, but the author tries too hard to make it relevant for readers who listen to the Eagles and Mariah Carey (musicians he specifically sites), and he gets caught up in the most mundane details of his personal interactions with his colleagues at meetings and dinners and such, and who ordered what, and how everybody was dressed, and where everybody got their degrees.

    My girlfriend got me interested in it because I found her passionate explanations of the salient neuroscience very interesting, but that information could be contained in a book about a quarter of the length of this one. Read it, because you don't have Stacey to give you the short version, and you'll love learning about how deeply and profoundly music affects human and animal brains, but do yourself a favor and skip a few paragraphs every time Levitin starts to ramble on with his personal anecdotes which usually pertain only very tangentially to the science at hand.

  • Mike Bularz

    From the reviews I've seen here, the material seems to have passed over most people's heads (by being too rough, or the phrase you'll come across a few times, "I didn't feel like I walked away exclaiming 'eureka!'"... or the book angered more expert readers by its simplicity, but it wasn't meant to talk of new discoveries as much as it was meant for a general public.

    The book takes a while for an average person, and I'd say you have to have some knowledge of chorded instruments and such where yo

    From the reviews I've seen here, the material seems to have passed over most people's heads (by being too rough, or the phrase you'll come across a few times, "I didn't feel like I walked away exclaiming 'eureka!'"... or the book angered more expert readers by its simplicity, but it wasn't meant to talk of new discoveries as much as it was meant for a general public.

    The book takes a while for an average person, and I'd say you have to have some knowledge of chorded instruments and such where you'd come across ideas such as frequencies ringing together to form major and minor chords. It covers various interesting topics, and I speculate the reason people walk away feeling not so enlightened is because after chapter 8+, chapters 1-5 are a distant memory. If you have trouble, jot down a few things, it helped me.

    There is one chapter that the author wastes time talking about a dinner with his idol neuro-scientists from which you will take not much away except for a list of forgettable names and how the next chapter's ideas were spurred by one of the professors' advice: "Look at the connections [something along those lines at least]".

    Overall, Im glad I read this book, and often check back to it as a reference, and it's great food for thought.

  • Pamela W

    I really despise myself for giving what should be an awesome book only 2 stars. I know I am mentally feeble, but was this ever dry!!! Interesting topic - neuroscience & music - but the author did go on at times (too much music theory, god I hated studying that and I'm a musician) and took the scientific aspects to a degree where I often found myself stopping to ponder "what the hell is he talking about?" It read like it could be someone's dissertation. The second half is slightly more intere

    I really despise myself for giving what should be an awesome book only 2 stars. I know I am mentally feeble, but was this ever dry!!! Interesting topic - neuroscience & music - but the author did go on at times (too much music theory, god I hated studying that and I'm a musician) and took the scientific aspects to a degree where I often found myself stopping to ponder "what the hell is he talking about?" It read like it could be someone's dissertation. The second half is slightly more interesting. I'm sure Oliver Sacks book re: dysfunctional psychological reactions/processing of music is going to be a more fun and interesting read, and let's face it, I am reading for fun, this is not a textbook for my evening class at The School of Rock. When I get to invite 4 people from history to a dinner party, I'll not invite Daniel Levitin; all the other guests will try to avoid him all night as he does go on and on (much like this review).

  • Sam

    Seemingly for musicians or composers this book is more fitting a read for scientists and doctors. Not much content is musicianship related. Middle third is a bore.

    What I learned:

    - There is no sound in space

    (there are no molecules to vibrate)

    - Virtuosity comes from hours of practice

    (talent and absolute pitch play a small role)

    - Learning to play an instrument after 20 is hard

    (the brain is done developing)

    - Percussion is a primitive musical trait

    (affirming my suspician drummers are apes)

    - People

    Seemingly for musicians or composers this book is more fitting a read for scientists and doctors. Not much content is musicianship related. Middle third is a bore.

    What I learned:

    - There is no sound in space

    (there are no molecules to vibrate)

    - Virtuosity comes from hours of practice

    (talent and absolute pitch play a small role)

    - Learning to play an instrument after 20 is hard

    (the brain is done developing)

    - Percussion is a primitive musical trait

    (affirming my suspician drummers are apes)

    - People like music they can understand

    (an area between too elementary and too difficult)

    - Children who learn to play instruments have increased cognitive understanding and focus

    - Music and performance play a role in evolution

    (used to attract a mate)

    - Music is a stimulant and natural high

    (it opens neural pathways that trigger throughout the brain from the cerebral cortext to the frontal lobes)

    - Different handicaps react differently to music

    (Down syndrome do not like music. Williams does)

    I'll stop now. This list is already too long.

  • Patricia

    It wasn't until I was half-way through this book that things started to get really interesting. As a musician, the first half was like retaking Music 101, but I felt this was a book I need to read, so I plowed on. I am looking for answers to the questions: "Why, when I near any musical interval, my brain automatically zips through all the tunes I know which start with that interval, and I start humming one of them?" and "Why the hell have I had '76 Trombones' on my mind for the last 6 weeks?" Is

    It wasn't until I was half-way through this book that things started to get really interesting. As a musician, the first half was like retaking Music 101, but I felt this was a book I need to read, so I plowed on. I am looking for answers to the questions: "Why, when I near any musical interval, my brain automatically zips through all the tunes I know which start with that interval, and I start humming one of them?" and "Why the hell have I had '76 Trombones' on my mind for the last 6 weeks?" Is this what happens when musicians age? I feel like I'm nearing the answers, and its getting quite interesting. (I'm still reading the book). I finally finished the book and solved the mystery of "76 Trombones": it just so happened my cousin who lives on the East coast was playing trumpet in a production of "The Music Man" that telepathic experience had nothing to do with the book. As for the intervals reminding me of tunes, that has something to do with the Exemplar theory which has to do with how musical prototypes are stored in and recalled from memory. Pretty interesting stuff, but I came away with the feeling that there is still not much scientific consensus about how the brain processes music. The book contained a lot of ambiguous "Probablys", and "somehows" and apart from a few interesting and compelling studies, I was ready to move on to something else.

  • Jackie

    A book is the wrong medium for this information. As I read this book, I kept wishing I was watching a PBS show version of it instead, where I could HEAR the music Mr. Levitin was referencing, and see visuals of the brain showing what parts are being affected by music, and how they all link up.

    Instead of having to tell us in excruciating detail what an octave is, he could demonstrate on an instrument, and we could hear it for ourselves. When discussing half steps and whole steps, we could both h

    A book is the wrong medium for this information. As I read this book, I kept wishing I was watching a PBS show version of it instead, where I could HEAR the music Mr. Levitin was referencing, and see visuals of the brain showing what parts are being affected by music, and how they all link up.

    Instead of having to tell us in excruciating detail what an octave is, he could demonstrate on an instrument, and we could hear it for ourselves. When discussing half steps and whole steps, we could both hear them, and see how a piano's white and black keys work with the structure of the scale.

    Beyond all that, I'm a little disappointed in the focus of the book. Mr. Levitin says at one point that he is more interested in the mind, than in the brain. And yet, instead of telling us how all these brain interactions manifest in our minds, he focuses on details about the cerebellum and the amygdala. We learn what parts of the brain act together when listening to music, but not much what that MEANS to us mentally. I guess I wanted more psychology, less biology.

    That doesn't make the subject any less fascinating. I think my favorite chapter was the one on what makes a musician. It's not just innate talent. No, it takes hours and hours and hours of practice, 10,000 in fact to master an instrument (this may sound familiar to those of you who read Malcolm Gladwell's book

    ). It may also take helpful physiology, like long fingers to reach keys on a piano easily. But humans are INNATELY musical, and how our brains and bodies react to music is astonishing.

    Other interesting things I learned:

    - humans have always made music, and that it likely predates language

    - music can comfort and inspire us, and has the power to change our mood through the chemistry in our brains

    - music activates both the oldest and newest parts of the brain

    - we all have expertise in music, because we all listen to it

    - the importance of timbre, the quality of sound that distinguishes a note played on a guitar from the same note played on a trumpet, and the quality that lets us recognize each other's voices

    And I liked this quote: "Music communicates to us emotionally through systematic violations of expectations."

    And I kept thinking of this other quote: "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture," (no, I can't tell you who said that, maybe Elvis Costello, maybe Laurie Anderson, maybe Steve Martin...)


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