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

Daniel J. Levitin
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 28 2007

What can music teach us about the brain? What can the brain teach us about music? And what can both teach us about ourselves?

 In this groundbreaking union of art and science, rocker-turned-neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin (The World in Six Songs and The Organized Mind) explores the connection between music - its performance, its composition, how we listen to it, why we enjoy it - and the human brain. Drawing on the latest research and on musical examples ranging from Mozart to Duke Ellington to Van Halen, Levitin reveals:

  • How composers produce some of the most pleasurable effects of listening to music by exploiting the way our brains make sense of the world
  • Why we are so emotionally attached to the music we listened to as teenagers, whether it was Fleetwood Mac, U2, or Dr. Dre
  • That practice, rather than talent, is the driving force behind musical expertise
  • How those insidious little jingles (called earworms) get stuck in our head
Taking on prominent thinkers who argue that music is nothing more than an evolutionary accident, Levitin poses that music is fundamental to our species, perhaps even more so than language. A Los Angeles Times Book Award finalist, This Is Your Brain on Music will attract readers of Oliver Sacks and David Byrne, as it is an unprecedented, eye-opening investigation into an obsession at the heart of human nature.

Frequently Bought Together

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession + The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload + World In Six Songs
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Product Description

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars With a song in our heads Dec 3 2007
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
When a rock musician, a sound engineer and a neuroscientist combine their talents to explain how we think about music, it promises to be interesting. When those three individuals are present in one man who also writes well, the result is compelling. With a strong scientific foundation - no little of that from his own work - from which to build, coupled with his production experience, Levitin has launched a new phase in the understanding of how the mind deals with the outside world. In the manner of colours we think we see, sounds are simply vibrations of air until our brain identifies and translates them for us. Without descending into arcane terms for either the brain or music, he skilfully guides us through the process of "music appreciation" - and why we do.

Musicians enter our lives more intimately than almost anybody else. They can inspire us, influence our lives in innumerable ways, and they are available at any time - virtually at our command. We welcome their presence even when we haven't consciously sought them out. Music is always a personal relationship, sometimes very intense, generating emotions perhaps hidden or suppressed. How can the movement of air molecules generate such reactions in us?

In answering that question, Levitin takes the reader on describes the path sound takes from its entry into the ear. Nerve impulses from sound have a number of paths open to them. Widely dispersed areas of the brain process the signals, further triggering a variety of reactions. Much new information about sounds and the brain's reaction to them has come to light in recent years. When the sound is music, the brain actually goes through mathematical calculations to register timbre, pitch and other musical elements.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brain Stimulant Sept. 5 2006
This book is a remarkable achievement. It provides a compelling and lucid overview of important developments in the science of music. Levitin accomplishes this in singular fashion by providing the reader with personal insights drawn from his experience as a musician, producer, and scientist. There are a number of worthwhile books to consider along this theme but this one truly has a sense of the excitement and inspiration surrounding the research.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Rhythm of Hype Jan. 17 2008
By A Customer
I finished this book for two reasons: 1) It was a gift; 2) There was enough musical and neurological trivia scattered throughout to keep me hoping for some grand synthesis. But there I was on the last page, still anticipating something more-- fulfillment, if you will, of the majesty promised by the title, synopsis and scads of reviews. I admit I was pleased to see the author stick it to Stephen Pinker, but disappointed by the repetitive, name-dropping, self-conscious writing style. As a primer on some of the juicier bits of music theory and the human compulsions behind it, this text is more than adequate. However, if you already understand one central idea-- that music profoundly affects the brain because it's simultaneously aural, imaginative and kinetic-- then it's not likely you'll experience a shift in the arc of your thinking.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not worth your money May 15 2008
As a physics grad student and a music/guitar enthusiast, I would describe myself as perfectly belonging to the target audience of this book. I started reading with great enthusiasm and interest, but was I in for a surprise. I have read many lovely popular science books, but I wouldn't put this book on that list for several reasons.

First of all, this is the book with the biggest number of typos per page that I have ever read, and for me they are real eye-sores. Second, there is a lot of repetition of already stated ideas, in a very unnecessary and unhelpful way. My reading was very often interrupted by thoughts of the type "he already said this earlier, will he just move on to the subject?". If I, as a casual reader, notice so many obvious blunders that my reading is constantly interrupted, why didn't the author or editor find them before the book was published?

Third, name dropping. This has been mentioned time and time again in the negative reviews here, but I only read them after I became annoyed with the book myself and needed to find out if my book is from a bad batch or whatever is happening. I like hearing stories about famous people, but more often than not the way these were presented in the book amounted more to bragging by the author and a distraction from the story than anything else.

All in all, I got a lot of useful trivia from this book and there are parts that I enjoyed immensely. I felt I have to write a review because the author didn't do his basic job, and getting to the useful stuff was very tedious. It's not a book I would read 'over and over', as one gleaming review suggested. Look into it if it's in the library, but don't rush to spend money on it. In this spirit, I'm donating mine to the local library.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brainy book on music Aug. 30 2007
If you play a musical instrument or would like to play; if you sing or listen to music; if you have a brain and are even slightly interested in what makes it tick you must buy this book. Read it two or three times or even more, because it will reward you each time. It's worth at least 10,000 hours of practice. Highly recommended.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read
The author is expert at making a difficult topic like psychology and neuroscience perfectly readable and understandable, more you almost feel like reading a good novel while... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Anne-Marie Burns
4.0 out of 5 stars Music to my Brain
An up to date and easily understood collection of musical conclusions and their neurological implications. Opinionated and direct with lots of familiar musical examples.
Published 11 months ago by ADRIAN E HOFFMAN
4.0 out of 5 stars Learned lots....easy to read
I think this book was very informative and and enjoyable. I am a trained classical musician as well as a music educator with 10 years experience. Read more
Published 13 months ago by gdm123
5.0 out of 5 stars Facinting read
This was very interesting for me. I've been interested in the structure and function of the brain for years. I read this a while ago - now I'm going to read it again. Read more
Published 13 months ago by John Somerville
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Published on Oct. 11 2009 by Wendy L. Law
4.0 out of 5 stars Musicians are Made Not Born
As a philosopher and as a musician I loved this book. As a musician I found I could skim the opening chapters but his work on how the brain works when we hear music are excellent. Read more
Published on Nov. 11 2007 by Bernie Koenig
4.0 out of 5 stars Music to my eyes...
A very interesting explanation on what makes music sooo attractive to the vast majority of us... the first two chapters are in my opinion, heavy to read (I had to go back several... Read more
Published on Nov. 10 2007 by Othon Leon
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