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

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

3.9 74
by Daniel J. Levitin

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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,

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

Musician Daniel Levitin worked in the record industry for many years before his curiosity about our response to music led him into the field of neurobiology. In this delightful guide for non-specialists, he draws on his expertise in both areas to explain the complex connection between music and the human brain. Much of the scientific research cited comes from Levitin's own experimental laboratory at McGill University, but this book is no dry clinical study. Enlivened with witty pop musical references and informed with as much affection as knowledge, This Is Your Brain on Music is a joyful valentine to one of our deepest and most emotional human instincts.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Penguin Group
File size:
635 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Oliver Sacks
Endlessly stimulating, a marvelous overview, and one which only a deeply musical neuroscientist could give.... An important book.
From the Publisher
"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

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This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 74 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a pure joy to read. It's amazing that a musician decided to become a cognitive psychologist and has revealed the secrets of how music and our brains function. It's written in easy to understand prose that is accessible to musicians and non musicians alike. Well trained musicians will have an easier time reading because they already understand the nuances between musical terms, however it's all explained so that a non musician can understand it. It reminds me of the books that Albert Einstein wrote explaining his theory of relativity for non physicists. Clear, concise information is well presented so the average reader can fully comprehend how music and the brain function. It's a revelation worth discovering if you have any serious interest in music of whatever genre! Enjoy!!!
bahr41 More than 1 year ago
It is very rare to find an individual with the experience in music, psychology, and neuroscience like Daniel Levitin; rocker turned music producer turned neuroscientist. When he was working as a music producer, he became interested in why and how music operates on the human brain. He became so interested that he went back to school to study just that. He studied how the brain turns sounds into patterns that we think of as songs, how we remember those patterns, and how they are stored and bring up many different emotions. Levetin was a part of the discovery of important neural processes that explain why music can touch you so deeply, and believes that our brains seem to have evolved to maximize musical ability. It is great that a person with the credentials and musical background that he has wrote a book to explain why music affects us the way it does in a way that is easy to follow. This is not written just for the study of neuroscience nor only for the study of music, but it is written for the average, everyday music lover. For the reader that may not completely understand the linguistics involved in music, the first chapter goes into detail of some terms that may not be familiar. Terms such as: pitch, reverberation, or timbre. Although this chapter is very helpful as a refresher from junior high music class, it is very long and repetitive. I found myself losing focus and keeping a countdown of pages till it was over which is never a good sign when reading a book. Once past the 50 pages that seem like they were torn from a music textbook, things start to get interesting. He begins by explaining the distinction of the mind, "the part of each of us that embodies our thoughts, hopes, desires, memories, beliefs, and experiences," and the brain, "an organ of the body, a collection of cells and water, chemicals and blood vessels, that resides in the skull. Activity in the brain gives rise to the contents of the mind." He then explains how music reaches the brain and the reactions it causes on different neural regions followed by how the reactions of the brain affect the mind. The book answers many questions that most people have, but do not bother finding the answers to. He describes why songs from our teenage years have a greater impact on us than music from later, why songs get stuck in our heads, he describes them as "ear worms", and why we like the music that we like. This is written very clearly for the non-specialist and certain topics have been simplified to easily understand, but was done in a way where it wasn't overly-simplified. This is a great book for anyone who as ever said, "I like this song." Then followed it up by asking themselves the question, "but why do I like this song?"
SuzeJones58 More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! I'm a fan of brain and cognitive science, having been a psyc. major many years ago. Books such as 'Brain on Music' rely on the science of today to prove what we were only beginning to suspect many years ago. Daniel Levitan must be one of those wonders. With an early background in music, a career as a music business professional and then a return to school to complete a doctorate in music, and then -- of course, this book. He trumps all the other researcher-writers, such as Goleman and Pinker. I just love how these academics slip in little pot-shots at one another -- Levitan pointing out that music is not just a linguistic after-thought and slipping in a little tweak at Pinker. The book explains just enough music theory for the average reader and then really digs into the science of brain structure and physiology that enable us to perceive and understand music. My daughter who is a senior in high school and participating in music classes is now reading the book. The music theory sections are reinforcing and supplementing what she is learning in school. If you are into either music appreciation or brain science then this book is a MUST. Read it - you won't be disappointed.
Dr_C More than 1 year ago
Daniel Levitin has an eclectic background giving validity to his research. In addition his writing style is entertaining especially generously sprinkled with his own experiences with others well-known in psychology of the brain.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A truely technical book about music and how it affects us, not on a superficial level but physically and in every other way. While written for the music professional it also defines it's terminology quite thoroughly so the average person can also understand it. I found it quite interesting but not a casual read. Deep and complicated in parts of it. The only thing I didn't care for were the occasional refernces to evolution which weren't really relevant to the topic at hand. Other than that, an excellent book for the person who wants to delve a little deeper into how our minds work, why and how we formulate music, why music in other places is so different and even why music is so important to the human race.
westermantyler1 More than 1 year ago
Daniel J. Levitin's first New York Times bestseller is quite an intriguing introduction into the vast fields of musical science and neuroscience. I avidly research both of these studies and some of my curiosity is due to this book. Being a musician the premise of this book caught my eye. After getting past the preliminary chapters about the basics of sound and harmony, Levitin delves into fascinating topics of cognitive musical expectations, the neuroscience of rhythm, musical memory, and music's influence on evolution. He speaks in layperson's terms to reach a broader audience and I fully appreciate his efforts. I'm sure he could easily get caught in academia, but he controls his diction and uses thorough analogies to explain complicated scientific complexes. It is a very approachable and inviting way of presenting the complex information he is trying to present to the average reader. Though, in my case, the topic is sure to inspire further readings into the subject. I enjoyed his references to pop culture examples over several decades and they provided perfect examples to the ideas he was referring to. This book and its writing style has encouraged my pursuits into the exciting arena of neuroscience. It has also reinforced my interest in the science of music and how it affects the people of all cultures.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is Your Brain on Music was a solid read. It takes you through the science behind an art. You look at what makes noise into music, the psychology behind listening to music, and even how the brain of people who play music works. All in all it is a good book. But if you are going to read it, plan to learn a lot, because the book has quite a lot of information. Unless you have a musical background, there is a very good chance of getting lost in the language. That's why the first chapter attempts to take you through a brief summary of music terminology. The key word of that sentence was brief, because that's what it was. The definitions of the terms didn't manage to cover the topic well enough for any novice to understand thoroughly. So I recommend, if you want to enjoy this book, have some kind of musical background, where terms like triads, pitch, melody, and timber, are not foreign. But if you do have a musical knowledge, you will enjoy this work. It does a good job of connecting the artistic side of music, with the scientific. It very well examines the scientific reasons we all enjoy music; one form or another. But my biggest complaint was the authors writing style. Daniel Levitin has a great knowledge and understanding of the topic, but not how to convey those ideas. I found his writing style to be bland, and very similar to a text book. There was little to no emotion in his writing style. Or at least that is what it felt like. The saving grace for this novel is that it has such amazing information to give and that as you read about specific bands, like the Beatles, you can imagine their music playing. If it wasn't for the great information and my love for the topic of music, I wouldn't have enjoyed this novel. So if you have a musical knowledge, enjoy science, and don't mind a semi-bland writing style, then you will enjoy This is Your Brain on Music. 3.5 out of 5.
Nicholas_E_Sparks More than 1 year ago
More like a well-written textbook, this book presents some insight into more theoretical and applicable model of music. Levitin certainly exploits my curiosity of music, but the book has limited merit beyond an informative piece. I applaud his ability to embellish music as a more useful and complex art in a practical way, but there was little risk taken by the author to extend music beyond its aesthetic realm.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really couldn't figure out the point of the book. I had read that it was "technical." Being a musician myself, while I fully understood the "technical" part, the author's use of musical terminology is confusing and frankly - boring. I don't see how a non-musician could enjoy or learn anything about MUSIC from this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is about connections between music and the human brain. The author reveals topics like why we like the music we do, why we like music, and what does music have that intrigues us. In this book, I liked all the facts and research it had to have specific points and back them up. I also like how every chapter is different so you can learn a lot of different things in one book. The things I don’t like about this book was the authors writing style. He jumped around a lot and he also got off subject a lot. I also didn’t like how he had certain topics on the back cover that he said he would cover and I never found them to read them. I would recommend this book to anyone. This book is a great book for musicians and non-musicians. This book would be great for non-musicians because it teaches you a lot about music along the way. It would also be great for musicians because it will teach you things about music that you already didn’t know, so it will expand your knowledge. I don’t think this book would be a good idea to make into a movie. His book is a pretty good book, but I don't know if I would read it again. I don’t think I would read this book again because I was so disappointed in not being able to read the interesting topics that I wanted to. I was expecting to read all of the topics on the back cover that the author said he would cover, but he never did. 
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Part-timefolkmusician More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended to me by a fellow musician. It's slow going at first because it's not the usual escapist bedtime reading I'm used to. However, that said, I would recommend it to anyone who really loves music and wants to learn more about it in depth.
Nelaine More than 1 year ago
For non-music theorists, the first chapter of THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC is not always easy to read, as it "simplifies" music theory in the language of theorists; however, it also details elements that are more easily comprehended, and Levitin uses examples from popular music, as well as from other forms, to illustrate his concepts. After that opening, it becomes engrossing, as he examines what music does inside of our minds, how it changes and influences cognitive processes. He uses his own research and that of others to explain that emotion is central to the ability to retain information, and that music lives in us forever when and because it reaches us emotionally. He then applies that to other types of learning and retention, as he explores how music works in the brain, even to retrain the thinking process. This is a wonderful book, especially for those who have read and are interested in books such as THINKING FAST AND SLOW, INCOGNITO, THE INVISIBLE GORILLA, THE SHALLOWS, and other works on cognition. It is one more in an emerging literature of the brain, and I highly recommend it.
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