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


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 ...

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

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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

From Barnes & Noble
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.
Why human beings make and enjoy music is, in Levitin's telling, a delicious story. (
Los Angeles Times Book Review
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.
Publishers Weekly
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 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this exploration of the brain-music relationship, musician and neuroscientist Levitin, who heads the Levitin Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill University, begins by defining and explaining musical terms. Lay readers can take these chapters as reference material; musicians and scientists will grasp the apparatus of organized sound, hearing, and brain function, structured in detail with examples ranging from Johann Sebastian Bach to the Beatles. Following that material is an explanation of how music arouses and plays with expectations, creates tension and resolution, and provides insights into brain structure and function. Levitin concludes with three delightful chapters: "What Makes a Musician?" (10,000 hours of practice), "My Favorite Things" (why we like what we like), and "The Music Instinct," in which he argues-against experimental psychologist Steven Pinker-that music plays a role in evolution (singers and dancers are perceived as being more attractive as mates). In Levitin's study, current brain research becomes comprehensible through music-a wonderful accomplishment. Along with Anthony Storr's Music and the Mind and Kathleen Marie Higgins's The Music of Our Lives, this book extends the appreciation of music as neural training. Essential for most libraries.-E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, DC Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A neuroscientist with a rich musical background explains what is being learned through research about music and the mind. Levitin, a former record producer, now director of the Levitin Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University, sees music as a window into the essence of human nature. To bring the uninitiated up to speed, he devotes his opening chapters to answering the question of what music is, covering rhythm, meter, tempo, loudness and harmony, as well as providing basic information about the workings of the human brain. Levitin describes recent studies, some but not all at his own laboratory, that seek answers to questions about the brain mechanisms underlying emotion and memories associated with music. Noting that there is no single music center in the brain, he recounts how listening to music causes a number of brain regions, from the oldest and most primitive to the newest and as far apart as the frontal lobes and the cerebellum at the back of the brain, to be activated in a particular order. Levitin also considers the neurobehavioral basis of musical expertise; the origins of particular musical preferences; and the evolution of music. Taking issue with Steven Pinker's assertion that music is but an evolutionary accident piggybacking on language, Levitin cogently presents arguments for music's primacy in human history. Two appendixes provide additional information on the processing of music in the brain and on musical chords. The author displays an easy familiarity with a wide range of musical genres and the characteristics of numerous musical instruments and performers' voices. He draws his explanatory examples from jazz, rock-'n'-roll,classical music, nursery and folk songs, and musical theater, to name but a few, tossing in references to the Beatles and Beethoven, Joni Mitchell and Bach, Frank Sinatra and Sousa. Levitin makes the science of music readily understandable to the non-scientist and non-musician alike.
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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101218914
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/3/2006
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 78,199
  • File size: 523 KB

Meet the Author

Daniel J. Levitin is the James McGill Professor 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. He is the author of This is Your Brain on Music and The World in Six Songs, which were New York Times bestsellers and have been translated into 16 languages, and the upcoming book The Organized Mind. 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, and Rodney Crowell.
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Table of Contents

This Is Your Brain On MusicIntroduction
I Love Music and I Love Science—Why Would I Want to Mix the Two?

1. What Is Music?
From Pitch to Timbre

2. Foot Tapping
Discerning Rhythm, Loudness, and Harmony

3. Behind the Curtain
Music and the Mind Machine

4. Anticipation
What We Expect from Liszt (and Ludacris)

5. You Know My Name, Look Up the Number
How We Categorize Music

6. After Dessert, Crick Was Still Four Seats Away from Me
Music, Emotion, and the Reptilian Brain

7. What Makes a Musician?
Expertise Dissected

8. My Favorite Things
Why Do We Like the Music We Like?

9. The Music Instinct
Evolution's #1 Hit

Bibliographic Notes

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 74 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 75 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2009

    Finally a book that explains music!!!

    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!!!

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 28, 2009

    For the reader who has ever wondered why they like the music they like

    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?"

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 10, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent Book! Trumps All the Others

    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.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Levitin makes the study of the brain intriguing. His organization and presentation give the reader a great understanding of thought and feeling processes. Music especially involves the brain in more extensive ways.

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2008

    A reviewer

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 2, 2011

    A compelling, concise, INTRODUCTION to music and neuroscience.

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Interesting--a lot is covered, but there is no CD with it, and not many diagrams, no web links. Well, at least he wrote something...

    Much is covered in "This is Your Brain on Music," but there is no CD or many diagrams with it, and the subject matter would be more interactive if there were more diagrams and CD examples of music that he writes about. There is no web link either for more interactive participation. Basically, it is like a borish textbook of importance written for the mass market. Although many styles of music are mentioned, there are not that many. The chapters range from 3 star to 5 star. Once one passes page 79, the book rolls along much better. I play several sizes of a wind instrument as a hobby that I formal study in some areas for the past five years, and I found that this book did cover why I like some of Leopold Mozart's (A. Mozart's dad) music, as well as J.S. Bach's music. I even found out why I love Wagner, although the author does not write well of Wagner's disposition. Basically, I find a few of Wagner's music such as Tannheuser beyond reality, but Wagner's music does not fit with the legends (I do not like the legends he uses at all), as some of Wagner's music easily surpasses the legends he used in his operas. What Wagner's music fits with is with a later poet who had similar creepy issues--Ezra Pound, Ezra Pound's poem "The Return," fits with much of the great Wagnerian music. Perhaps, these pieces are psychic powerful manifestations of advanced life forms on another planet that caused some sort of faculty breakdown of torment of Wagner and Pound causing these two to have strange similar issues in some areas. Regarding "Old Man" by Neil Young, for example, "Old Man" is also the name of a famous old elephant in Africa that had a long life span (I do not know if "Old Man" still is alive), and the fantastic banjo in a short part of that song (the banjo originating in Africa) encouraged me to try to learn to play my banjo--though I have not had the time yet. I do not know if Neil Young knew about the "Old Man" elephant in Africa... This book is definitely worth reading. Even if one does not agree with the author's assessments in many areas, or with his research, he wrote quite a bit on the subject, and most of it is interesting in some way. For example, I found that the typical "musicians headache" (I usually never get a headache) that occurred with me a few years back when I was starting to study/play J.S. Bach's "Italienisches Konzert" (BWV 971) on my winds (I started with a newer version that was more difficult than previous versions) was similar to what I experienced when reading Hayek recently. Hayek wrote on issues that pertained to some of the Wagnerian and Pound problems. "This is Your Brain on Music" caused me to find the areas in my brain that I use(d) to study these difficult works.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2010

    Novice Music Fans Need Not Apply

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Charismatic At Most

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2008

    Music made boring.

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2015

    This book is about connections between music and the human brain

    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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  • Posted September 5, 2012

    Worth the time it takes to read!

    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.

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  • Posted June 2, 2012

    Highly recommended for those who love both music and the study of the mind!

    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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  • Posted February 8, 2010

    Music to My Mind

    Music is an amazing thing that changes how we feel life and Daniel J Levitin superbly explains how music effects us. In "This Is Your Brain on Music- The Science of a Human Obsession" Levitin unravels the mystery of music and the human mind. This book helps the average person expand their knowledge on the trends and peculiarities of music. Levitin broadly covers the subject of music and where it touches on the human life, and does so fully and entertainingly. He interestingly engages readers with tiny snippets and stories of his life in the music-producing world. The only dislike I had for this book was some of Levitin's rambling and pseudo-ADHD writing style when he is trying to link one subject to another, but all in all it is a fantastic read: educational, thorough, and highly engaging. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has even the slightest interest in music.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2010

    This Is Your Brain On Music Review

    This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin offers an open door into the depths of the music world by examining how the brain functions when listening to music. The first chapter "What Is Music?" gives thorough definitions of common musical terms while referencing well known musicians and songs for "non musicians" to comprehend better. As a musician I found the first chapter an easy read seeing because it felt like "Music Theory 101;" I found myself eager to turn the page so I could refresh my memory of the terms which I studied previously.

    However, as the book progresses Levitin discusses the neurological workings of the brain and how we listen to music, which I often questioned myself if I knew what I had just read. He goes into depth discussing the different parts of the brain and how we come to hear music which I would have genuinely enjoyed had I understood his explanations. I believe his explanations were too intelligent for a book to be written for people who haven't any musical background, which he mentions quite a few times. Also, Levitin uses countless references to famous rock bands and songs to help the reader understand the foreign terms he was discussing; however, at times I found myself not recognizing the musician or song he was referencing which only added to my confusion and distaste for the book. For the most part I found myself not wanting to turn the page because I didn't understand what he was talking about. However, the last chapter was the most interesting in which he argues the evolutionary origins of music, against scientist who believe music was an accident. He discusses music, and not the depth of the brain, which I found highly enjoyable and surprisingly not boring.

    It is clearly established throughout the book the immense passion Daniel Levitin has for music, which I highly respect. Although some parts of the book were dull and dry, I found myself appreciating music more than I had before with hopes of becoming a Music Major to further my education in music theory.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2009


    This book did more than stimulate new thoughts about music and brain function. This book deepened my love for live.

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  • Posted June 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    For parents of advaced readers

    My daughter loved this book. She is an advanced reader (14) and studies piano, ballet and lots of other things independently. She found this book interesting enough to quote to her parents.

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  • Posted April 21, 2009

    Why is music so universal and so compelling?

    For most of my nearly seventy years I have been interested in both music and science, as has the author of this book, although my drift was toward the physical, rather than biological, sciences. I have also played the violin since childhood, so I understand the author's desire to combine the two interests. The book is an attempt to answer several questions: Why is music so universal among humans? What is it about a certain piece of music that holds our attention? Why do we like the music we like? What is musical talent? How did the ability to make music evolve and what, if anything, was its survival value?

    Many of these questions are still up in the air among researchers, but they are answered in this book to the extent that current knowledge allows them to be. Levitin is a neuroscientist at McGill University, so the information he presents is extensively documented in a list of references. However, he has also been a session musician and a record producer, which gives him experience and familiarity with, and understanding of, a very wide range of musical genres.

    His discussion of these musical styles, in fact, opened my eyes to some things I didn't know or hadn't thought about. Being a classically trained (well, partly trained-I'm still working on that) musician, I lean toward Bach, Beethoven, and the like. I don't know much about popular music. So at the risk of sounding a bit patronizing, I was surprised to learn that as much creative thought and art goes into it as into the kind of music I know and love.

    In spite of the extensive reliance on academic research, this book is definitely written for a general readership, even one with little technical knowledge of music (chords, cadences, keys, etc.). An early chapter deals with such things and can be skipped by readers already familiar with these concepts. The neurological basis of things like rhythm, timbre, and melody are well presented. I thought the section on the evolution of music was speculative, but I guess that applies to many of the characteristics of both humans and other animals. One theory on the evolutionary origins of music is that musical ability helped in attracting a mate. This makes sense to me; it appears to work among birds, and a certain middle-aged saxophone player I know claims it works for him, too. It must, because it's beyond me to figure out why else so many young women would be attracted to him. Doesn't seem to work for sixty-six year old classical violinists, though.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2009

    This is Your Brain on Music Review

    An extreme source of knowledge, for just music and science. It's highly recommended to buy.

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  • Posted December 10, 2008

    A Scientific Peek into the Mystifying World of Music

    "This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession¿ by Daniel J. Levitin is a very gripping book that goes into detail on the scientific mechanisms of music. It includes answers to many seemingly unanswerable questions, such as why we like the music we like, what truly makes a great musician, to even more technical aspects such as how the brain responds to music. The book would be interesting to most musical people, but I don¿t see an average reader picking this up. Having a musical background is almost vital in comprehending some of the things said in this book. While at points it was extremely scientific and hard to follow, it was still interesting enough to keep turning the pages. At some of the most excruciating parts of the book, Levitin used much simpler analogies to help the average reader get their mind around these highly scientific concepts. Music lovers will find some of the facts in this book very amusing, and should have no trouble connecting to the more personal parts of the work. This book helped me, personally, put some reason behind why I love music the way I do. Recommended for all music and science fans!

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