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

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  34,141 Ratings  ·  1,133 Reviews
Whether you load your iPod with Bach or Bono, music has a significant role in your life—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 ...more
Hardcover, 314 pages
Published August 3rd 2006 by Dutton Adult (first published August 1st 2006)
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Please Kill Me by Legs McNeilChronicles, Vol. 1 by Bob DylanLove Is a Mix Tape by Rob SheffieldOur Band Could Be Your Life by Michael AzerradJust Kids by Patti Smith
Best Non Fiction About Music
24th out of 901 books — 811 voters
The Devil in the White City by Erik LarsonFreakonomics by Steven D. LevittIn Cold Blood by Truman CapoteA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Non-Fiction (non biography)
173rd out of 3,898 books — 5,766 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Sep 17, 2007 Matthew rated it liked it
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
Jackie "the Librarian"
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
Dec 05, 2009 Patricia rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Any musician who has the patience to really pay attention to what the author is saying.
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 ...more
Mike Bularz
Dec 22, 2008 Mike Bularz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: at-barnes, own, notes
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
Mar 24, 2008 Sam rated it liked it
Shelves: music
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
Pamela W
Feb 23, 2008 Pamela W rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Scientists?
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 ...more
Oct 28, 2010 Ken rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books that I think is a valuable read but not necessarily an enjoyable least for the general reader. If you bring a background in neuroscience then this is a treasure chest of information. My personal interest lies in music specifically and I saw this as an opportunity to better understand how our brains engage with music. Coupled with Oliver Sacks collection "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" we begin to unlock the mysterious properties of music to help us com ...more
Feb 07, 2009 Bill rated it liked it
Shelves: keepers
Someone left this behind in the cubby of the plane seat on a flight I took in December. As I'd finished my magazines, I picked it up, and then couldn't put it down. What was most fascinating about the book was the ease at which concepts I'd struggled with years ago were made crisp, clear, and, well, obvious, as they should have been back then. Introductory concepts of music were never made as clear to me than from this. I don't think I could have found a fuller survey of the subject, tying it to ...more
Feb 18, 2008 Jessica rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
People often ask me about how I can be a musician and into sign language. It occurs for them like there is a dichotomy at play. I've never experienced my work in either area to be at odds with the other.

This week I'm reading the coolest book I've read in a while: This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin. He was once a musician and sound engineer, but now is a neuroscientist (another set of odd-bedfellow occupations). A Publishers Weekly review says "This is likely the only book whose jac
Dec 27, 2007 J rated it it was amazing
Have you ever wondered how you can listen to an orchestra and pick out the melody, or pick out the violins from the whole ensemble, or pick out the first violin from the violin section, or separate the orchestra from the car alarm outside? If you ever wondered about music and why it is so appealing to us, you'll find this book interesting.

Beginning with the basics of how musicians and scientists define music, it moves on to discuss how our brain and mind have evolved to understand music, the im
Jun 18, 2011 Orsolya rated it it was amazing
We tend to make music for as much granted as we do breathing. Music is EVERYWHERE. The same way that you encounter hundreds of advertisements in a day: you also encounter music in various forms.This is Your Brain on Music (yes, based on the popular egg-drug PSA, explores how music is processed within your brain and why we react the way we do.

This journey within the musical brain begins with a brief description of music in terms of notes, patterns, tempo, etc. One can skip this section if alread
Aug 17, 2012 Michael rated it really liked it
“A” for effort and ambition and “C” for execution. He tries to be all things to all people, bouncing too much from folksy to scholarly and from self-referential to didactic perspectives. Levitin has a substantial music background, both in performance and production, and a very productive track record in cognitive neuroscience. Thus, his personal ambition to account for the neural basis of music, music listening pleasure, and musical creativity is compelling to him, and that motivation is infecti ...more
Jul 03, 2008 Mattie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really cool book on the the brain's relationship with and to music. Although written for a general audience, Levitan doesn't significantly dumb down or shy away from the neuroscience at the very heart of the book. At the same time, Levitan let's a very wry, witty sense of humor season his writing. Finally, he's got both the musical and scientific chops to understand the subject matter from both sides. This means there's enough science and detail to impart some pretty technical information, but i ...more
Jul 23, 2008 Bruce rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: unmusical cognitive scientists
In Daniel Levitin's own words, "This book is about the science of music, from the perspective of cognitive neuroscience…. I'll discuss some of the latest studies I and other researchers in our field have conducted on music, musical meaning, and musical pleasure…. [H]ow can we account for wide differences in musical preference -- why is it that one man's Mozart is another man's Madonna?" (p. 11) After reading these 270 pages, I'm sure I can't tell you. I'm pretty disappointed, but then I had real ...more
Jul 31, 2012 Marco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved it! The book was highly enjoyable for me and I'm not a professional musician (or a neuroscientist), but I've always been aware of what music can do to me, from meditation to headbanging and beyond. I've read some people got disappointed of finding 'too much music theory' or 'too much neuroscience'; well honestly I don't think the book has to much of either of them, it's not written for neuroscientists or for professional musicians (even when I think both groups could enjoy it), and lets fa ...more
Dec 22, 2007 Seth rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people love science and music.
Levitin goes too far out of his way to make the book appeal to the layman. His tone isn't condescending, but he came across as an academic out of his element. Much of the research he cites is very fascinating. When it's all said and done though, I didn't walk away feeling like I had a much better grasp of what my brain is actually like on music. Levitin spends most of the book citing other research and did not assert his own opinions until the very end. I found his own views fascinating, but eve ...more
Andrew Ludke
Apr 13, 2010 Andrew Ludke rated it it was amazing
I read this after reading Oliver Sacks book "Musicophilia" and it is a great follow up. Did you know that what goes in the ear exists in the brain ... I mean really exists. If you hear a frequency of 440hz, an 'A' on the piano keyboard, there exists an electrical signal in your brain with a frequency of exactly 440Hz. Did you know that every natural tone rings a series of mathematically related tones called the overtone series. The relative volume of these overtones creates timbre. Timbre is wha ...more
Mikael Lind
I'm not sure if I'm happy with having read this book, i.e. if the read was time well spent or not. The book is far too long for its content, and a bit hit-and-miss. I couldn't really relate to many of the bands that Levitin was referring to (Sting, Eagles), except for some fun facts about the Beatles. Also, some of his personal anecdotes are really boring and didn't help explaining the topic he was discussing.

There's an annoying mind/brain dualism in this book. Despite discussing Wittgenstein in
Jan 18, 2009 Rosie rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009
So far it's off to a sort of dry start. I'm led to believe that it will get better when he starts getting into the subject matter a bit more, but the first chapter is basically a quick and dirty introduction to music theory, most of which I am already quite familiar with. I'll force myself to get into the second chapter and see how it goes from there.

After finishing, I can say this book has a lot of information in it. Levitin explores the Cerebellum's role in processing music, which was fascinat
Loring Wirbel
Feb 08, 2013 Loring Wirbel rated it really liked it
Two friends called this book the perfect companion to David Byrne's "How Music Works," and I heartily agree. Where Byrne covers issues of cultural cues and personal responses to music in a broad sense, Levitin dives deep into the neural processing that goes on in music interpretation, and the emotional cerebellar responses that come along for the ride.

As a former recording engineer that went back to school to become a cognitive neuroscientist, Levitin gives us just the right balance of persona
May 26, 2009 Reenie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, non-fiction
My boyfriend will be very glad that I'm done with this book, since I kept on complaining all the way through as I read it.

It definitely does have some interesting facts and ideas within it, so it's vaguely interesting, but more importantly, it's also profoundly irritating. At least for me. Partly due to some logical or factual errors or selective readings of data, and partly (or maybe mostly, come to think of it) due to something in the demeanour that comes across from the author. He's really bl
Dec 26, 2009 Andrew rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who know either significantly less or more than me about music
Recommended to Andrew by: Rice
I was going to keep reading this book until the new year, but I've decided to stop. I would think the combined topics of music and science would interest me, but it didn't, at least not in the way this author tackled it.

Being a musician and a music scholar myself, I disagree with some of his statements, many of which don't seem to be scientific and are based in opinion rather than fact. He asserts that most people can tell when two different instruments are being played simultaneously, but I kn
Mar 14, 2016 Annie rated it really liked it
Shelves: canadian, science
Turns out this guy’s a professor at my alma mater, McGill, which is always cool. If I’d known I’d have snuck into one of his lectures last year.

Really enjoyed this! I’ve played instruments all my life and so the music theory wasn’t new to me, but I really liked learning about frequencies and how synthesizers work.

It took me much longer than it probably should have to read this book because I kept wanting to play the songs he mentions to hear what he’s talking about (it’s really fun and I learn
Rachel Hartman
May 16, 2011 Rachel Hartman rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed it. A lot of the reviews seem to be complaining about the writing style and the author's tone, but honestly I don't remember much about either of those (it's been months since I read this book; I just happened to be thinking about it again today). What I remember most clearly was the ideas, and how it got me thinking about both music and the brain in new ways. I have a keen (if amateur) interest in brains, so approaching it from a familiar direction (music) was a good intro to t ...more
Jan 29, 2016 Rania❤️ rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Music has many advantages and disadvantages for your brain including damage and concentration and that’s what “This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession” by Daniel J. Levitin mostly talks about. There are many kinds of brains some sensible and other less fragile than the rest. There are nine different kinds of intelligence in a brain. Some of the nine organisms do not support music or else they do. Music has an understandable role in life because of the nine bits of intellige ...more
In short, I enjoyed this book enough while I was reading it; I was glad when it was over; I hardly can remember anything about it now.

It's a bit like watching a popular education channel (Discovery, Nat. Geo., History, etc) late at night: it serves the purpose of passing the time, but probably isn't going to blow your mind.

If you are interested in music cognition, it's probably worth checking out. If you really don't know anything about music theory (I mean, like you were out sick for a whole sc
Sep 13, 2009 James rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology
Not nearly as good as I thought it would be. Music + psychological neuroscience? Sounded right up my alley. Actually it was very interesting in some places, but very dry and boring in others. A lot of it was reviewing musical and psychological concepts with which I'm already familiar. I can see why the author reviewed these things, but I ended up skimming them. To others not familiar with these concepts, though, I suspect it would be very boring.

The parts that were the most interesting to me we
Jan 04, 2015 Jocelyn rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I read this as a follow-up to Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks (which I enjoyed reading -- and reviewing!) It answered the questions that Sacks does not address, such as what parts of our brains process music, why music affects us emotionally, and whether musicianship conferred an evolutionary advantage on our ancestors. Plus Levitin also discusses the basics, like pitch and frequency, timbre, and rhythm. I liked the part where he explains how composers and performers move us and interest us by viol ...more
Jan 30, 2009 James rated it really liked it

Daniel J. Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession is a fascinating study about what happens in the brain when we listen to music. Levitin, a neuroscientist and former session musician and producer, has crafted an excellent study that both scientists and lay readers whose grasp of science is somewhat limited will find informative.
Perhaps best of all, Levitin’s book doesn’t ruin the enjoyment of listening to music.

Levitin primarily takes a thematic approach in exami
Jan 31, 2008 Emily rated it liked it
I found myself reading this book very, very quickly. Why? Well, the sections explaining the language and technical aspects of music all consisted of information I already knew, so I zipped through them. The sections explaining the science of the brain while playing or listening to music were so over my head that I subconsciously decided to speed-read rather than really engage with the complexity of the material. And this is neuroscience for dummies! All that said, the work and studies done by Le ...more
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Daniel J. Levitin runs the Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University, where he holds the Bell Chair in the Psychology of Electronic Communication. Before becoming a neuroscientist, he worked as a session musician, sound engineer and record producer. He has written extensively both in scientific journals and music trade magazines such as Grammy and Billboard.

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“Music may be the activity that prepared our pre-human ancestors for speech communication and for the very cognitive, representational flexibility necessary to become humans.” 18 likes
“A bowl of pudding only has taste when I put it in my mouth - when it is in contact. with my tongue. It doesn't have taste or flavor sitting in my fridge, only the potential.” 8 likes
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