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

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  22,323 ratings  ·  967 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 AzerradPsychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs
Best Non Fiction About Music
22nd out of 753 books — 605 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)
153rd out of 2,819 books — 4,767 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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...more
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...more
Patricia
Dec 05, 2009 Patricia rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
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...more
Sam
Mar 24, 2008 Sam rated it 3 of 5 stars
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...more
Pamela W
Feb 23, 2008 Pamela W rated it 2 of 5 stars
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
Ken
This is one of those books that I think is a valuable read but not necessarily an enjoyable one..at 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
Bill
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
Jessica
Feb 18, 2008 Jessica rated it 5 of 5 stars
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...more
J
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...more
Orsolya
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...more
Michael
“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
Mattie
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
Bruce
Jul 23, 2008 Bruce rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  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
Seth
Dec 22, 2007 Seth rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
Rosie
Jan 18, 2009 Rosie rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
Marco
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
Reenie
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...more
Jon Edward
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...more
James
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...more
Jocelyn
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
Loring Wirbel
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...more
Andrew Ludke
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
Andrew
Dec 26, 2009 Andrew rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
Rachel Hartman
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
Emily
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
Jo
Jun 20, 2008 Jo rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: All my music loving friends, anyone who is interested in different ways the brain works
Shelves: humanity
Very good intro book into music and the brain. Discusses topics such as how we may process music, why do we like certain types of music and dislike others, does music serve an evolutionary purpose, what areas of the brain are involved in different aspects of music making and how damaging the brain can affect certain abilities and leave others fully intact, and what may make a professional caliber musician versus what may not. Super entertaining!
Clara
Nov 06, 2007 Clara rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: any cog neuro student like myself
I enjoyed reading this book a lot because it effectively addresses some core cognitive neuroscience questions I'm just beginning to appreciate, namely categorization and expertise; however a few sections struck me as sloppy and poorly written. That said, it's a great read because it's a quick read, and impossible to put down!
Shannon
Daniel J. Levitin is a cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist, and music producer. Good grief, right? He's also the author of This Is Your Brian on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. I chose to read this book when I couldn't find neurologist Oliver Sacks' Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. Sacks is one of my favorite writers, and I can't wait to read his most recent book. Still, I really enjoyed Levitin's work. It concerns the scientific pursuit of how sound operates on the human...more
BHodges
Easy to read, but not for lack of depth. Levitin combines his knowledge and love for music with his education and research in cognitive psychology in this fascinating look at our brains and the music we love. The introductory chapters lay the basic groundwork about music itself; rhythm, pitch, meter, scales, etc. It's smooth sailing for those who are less familiar with these technicalities, and his witty prose can also keep the more advanced reader engaged. Levitin makes substantiated arguments...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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More about Daniel J. Levitin...
The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature Foundations of Cognitive Psychology: Core Readings The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload From Demo Tape to Record Deal: Handy Guide Clive: Working for the Man in the Age of Vinyl

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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.” 11 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.” 5 likes
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