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Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination

3.99  ·  Rating Details ·  1,424 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews

What makes a distant oboe's wail beautiful? Why do some kinds of music lift us to ecstasy, but not others? How can music make sense to an ear and brain evolved for detecting the approaching lion or tracking the unsuspecting gazelle? Lyrically interweaving discoveries from science, psychology, music theory, paleontology, and philosophy, Robert Jourdian brilliantly examines

Paperback, 400 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published 1997)
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Music Therapy Research by Barbara L. WheelerThis Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. LevitinMusicophilia by Oliver SacksMusic, the Brain, and Ecstasy by Robert JourdainCase Studies in Music Therapy by Kenneth E. Bruscia
Best Music Therapy Books
4th out of 60 books — 12 voters
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
262nd out of 908 books — 845 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Oct 11, 2015 Jill rated it it was ok
Shelves: pop-science
I have a dream. I don't think it's an unrealistic dream. In fact, it's one that seems to have been realized multiple times -- except this dream is a damn tease, and it's all lies, and leaves me bereft every time I think it's come true.

My dream is simple: I am cheerfully reading a non-fiction book about the emotional/psychological effect of music.

I keep looking -- and in looking, I have read about the following topics a million FREAKING times, so no: I don't care about layperson sonic physics. I
Dec 11, 2013 Kyle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: music lovers, linguists, people interested in neuroscience
Shelves: non-fiction
This one of the best books of this topic I have ever read. It is exponentially more informative that This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession and much more accessible than Music, Language, and the Brain, making it the perfect entry book for someone who is interested in the science of music.

Robert Jourdain (NOT Robert Jordan), provides an intelligent examination of what music does to our brains, how our brains process and organize music, and why musical prodigies, like Mozar
May 25, 2008 Caroline rated it really liked it
Shelves: 40-books-in-2008
okay, so it took me a while to read this book, but i finally finished it, hooray! two reasons: 1. it was a self-task of mine to read this book, even though i knew most of the information presented there. 2. i went on 2 tours with 2 different bands over the 3-week period.

now that i've got those excuses out of the way, on to the good stuff. so i think this book is wonderful for those who want a general, nontechnical approach to music cognition (including psychoacoustics and neuromusicology). great
May 27, 2009 Sam rated it liked it
Shelves: music
A better "This is your Brain on Music." Jourdain speaks to the musician throughout, while shaking hands with neurological evidence and kissing interesting historical factoids. Similar to an arriving cadence he drives the reader forward, always dangling the carrot of more clarity just out of reach. But as he so eloquently put it, "Reaching an unsatisfying cadence after much anticipation is a sign of an elementary composer." Well, Jourdain, the same can be said for the final chapter of your book, ...more
Masterful! The author systematically analyzes the structure of Western music, starting with the most basic elements and building to higher-level arrangements, then examines the human brain and the way sound, especially music, is experienced in the various parts of the brain. Finally, he examines the nature of pleasure and pain and proposes some intriguing ideas as to why good music can have such an intense and direct emotional impact on listeners.
This book offers plausible answers for some quest
Matthew Hodge
Apr 24, 2013 Matthew Hodge rated it really liked it
First off, I should clear up that the "ecstasy" in the title refers to the pleasure listeners derive from music - this is not a book about the rave scene.

Jourdain explains how the ear and then the brain processes music and why it is we like and understand some types of music but don't get others.

Unfortunately, he's somewhat of a classical music snob so all his illustrations are in terms of classical music, which would probably be quite off-putting if that wasn't your type of music.

However, for m
Jan 06, 2012 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
This was a fascinating overview for the layperson of how our brains and bodies process music, in listening to, performing, and composing it. Jourdain presents the physics and neurology involved in music processing (as well as the evolution behind some of it) in easily understood terms. Much of the brain is not well understood, and he made sure to make that clear as well, often presenting multiple theories and the arguments for and against each one. Along the way he provides an overview of the hi ...more
Alissa Mccarthy
Feb 08, 2014 Alissa Mccarthy rated it really liked it
Gregg, a friend at the bagel store I frequent, gave this book to me knowing my love of music and I am very grateful he did. This book intertwines discoveries from science, psychology, music theory, paleontology, and philosophy to examine why music speaks to us in ways that words cannot, and why we form such powerful connections to it. In clear, understandable language, Jourdian guides the reader through a continuum of musical experience: sound, tone, melody, harmony, rhythm, composition, perform ...more
Dameun Strange
Feb 24, 2013 Dameun Strange rated it it was amazing
This book is a comprehensive study of all this music, from acoustics to the physiological effects of listening, to the psychology of composers and musicians. This book changed my musical life. I only wish I had read it before I went to college.
Dec 15, 2008 Alex rated it it was amazing
An excellent primer on music psychology for the layman. Has absolutely nothing to do with the drug ecstacy; would recommend a title alteration.
Jul 16, 2016 Soohyun rated it it was amazing
It was true and true pleasure while I was reading this book. I just started reading this for the topic research. It was't serious. But in the end this book becomes something so important and huge to me. I don't know what future awaits me. I don't know how my life leads and directs me. I don't know whether my life would disturb me to the way I want to go or not. I don't know anything. But I know now something for sure right now. This books have me realize myself more. This book gives me an idea, ...more
Jul 04, 2013 Klerik rated it really liked it
By and large, I had fun reading this book. The blend of neuroscience, psychology and musicology(?) works very well indeed. Together with Jourdain's fluid prose, it makes for an inspirational and educational read.

It is, however, not entirely without issues. Though Jourdain explains all the necessary music terminology needed to follow along, I still sometimes felt like I was missing something which would have been clear to a more musically inclined mind. Also, he sometimes spends a lot of time to
Jun 16, 2012 Christina rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, music
This book was absolutely fascinating! I was captivated throughout the entire book. Excellently written with higher-level vocabulary and was entertaining and not too nitty gritty when it came to explaining the science behind music, but still very in-depth. The examples and figurative language used helped me understand the meanings of some of the scientific terms, and made everything crystal clear. I highly recommend this book, even to those who are not musicians or composers or not interested in ...more
Dominic Sarnacki
May 05, 2015 Dominic Sarnacki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy is possibly the most interesting book that I have read on such an uncommon topic. As a young musician, I find that the book has changed the very way I look at the music I make and has helped me to develop a better overall idea of musicianship and just how great and important music really is. Originally, I picked up the book for a school project, but I found myself enjoying the informative teachings of the author and the down to Earth language he uses.
Robert Jourdain
Would I recommend it? Yes. But significant caveats to follow.
When I started reading this book (I started in the section explaining the physics behind music) I thought it was excellent.
But then I realized I was essentially reading two different books. All the parts explaining music are incredibly well-researched and helpful (they're a bit clumsily phrased at times, but if you're willing to push on through Jourdain's tortuous wording, it's worth it and you'll learn a lot). I came away with a bette
Nov 02, 2011 Juan rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
Muy interesante estudio sobre la ciencia detrás de la música. El autor comienza describiendo la música como un fenómeno físico (ondas de sonido) y va subiendo el nivel de abstracción en cada capítulo, mis favoritos fueron los últimos, cuando habla sobre la composición y como escuchamos y entendemos la música.
Rand Harker
I'm waffling between three and four stars here. The book purports to explain just why it is that the brain permits us to experience music the way we do. However though there is a lot of interesting material related to music history and structure, the promised illumination regarding the function of the brain related to the topic never quite materializes. The chapter on performance goes into great detail on how the brain controls the physiology of, saying, pressing the piano keys with the fingers, ...more
Aug 26, 2015 Ellen marked it as to-read
This book got a poor review on Amazon. That reviewer suggested a better book to read on this topic. This book has fascinating information, though. Probably much of it is true. I'd like to read both books. I'll have to check Amazon again to find out the title of the other book.
It's an interesting book but though it purports to be simplifieds so anyone can understand how sound and hearing works (which is as far as I got) it continuously makes asides and references to classical music pieces and composers that only someone very familiar with the genre would understand, rendering many of the examples useless. This came across as oblivious; not everyone is familiar with or has had exposure to classical music or orchestral instruments and to assume so is to make assumptions ...more
Patrick Tai
Sep 15, 2015 Patrick Tai rated it it was amazing
This book has sections covering music from the most basic (sound) to the complex (composition, understanding, ecstasy). It has a lot of information on the brain which are non-technical and very interesting. I highly recommend it.
Aug 03, 2014 Mark rated it it was amazing
This is a very interesting, scholarly but accessible thesis on the relationship between mind and music. Problem is - the real research linking music the brain and ecstasy is yet to be undertaken
Kameel Nasr
Apr 29, 2014 Kameel Nasr rated it really liked it
This was one of the first books about the now popular science of music enriching our lives. Jourdain uses real information to define the field. It is clear that he is a musician.
Niyonzima Eric
Mar 07, 2015 Niyonzima Eric rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joseph Medina
Dec 09, 2014 Joseph Medina rated it it was amazing
An excellent book. Definitely would recommend especially if you have a love for music.
Jamie Banks
Jul 11, 2016 Jamie Banks rated it really liked it
Learned lots about music; also intensely annoyed by his over-dramatic style, and unnecessarily florid metaphors for basic physics and music concepts. Really basic--for example, that things vibrate is described using a line of drunk people hassling each other at different rates. Excellent bibliography in the back that will keep you occupied, and is necessary to get any grip on the science involved. Worse and more speculative as it goes up in levels of organization from "low-level" perception to e ...more
Siti Noramalina Syahirah
Apr 15, 2014 Siti Noramalina Syahirah marked it as to-read
how can i read this book online ???
Nov 26, 2014 Cabertejohn rated it it was amazing
Apr 03, 2015 Youngmasterreed rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music-production
Incredible book, essential reading for any musician. Opens up whole new ways of thinking about songwriting by describing exactly how the brain processes and interprets sounds and music. Just the right combination of science and analogy. Very cleverly structured too - each chapter builds upon the last to go from the basic physics of sound, to how our ears and brain work together, to why music causes pleasure and other emotions. Will be going to this for inspiration for years to come.
Chris Leuchtenburg
Apr 09, 2014 Chris Leuchtenburg rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, nonfiction
I am giving this four stars despite the fact that I didn't finish it. Popular science books often err by providing too little technical information to be substantial; this one doesn't have that flaw. However, that made it a bit challenging for a bedtime read. Actually, I would like to own the book as a reference. I particularly liked his ruminations at the end about the nature of pleasure and its relationship to anticipation and fulfillment or surprise.
[mid read]

this book is gorgeous. as someone who was previously heavily involved in music, dance and the performance of both, this book is a buffet of mind-candy. I am loving this one so much, I've already marked up the pages with notes, highlights and little tabs despite being about half way through. truly, truly, truly enjoyable even if a dog ate the cover of my copy.
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