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

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  56,921 ratings  ·  1,637 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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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
Sep 17, 2007 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
Mar 24, 2008 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)
- Peopl
Jul 06, 2008 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
Feb 04, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: at-barnes, notes, own
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
Gretchen Rubin
So many people have recommended this book to me over the years, and finally I read it. Absolutely fascinating—and I'm not even a huge fan of music. Now I'm reading everything by Daniel Levitin. ...more
Aug 17, 2012 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
Pamela W
Feb 23, 2008 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 interestin ...more
Jul 31, 2012 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
Two random facts about me:
1) I love music
2) I love cognitive and neuroscience

So I was thrilled about this book.

And it was indeed pretty good. My main takeaway from it is that our enjoyment of music stems from the setting up and violation of expectations and human's innate instinct to seek out patterns in whatever stimuli that comes our way.

I recommend the audiobook version because it provides musical examples of what the author is talking about, so I believe it's much more convenient to compreh
Oct 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating study of both music and the brain. It isn't a particularly quick read because there are so many facts, studies and trivia related to each point the author is exploring. ...more
Feb 15, 2008 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
Jun 16, 2011 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
Oct 07, 2007 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
Dec 07, 2007 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
Jul 07, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: unmusical cognitive scientists
Shelves: arts, science
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
Dec 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Despite loving singing, and having been good enough to perform and not have people run away, I know very little about music. Not that Levitin would be a snob about that, from the sound of this book, but it still forms a bit of a barrier to understanding when someone starts talking about semitones. I can sing C on demand, and I know when something is out of tune — what more do you want? (Although unlike most people, I have a bad sense of timing, apparently: I routinely sing slower than the origin ...more
Feb 07, 2009 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
Jun 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
I have to admit that this took me a while to read because it got a bit too technical for me in the middle but the beginning and the ending were very very good. The book is about, as it says on the tin, the effect of music on the brain. The book gets quite scientific in places and reminded me of Doidge’s the brain that changes itself, which is a total must read. The book also looks at certain songs that have stood the test of time and explains why the human ear enamours itself to them and not to ...more
Jessica Leigh
Feb 18, 2008 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
Nov 25, 2009 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
Dec 31, 2008 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
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
Rachel Hartman
May 16, 2011 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
May 21, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
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
Andrew Ludke
Apr 13, 2010 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
Robert Wechsler
May 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
A dense, sometimes wandering, very rewarding book about how we experience music. It’s as much about our brains as about music, and Levitin is knowledgeable and interesting on both. Exemplary nonfiction.
Camelia Rose
Oct 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"The story of your brain on music is the story of an exquisite orchestration of brain regions, involving both the oldest and newest parts of the human brain, and regions as far apart as the cerebellum in the back of the head and the frontal lobes just behind your eyes. It involves a precision choreography of neurochemical release and uptake between logical prediction systems and emotional reward systems. When we love apiece of music, it reminds us of other music we have heard, and it activates m ...more
Tarek Amer
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
-When basic elements of sound combine in a meaningful way,it gives rise to music.
-Most theories believe music has an evolutionary basis.In order to sing and dance well, you must be mentally and physically fit.It is so deep-rooted in us that it may have helped our pre-human ancestors learn to speak.
-Processing music involves almost every region of the brain that we know of.
-Appreciation of music is linked to the brain's ability to predict what will come next, and a good composer controls these mu
Nov 19, 2007 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
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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.” 32 likes
“For the artist, the goal of the painting or musical composition is not to convey literal truth, but an aspect of a universal truth that if successful, will continue to move and to touch people even as contexts, societies and cultures change. For the scientist, the goal of a theory is to convey "truth for now"--to replace an old truth, while accepting that someday this theory, too, will ve replaced by a new "truth," because that is the way science advances.” 10 likes
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