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

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  1,958 ratings  ·  66 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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May 24, 2013 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 10, 2012 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
Duffy Pratt
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
I was excited to pick up this book. The topic is right up my alley, and I liked the overall conceptual structure of the chapters - Sound, Tone, Melody, Rhythm, etc... And I really liked the beginning chapters. The stuff he was saying about the brain and perceptual systems was both new to me and fascinating.

Then doubts started to creep in. When he was talking about the need for temperament and different temperament systems, he jumped almost directly from Just Intonation to modern Equal Temperame
Apr 20, 2008 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
Matthew Hodge
Jan 04, 2013 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
May 27, 2009 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
Alissa McCarthy
Jan 01, 2014 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
Dec 29, 2011 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
Dameun Strange
Feb 24, 2013 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 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 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Fascinating topics. I learned a lot. And, didn't understand a lot 🙂
Jan 29, 2013 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
Jul 06, 2016 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
Apr 15, 2012 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
Preethi Krishnan
Nov 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, music
Its true. Music will never seem the same again
Rahul Verma
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Music, The Brain, and Ecstasy

The book is an in-depth exploration of how music and the mind are connected. It progresses through the sequence starting from tone, moving forward to melody, harmony…..understanding, and finally to ecstasy. I loved the way in each of the section the links between the human mind and music are examined and questioned from different perspectives such as history, psychology, neurology, and sociology. For me, the best discovery was how music’s progress depends much on and
Aug 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
For a long time I've been trying to figure out why I get goosebumps when listening to certain kinds of music. Jourdain covers a lot of ground on his journey to such an answer—from how the ear and brain process sound to why humans love melodies and the "carefully ordered experience" music provides. Ultimately, our brains generate a flux of anticipations that, once satisfied, can trigger transcendence:

“For a few moments it makes us larger than we really are, and the world more orderly than it rea
Ismael de Leon H.
Feb 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I wish I had read this book years ago. Although it contains way too much information, I think it is important for me to go again through it and take notes on every concept that explains some aspect of the awe-inspiring phenomenon of music appreciation.

It is difficult to explain, but after going through every explanation, I realize that living and appreciating being alive has much in common with music appreciation. Evident psychological aspects of human beings come into play similarly on differen
Feb 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Lots of very interesting information in this book, though it also frequently had more background information on some topics than I really cared about. For the most part I was able to understand the concepts as long as I paid close attention, but occasionally I would read a few sentences over and over before finally concluding that I wasn't sure what Jourdain was saying and I might as well just shrug my shoulders and go on with what came next. It took me nearly two months to finish, which is a lo ...more
May 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I would say this is really a 4.5 star book. The prose inclines a bit flowery at times, but the book is very informative, and I learned a lot. The main reason I didn't give it 5 stars is because I found the last chapter a bit disappointing, as I didn't feel that the author really answered the main question the book posed. This is still very well worth reading.
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
I would say this is really a 4.5 star book. The prose inclines a bit flowery at times, but the book is very informative, and I learned a lot. The main reason I didn't give it 5 stars is because I found the last chapter a bit disappointing, as I didn't feel that the author really answered the main question the book posed. This is still very well worth reading.
Ok, I wanted to love this book. I was excited to read it. I didn’t finish it. I’m giving 2 stars because there were a few passages that were interesting that I enjoyed. Overall, it is tedious and hard to engage with. Didn’t capture my interest enough for me to force myself to finish it. Will be looking for more intriguing books on this subject.
Lyle Raymond
May 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although Jourdain’s language seems at times to betray a sense of elitism, and his treatment of post-tonal music can be negatively biased, this is a fine survey of the neurological aspects of the enjoyment of music.

Never too dry but perhaps slightly long enough to test one’s patience, Jourdain does an expert job in attempting to devise a sort of “unified theory” of music cognition.
Alain Patrick
Apr 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Robert Jourdain has a phenomenal feeling to perceive the Music’s fundaments within our Mind. Regardless the reader’s Music level, it’s a brilliant reasoning. For Composers & Musicians, it’s deeply rewarding. ...more
i want to read this book .
Stefan Lischewski
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: bad-science
Honestly, I hate that book.
How can you claim this to be scientific?
The author is full of himself, very Eurocentric, subjective and judgemental.
Dominic Sarnacki
May 05, 2015 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
Upgnaiden nava
Sep 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing

I like to read books like these.
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
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