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on 10 July 2013
As with all the Very Short Introduction series this book is not intended as a 'dummies guide'. Instead they are meant to offer a "stimulating and accessible way in to a new subject". It is by this that one should judge the success of this book.

For most of us, music is not a new subject. In fact every person has been influenced and affected by the phenomenon be it consciously, subconsciously or simultaneously both. Whether we know it or not we all assign values and feelings to the variety of genres on offer and, fueled by globalisation and technological advance, today's postmodern and pluralistic society offers an abundance of music.

Apparently (according to the product description) this book "invites us to really think about music and the values and qualities we ascribe to it" - and for sure, this is how the book commences in the first chapter. It's an exciting and promising introduction.

Unfortunately as the book progresses in the second chapter, "Back to Beethoven", the book begins to become intensely heavy. Whilst the subject matter is understandable to the layman the explanation is at times extremely burdensome and did not offer a "stimulating" introduction to me. Whether or not you find the subject of ethnomusicology / musicology and/or the nuances of notation interesting, the area of the field did not warrant such an in depth breakdown. Indeed, the excitement of the wealth of opportune areas of attack for the author fades gradually throughout the book as the subject matter remains stubbornly attached to 18th Century classical music and notation/performance. Valid in its own right, it wasn't "drawing on a wealth of accessible examples".

Nevertheless, amongst the detail there are some fascinating concepts that are touched upon. Particularly: the crumbling barriers of the conservative music approach, musical pluralism and the effect of the capitalist/consumerist model on the music industry. Specifically the comparison of the three staged process of proudction/dsitribution/consumption (capitalism) to the composition/performance/appraisal in music is profoundly enlightening.

Ultimately I was relieved to reach the conclusion, which was the most lucidly put section.

[A note on the kindle edition is that the pictures often don't correspond correctly with the text and often pop up a few pages after the discussion - this is a problem with a lot of kindle publications, and often makes me wonder why i don't just pay a pound or so extra to have the neat little book on the bookshelf]
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on 28 November 2003
This little book makes you think from page 1. It is brilliantly written and full of controversial ideas about music and musicians. Don't be put off by its small size, as it is packed with interesting suggestions and ideas. It should make you think about the meaning, importance and future of music.
A must.
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on 19 November 2006
This book starts well, with a lively journey around musical styles, including a brief visit to the promised Chinese zither music. Cook correctly embraces far more than Western art music in his analysis.

However, it drops into a rather protracted midsection on composition- and reception-based models ... "we need both" ... you don't say! And then you're soon into an extraordinary chapter on Music and Gender, or more specifically, the sex act. So Beethoven's masculine style is aggressive thrusting, and Schubert's more feminine offering is gay. This is exactly the kind of highfalutin agenda-laden balderdash which fixes a great divide between the intelligentsia and ordinary folk, both middle and working class. Not ideal for A Very Short Introduction!

I would also question his summarising point that music is "not a phenomenon of the natural world but a human construction". Your average songbird may question this, not to mention any human who happens him/herself to be a phenomenon of the natural world. Hmm. Have another think for the second edition.

I hoped for something on melody, harmony, rhythm, around the world. And there was some, but other things predominated. An interesting book, but ultimately frustrating.
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on 16 June 2013
I found this book to have been written efficiently, in a very readable manner that meant I read it in a matter of hours. It was easy to understand and presented a vast number of different opinions and views on Music's role in society, as well as it's relevance to the politics of language, gender and identity. Be warned as this is not an introduction to musical theory, analysis or even musical history, focusing primarily on the work of Beethoven and Schubert, but rather a comprehensive introduction to the relevance of music in society and the role it plays in our world. As a music student, I found it extremely useful :)
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on 22 January 2016
Music is an agent of ideology: we must not just hear it, but "read" it as an intrinsic part of the society and culture that produces it. Until the second part of XX century mostly studied in conservatories, not universities as musicology. Does music need words? Can it be read without words? Yes, though a few words can help set the context.

Beethoven is a recurring reference for the author. He did not just revolutionize music, he had something to say about the decay of aristocratic Europe. He never wanted a fixed, salaried position: he wanted to write the music he wanted to write, when he wanted, if he wanted. Cook argues this was the opposite of Rossini, who thrived in that Europe of pomp and ostentatious luxury. Others would disagree: Rossini mocked the rich and the noble in his operas, just look at the Barbiere di Siviglia, where everyone is a crook.

Mass production of records, now internet streaming: talk about music as you talk about cuisine: everything is available everywhere. Also, the average technical quality of musicians is on the rise, musicians face harder competition to emerge.

This is indeed a very very short introduction to music, but a useful one to stimulate interest especially for those who maybe listened to music but never thought about it, and never "read" it!
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on 5 September 2001
One of the most enjoyable books I've read on any topic recently. A splendidly unaffected treatment of the development of music and music theory, with a sustained and powerful but non-aggressive critique of many traditional approaches to the teaching and interpretation of music in the west.
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on 19 May 2010
The style of writing and the language used are extremely distracting and make it very difficult to read. I found myself re-reading paragraphs and even whole chapters to try and discover what the author is trying to say. I cannot even describe it as pretentious drivel; I really have no idea! It is certainly not easy reading, nor is it a reference book. As a book linked to an Open University course it has little to offer and I would not recommend it.
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on 17 November 2011
The content of this book is generally good - the approach is interesting and thought-provoking. There is one serious error: the author asserts that tablature can only be used to represent chords, not melody; it doesn't significantly change the line of his argument but does dent his credibility (if he's wrong about this, what else is he wrong about?).

The Kindle edition is a cheap & cheerful conversion: there are links from the contents page to the start of each chapter, but not from the index - which would be very handy & limits the future value of the book if you want to go back to find something half remembered.

The biggest inconvenience is that illustrations referenced in the text don't have links to jump to & from them. Not a major issue as the illustrations referred to appear within a few pages, but a missed opportunity in terms of electronic publishing & frustrating at the time. The illustrations are not particularly clear on a Kindle, but none are so essential that this becomes a problem.

If you are trying to decide whether to get the hard copy or Kindle edition, then I'd lean to the hard copy. But the Kindle edition isn't so bad that you'll regret it if Kindle is your preferred format for other reasons.
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on 9 December 2011
An interested, non-academic reader might expect a book called "Music: A very short introduction" to cover topics like the history of music, different genres, basic ideas from music theory (harmony, chord progressions etc), perhaps some recommended recordings and how to go about listening to them - and so on.

Instead this author talks at great length about the different ways music theorists have thought and written about music - and by "music", he essentially means the classical repertoire - since the 18th century. On the way, there are a couple of interesting revelations, such as some of Beethoven's supposedly exotic harmonic experiments actually being printing errors, but much of the ground covered here will be of little interest to most "lay" music-lovers. The final chapters on "gender theory", for example, will be frankly incomprehensible to the majority. A better title might have been "The history of classical music scholarship: a very short introduction for academics".
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on 21 April 2001
Music - A Very Short Introduction by Nicholas Cook is an extremely interesting and thought provoking publication that all musicians and especially music educators should add to their reading lists. This book is about what music means, and is about thinking about music. It is also a book that questions all the social and institutional structures that condition our thinking about music.
It is no longer true that 'those who can do, and those who can't teach.' This is why as long as there is someone to state 'white' there will always be someone there to state 'black'. This is only human nature. Mr. Cook's points and reasoning were so near to the edge of the extremes that this book is bound to provoke thoughts and reactions to its contents. This book was written to encourage the reader to think about music and what music means to them. Mr. Cook, in writing this book, has attempted to break down the assumptions and misconceptions that are related to music. The main message of this book appears to be that we have inherited a way of thinking about music that won't do justice to the great diversity available in today's Musical World and Mr. Cook has successfully gone some way to trying to dispel these suppositions and misconceptions.
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