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44 Reviews
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52 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating journey through music!
I am, sadly, neither a musician nor a scientist, but music has been a passion for as long as I can remember! Without understanding why, I've always been aware that certain pieces of music will provoke certain emotions; 'How Music Works' provides all the answers. This insightful book is written in a friendly, down-to-earth style, and left me feeling as though I'd just had...
Published on 17 Sep 2010 by Rachel

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Half baked musicology
A frustratingly condescending piece that, while parading as a highly informative even academic text, in fact consistently under informs readers. It simply explains via a series of analogies and extended metaphors a bizarre depthless amalgamation of music psychology, science, ethnomusicology and history. It never seems to get to a point and certainly has no coherent line...
Published 1 month ago by Isabel


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Learn something new, and re-learn something delightfully, 9 Nov 2012
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My brother passed me this book, after I have just finished a "History of Western Music" text book. I would be a "verified buyer" to that book and not this book, but this is beside the point.

I finished reading this book from the front to the back cover, excluding the index pages, in seven days. I just can't seem to be able to put down the book to watch some TV.

In one word. Bravo!

I have the fortune to have had a little bit of musical training, in piano, many years ago. There are topics I find difficult to explain, but the author did it splendidly; even for easier topics, he explained those in a lively and humourous manner, instead of the drier manner I would probably do. Music history text books (I just read one recently, by the way), usually introduce Gregorian chants, modes, and other stuff from ancient history,and I thought I understood those until I read the author's explanation. While text books explain topics in isolation, he links topics of old and modern to give a much better understanding to readers.

Halfway through the book, I asked myself: "Have I just learned some physics without knowing it?". When one picks up a book in Physics, one would prepare mentally to be bombarded with complex calculations. Imagine having learned Hz and dB unintentionally, and realized after the fact. How enjoyable!

John, if I may address the author on a first name basis, dispelled the myth of a musical key relationship to a particular mood, which I have been perplexed for a very long time. He also explained why some small audio speakers can produce low pitch. (Hints: harmonics and human brain) If he writes more books on other musical topics, there will be more credit card payments from me to Dear John Powell.

Another word. Encore!
(* I mean it, please write another book, or two.)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars enlightening, 21 Feb 2011
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I used to own a book called Rudiments and Theory of Music. It put me off. I wish I'd had this. It doesn't cover all the same material but it deals with the basics of music and musical sound in a most entertaining way. The explanations are clear and easy to follow. The only caveat is the tone, which is funny or facetious according to taste. I found some of the asides enlivening, others tiresome.

I enjoyed disagreeing with the author about the 'qualities' of different keys. He asserts that the key is irrelevant. But I do believe there is a qualitative difference between (say) C major and A flat. Perhaps he should listen to some Mozart piano concertos.

Recommended, but not if you are allergic to occasional blokeishness.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wish my school lessons were like this!, 15 July 2013
By 
M. D. Holley (Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
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I have some familiarity with music theory already, and there was much here that I already knew. However, I had lots of gaps in my knowledge, often at a very basic level, and this book filled them in for me. I am sure many people are in the same position because at school you are taught the keys and the scales without understanding why. Later on you get to a stage where you are too afraid to ask very basic questions.

I loved the way Powell explains how the pentatonic scale was discovered, and how to get from that to the seven note scales we use today. He derives the explanation for a major scale empirically, from first principles. I found that fascinating.

He also explains the existence of harmonics, the effect of more than one instrument on loudness and many other aspects more clearly than other book I have read.

Learning more about the physics also explains why twelve note music is so difficult for most of us.

I found the book very easy to read and finished it within 24 hours with little effort.

I have only one disagreement, and that is on Powell's assertion that different keys have no special characteristics. Here I think he confuses his own personal response with science - see my comment to 'Stephen's' review if you are interested.

Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Does exactly what it says on the cover., 19 April 2013
By 
TablePourDeux (Dublin, Ireland) - See all my reviews
Having read David Byrne's How Music Works over Christmas, which deals largely with how music works on an emotional and cultural level and how the music industry works, Mr Powell's book with the same main title, How Music Works, was suggested by Amazon's recommendation fairies as something I might enjoy - and they were right. As a non-musician with an interest in using DAWs such as Reason, Cubase, FL Loops, etc. for largely empirical compositions I found this book gave me a great insight into some of the fundamentals of music that had eluded me up until now. No, it won't make you a musician just by reading it, and competent musicians may find the information somewhat basic, but for the rest of us who love music but never really spoke it's language this is an excellent read. And Mr. Powell's witty prose never allows it to be boring, even when he's discussing "fiddly details".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Music Works, 18 July 2011
By 
Spider Monkey (UK) - See all my reviews
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`How Music Works ` in an informative and informal look at how music has the power to move us as deeply as it does.

It covers a wide range of topics around this theme and includes discussions on Perfect Pitch, the distinction between notes and noise, how instruments differ in sound from one another, how we measure loudness, harmony, scales, the effects of major and minor scales on mood, rhythm, making music and listening to music. As can be seen, pretty comprehensive stuff.

The ideas are laid out very clearly and you are left marvelling at certain aspects of music you never fully appreciated and fascinated by the impact it has upon our moods and the reasons behind this.

I initially enjoyed the authors relaxed, informal style of writing, but I have to admit by the end I wish he'd miss out the jokes and cut to the chase. There is being informal and then there is being just plain silly! This is only a minor niggle though and doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the book.

There are plenty of diagrams and photos to illustrate the various points raised and you are never left guessing at the more complex issues explored. There is also a `fiddly details' section at the end where the more detailed parts are explained in greater depth.

You don't have to play or read music to get something out of this book, in fact you will get plenty from this as just a music fan who enjoys listening to music. There is plenty here for musician and music listener alike.

Overall this made for an interesting and informative read and if you enjoy this then I can also recommend `Musicophilia' by Oliver sacks. All in all, this is well worth a read.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A right riveting read!, 30 Oct 2010
I really like this book. It sets everything out really clearly, and is easy to dip in and out of. highly recommended!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything I ever wanted to know about music..., 5 Aug 2013
By 
Angela (South East England) - See all my reviews
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I cannot rate this book highly enough - it is so interesting, so thorough, covers every aspect of music in such a readable and accessible way. For some reason I always felt I'd 'missed out' on music as a child - then earlier this year, at age 64, got a piano for my birthday. Am loving every minute of it and it has sparked, or rekindled, a desire to know a bit more about the subject. This book seems to have pretty well 'filled in all the gaps' - opened up a whole new world. Thank you.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic and Fun, 11 Feb 2013
This is a truly great book. It fills in the gaps between music theory and physics, assuming little or no prior knowledge of either.
The content is perfect and the friendly, conversational writing style makes it an absolute pleasure to read.
My only disappointment is that I have now finished it.
I thoroughly recommend it to both would-be & actual musicians and also people who just have a passing interest in music but would like to understand a little more about it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and Amusing, 23 Aug 2014
I’ve always loved music and wanted to know more about it. This book has it all, it goes into detail about how we experience beautiful music from the vibrations of musical instruments. There is a lot of technical information in the book, but its all delivered in a cheerful, relaxed style, so you don’t notice how much you’re learning. This is the best educational book I've ever read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just brilliant, 6 April 2014
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An anstonishing achievement - explaining some musical concepts with complete clarity and accessability. I would agree that the humour is occasionally tangential and quirky, but it doesn't prevent enjoyment and understanding. I read my friend's copy and then bought my own as a fabulously useful reference.
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