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Customer Review

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant book about the science and art of music., 13 Oct. 2010
This review is from: How Music Works: A listener's guide to harmony, keys, broken chords, perfect pitch and the secrets of a good tune (Paperback)
I have always had an aptitude for and interest in science. I am a medical student and am interested in the human brain and how we as humans see the world and interact with our environment.

One thing that I love perhaps as much as science is music. I find it possibly the single best cure for emotional disturbance, especially stress of any kind and have often wondered why this is?

I have noticed that music can have a profound affect on mood and state of mind. Sometimes it brings about nostalgia attached to a memory that I doubt I would remember without the auditory cue. Sometimes it makes me so happy that I walk down the street with my headphones in my ears grinning at passers by, and sometimes it simply brings tears to my eyes. It is certainly a very emotive tool and science in its own right.

When I discovered the book `How Music Works' by John Powell I thought to myself `this might be worth a read!' I certainly was not wrong.

This book does what it says on the tin really. The author uses a scientific approach to explain exactly how music works, without isolating the lay person. He uses examples and analogies we can all relate to explain concepts in a logical and understandable manner without compromising on detail and depth of explanation, which in my humble opinion is quite a skill.

The style of writing is witty and light hearted so this book makes for an entertaining as well as interesting and informative read. Several times I found myself subject to a few funny looks on the tube as I laughed out loud whilst reading the book on my daily commute. I also found my self thinking `ok so now I get it!' and listening to music between chapters to put my new found knowledge to the test and matching the newly found concepts in the book to the notes, chords, scales and harmonies I was listening to!

The book covers all aspects of music and the way that it works, including explanations about different instruments and how they create the sound that they do, harmony, scales, the difference between notes and noise, and yes there is physics behind why these differ, why music evokes different emotional responses, rhythm, perfect pitch... and so on! Basically everything you could possibly want to know about the ins and outs of this thing we call music.

Chapter 2 explains what perfect pitch is and also provides the reader with a quick and easy way of assessing whether they themselves have perfect pitch. It's great! You never know, you could have what it takes to be the next Madonna or Michael Jackson.

Chapter 6, how loud is loud is interesting. It explains the system that we have come up with over the years for measuring loudness which is more complicated than you may first think. It also explains why ten instruments sounds only twice as loud as one and why one hundred instruments only sounds four times as loud as one. Yes that's right, it's true. We don't like that though do we? It doesn't make sense. Well as the author correctly points out, six smelly socks aren't six times as smelly as one, and ten salted peanuts in your mouth aren't five times as salty as two (even though you have five times as much salt on your tongue.) After reading this chapter you will see why simply adding more instruments to existing instruments does not add loudness proportionately. The explanation for this involves both the way that sound waves join together as well as why our brains don't add up sounds properly. This, interestingly, relates to survival the avoidance of danger. Our brain will choose what it pays attention to based on how threatening it assesses the noise to be.

This book is well written, well illustrated, entertaining and informative. I whole heartedly recommend it as an excellent read for anyone - whether you're a musician or scientist or both or even if you're neither and just love a good tune! Enjoy.
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