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The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can't Do Without It by [Ball, Philip]
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The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can't Do Without It Kindle Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Length: 464 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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"Wonderful account of why music matters... one of the finest and most versatile of current non-fiction writers" (Sunday Times)

"Exemplary... In contemplating the mysteries of music we are also contemplating the mystery of ourselves... Ball, thankfully, doesn't try to provide any easy answers, but rather sends the reader back to the music a better listener" (Observer)

"This is a truly fascinating and eye-opening account of a phenomenon so commonplace we barely think about it, yet one which is also mind-bogglingly complicated. Once you've read The Music Instinct, you'll never listed to music the same way again" (Independent)

"A musical experience in itself...his love of the subject is abundantly evident.. His mastery of many scientific disciplines is a delight" (Daily Telegraph)

"Impressively engaging...it will be the rare music lover that does not come away without having learned many interesting things" (Guardian)


"Ball is to be applauded for the range and aptness of the musical examples he does choose - from Albinoni to Led Zeppelin, Bach to The Sound of Music - as well as for his attention to musics outside western traditions. ... the book is impressively engaging for one so dense with detail and argument....fascinating." --The Guardian
"Using plentiful examples drawn from a refreshingly wide range of different kinds of music, from Bach to the Beatles, and from nursery rhymes to jazz. If you can read music, you will find yourself humming aloud to see what he means. If you can't....Mr Ball's facility for conveying complex facts in simple language comes to the rescue."
--The Economist
"One the finest and most versatile of current nonfiction writers.... I defy anyone to read this book without coming away better informed about why music affects us in such a profound way...His passion for music is evident on every page, and his enthusiasms (whether for gamelan or Glenn Gould) are inf

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 4445 KB
  • Print Length: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (30 Nov. 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005VQGH1Y
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Screen Reader: Supported
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #83,383 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Format: Hardcover
I am one of those sad people who loves music but can't play a note. But I listen to it all the time, and am fascinated by how it exerts its powerful effects on the mind. Out of all the books about it that I have read at this popular level, I would rate this one as easily the best. The fact that it is honest about what is not known, cited by one reviewer as a flaw, is to my mind one of its greatest strengths. Too many popular science books try to give the impression that everything is neatly wrapped up with a pink bow, whereas in fact the whole point of science is to explore what is still unknown. As it happens, music is currently an extremely active field of neurology and psychology, precisely for this reason.

Ball has written a number of popular science books, and I am impressed by how good the ones I've read are. Mostly I know little about his topics, but in the case of music I do happen to know a fair amount of the research, and can vouch for the fact that Ball is spot on in areas where there is a concensus (and I happen to think his revisionist approach to the contentious issue of music as an evolutionary adaptation is correct, too, which biasses me in his favour perhaps). He is as up to date with current experimental findings as it is possible to be given publishing lead times. In fact, I'm deeply envious of this man's renaissance-like ability to move into an area and understand the basics in a year or too - it just doesn't seem fair, even if the rest of us do benefit from it. But I guess that's the advantage of having a physics training - if you can understand physics, you can understand anything. And he is an editor at Nature, so I suppose he must be at the top of his game.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Very interesting for anyone who wants to understand more about the science behind music and how the building blocks of music came to be how they are today - the harmonic scale, tuning, etc. However, many sections of the book require a deep understanding of musical notation for the reader to understand the examples. This flaw could potentially be fixed with a good companion website with recording of the relevant songs, but alas the link mentioned in the book doesn't work. I contacted the author directly, who responded in a matter of hours and was really nice, but only said something to the effect of "yeah, the publishers have changed the website and I don't know when it will be live again". Real pity.
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Format: Paperback
The title of this book echoes Pinker's Language Instinct, and, like Pinker, Ball captivates the reader with a grasp and insight of the subject rather than with lame jokes and pointless biographical digressions which seem to be the default style of less gifted writers. I often take notes when I'm reading, or scribble something in the margin for future reference, but Ball's writing is so dense, with page after page having something fascinating and thought provoking, I found I was underlining everything, making so many notes I might as well just copy the lot, word for word. I found it breath-taking in its ambition and intelligence, and as the reviewer who calls himself `Enthusiast' says, this book stands a long way above the competition, many which I have read and thrown across the room in frustration. This book is infinitely better. But a word of warning: if you have no understanding of music theory, this is unlikely to be the book for you, as it gets quite technical very early on.

Ball's scope is extraordinary - although he makes it clear from the start that he will concentrate on the Western classical tradition, there is almost no genre of music that he doesn't refer to in one example or another, and in drawing on music from the outer limits of my experience, he opens up many new worlds. Furthermore although his understanding of music is obvious, his breadth of general reading is equally rich - he quotes from philosophy, psychology, anthropology, history and literature to support his arguments. I found the chapter examining how melodies work riveting, and the chapter exploring taste equally so. The least successful section, I felt, was the study of emotion in music, probably because Ball admits, pretty early on, that we don't know how it happens, although in coming to this conclusion he does offer a variety of competing and unsatisfactory theories.

This is a wonderful book, however, and Ball is an enormously gifted writer.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Much of Ball's subject matter was familiar to me but I found it satisfying to have it brought together and expounded so clearly. He rightly argues with Deryck Cooke whose attempts to find universals in such things as minor thirds evoking sadness are far too culturally specific. Ball's vision of music as the supreme human brain-conditioner and work-out is beguiling and certainly borne out in my personal experience. It is refreshing, too, to find a musicologist who is not elitist and who recognises that highly-structured western classical music, developed for performance rather than participation, is only part of the story.
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Format: Hardcover
It's said that a good defence lawyer should never ask a question that they don't already know the answer to.

In writing 'The Music Instinct', Philip Ball would have been well advised to follow the same advice. The book is a painstaking and detailed survey of the current state of scientific research into how the human brain processes and reacts to music: but the further he goes into the subject, the more apparent it becomes that the depths of the answer are still pretty much unfathomed, giving the book a tentative and unfinished air, more of a report on a research work in progress than the definitive exposition promised by the book jacket.

There are some speculative conclusions about the evolutionary significance of some of the brain activities that are triggered by music, and some robust repudiation of the more reductionist and dismissive approaches to music in evolutionary science. The breadth and variety of research into the subject is conveyed well, although Ball's sheer inclusivity can make certain sections of the book rather repetitive and stagnant.

Structuring the book around the main areas of musical theory (pitch, harmony, etc.) leads Ball into some convoluted cross-referencing to other sections of the book, and similar research strands are occasionally referred to more than once. The structure also tends to highlight the deficiencies of the research into some matters such as timbre, a crucial part of the musical experince that is, from Ball's summary at least, obviously still little understiood in objective terms.

Providing you are prepared to ignore the central failure of the book to deliver on its headline promise, there is, having said all that, much to be gained from 'The Music Instinct'.
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