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on 26 April 2017
Can't put this down. Answering so many questions I had. Very easy to read, not highbrow but well researched. A must for any music lover. No, I will rephrase that because we are all music lovers. A must if you want to understand how it all works.
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on 29 June 2017
Such a fascinating book - well written, full of stories and research on something we can easily understand intuitively, but which defies easy conventional explanation.
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on 21 October 2009
Difficult to place... is this academia or anecdotal memoirs?

First of all I think it needs to be said, that this is not a bad text per se. Sure it has faults - lots of them, but I really feel that the positives outweigh the negatives and that the hoards of supposed 'professional musician/scientist' (I think not) who appear to have read this text and given it a one star rating are perhaps motivated by false-pride and jealousy - never a good combination on which to build sound judgement!

The real problem with this text is that, to quote from the 1950s it doesn't 'know its place'. It reads in parts like an academic text, maybe an undergraduate thesis. Then it veers off into the world of gossip, anecdotes, and conjecture. It is almost like a mild Schizophrenic who thinks on the one side, they are an MIT professor of socio-musicology and on the other that they are an orator, a teller of stories, tales and anecdotes in an c.18th circus.

Throughout this tussle one cannot help but think Professor Levitin is not one of those sad baby-boomers who (under his sterile lab-coat) still tucks his paunch into a pair of faded blue-jeans, which he wears as some empty statement of post-conformist rebellion.

To the text...

The plusses.
i) There are lots of very interesting correlations between the points he makes, and the visual Arts, something which interested me personally.
ii) In contains some genuinely fascinating revelations.
iii) It appears to be mostly well researched and well founded.
iv) It gives the novice reader a window into both musicology and neuroscience - albeit a tedious and dull one.

The minuses:
i) It is VERY, very, VERY boring in parts. Is this due to the subject matter? or the penmanship? One is never quite sure.
ii) It is full of dull, mostly irrelevant anecdotes. The sad professor mingles with the has-beens, the never-rans and the odd star.
iii) Levitin appears not to know how to use personal pronouns. The text is littered with THE most bizarre use of 'he' and 'she', when a simply 'they' would suffice.
iv) Sadly the edition I purchased contains spelling mistakes and errors in literary protocol.
v) Very often conjecture masquerades as Truth, with no citation to support his stance.
vi) Levitin occasionally leaves his field of obvious expertise and wanders into other academic disciplines where he looks like an ill-informed half-wit.
vii) Overall, the text lacks continuity in parts; continuity of both argument and of logic.

The conclusion.
To restate, I would say it is worth investing your time into reading this and it is worth persevering until the end. Although there are a LOT of minor annoyances such as those mentioned prior, there are conversely, a good deal of genuinely interesting points, which may or may not assimilate with areas of your personal interests. Like Santa, though, I feel that there is surely something here for everyone, no matter how small the gift may be.
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'This Is Your Brain On Music' looks at the neuroscience behind listening to and performing music. Although I've read many popular science books and am familiar with the style of writing, I found this to be quite a hard going book at first. The first couple of chapters look at the structure of music and are quite dry to plow though. If you know music theory this will cover familiar ground and if you don't I'm sorry to say that this is a laboured way of gaining that understanding. However after you get through these chapters this books really comes into it's own, with lots of fascinating experiments and facts it starts to pique your interest and you become more engrossed in the points being made. The chapter linking our auditory system to the cerebellum and the associated emotional linkages made for especially interesting reading. Overall this is a interesting read and if you can get past the first hundred pages you are in for some interesting ideas, presented in an engaging and informative way. 3 1/2 - 4 stars.

Dedicated to Stephen A. Haines whose reviews inspired me to read some amazing science books and who will be greatly missed.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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on 11 February 2010
I'm obsessed with music - it's my entire life. I'm a musician/songwriter, and I was immediately intrigued on reading the cover, that I may never "hear music in the same way again" after reading this book.

This book is sometimes very interesting, and it is worth the read for the occasional gem, but it was a struggle and half way through I found myself gazing at all the other books on my bookshelf waiting to be read, wishing I could muster the energy to stumble through yet another paragraph of scientific babble about the "hippocampus" or the "nucleus accumbens"!!

I understand that this is about how the brain works to percieve music, but most of the time I was struggling to understand what Daniel Levitin was talking about.

If you are a musician with a good knowledge of science, this might be the one for you, but for someone with very little knowledge of the latter - steer clear!!
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on 27 May 2016
Irritating lack of scientific knowledge by author who can't grasp 'complex' concepts like second harmonic. Also doesn't know of any scale other than equally tempered. Not a good book for someone who want's to understand music as he never goes into any real depth.
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on 25 March 2010
This is your brain on music

The science of a human obsession

By Daniel Levitin

A Review by the Cotes d' Azur Men's Book Group

Music is an auditory signal, a recurring pattern of sound waves that the ear and the brain assimilate and order into intelligible auditory messages.
Million of neurons in the brain sent their signals tRachmaninov : Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor Op.18 : I Moderatoo various areas that are design4ed to react. These "receiving stations" are specialised areas such as the Auditory Cortex, the Motor Cortex, the Prefrontal Cortex and other vital sectors. All play a major part in playing, listening and making an emotional response - like foot tapping - to the music.
While few music lovers will have given any thought to the underlying brain or mind processes involved, Daniel Levitin, neuroscientist and author of This is your brain on music , has given a huge amount of time and thought to the complexity involved. He is a fountain of information.
Enjoyable as is this book for its coverage of so many aspects of music, it does ask some very difficult questions.
While applauding the attempt to explain the mechanism of the brain's auditory processes, it is sad to feel that his impressive and greatly researched thesis seemed too laboured for some of our members and yet inadequate for one more knowledgeable in the field.
As the New York Times commented in its review, "Levitin is an unusually deft interpreter full of striking scientific trivia"
He may be damned by faint praise but he has made a valuable contribution o the understanding of a very complex and human operation.
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VINE VOICEon 10 July 2012
I bought this book as I know almost nothing about music other than that I like it! I was hoping to "understand my obsession" as the sub-title says, from a lay point of view. I ended up none the wiser after 260 pages. The first part of the book is a real show stopper for starters - launching into a 50 page chapter on "what is music". My eyes misted over after endless discussion of chords, keys, scales and all the technical stuff I don't know and don't what to know. But I ploughed on hoping for better.

Then the rest of the book is in part rambling, part technical (lots of talks of chords, keys etc) and a lot of it is not even about music. There's even a whole chapter devoted to a 10 minute informal discussion with Professor Crick when he was 90!

It's not all doom and gloom. There was the odd good page!
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on 12 October 2014
This book is important. Since Pinker declared music to be a mere by-product of far more important features of evolutionary design, a huge unease was created. Surely the diverse combinations of tone, pitch, timbre, phrasing, cadence, emotion, words, timing, rhythm, movement (..and much more) producing the extraordinary stimuli at many diverse levels in the c.n.s must have some Darwinian significance? Humans across the world scarcely perform any collective act without at least elements of music and song. Was musicality a proto-language, or proto-communication? This book is important because it is the first to begin to set the record straight after Pinker. And what a way to do it. The reach of this book is truly exciting. The research is good, the arguments fascinating, the propositions enticing. The invited conclusion, music IS a child of evolution and contributes to inclusive fitness at MANY levels. I run with this proposal and look forward to much more work on this theme at which point the fifth star will be awarded. Well done Daniel.
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on 17 June 2008
The first section of this book is a rough guide to the structure of music. If you know music, you won't need to read it. If you don't know music, I think it'll bore you. Then we get the brain stuff: here's a flat writer trying to be entertaining, dropping in references to Sting, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and other, er, contemporary artists. There are some dull arguments - eg how are we able to categorise music so easily when pop bands like the Carpenters use distorted guitars and rock groups, like the Rolling Stones, employ a string section. Who cares?

It's also interesting who he doesn't mention: nothing on Kraftwerk, Stockhausen, very little on techno, dance music, electronica, DJ culture, blip-hop; nothing much on Indian music, next to nothing from Africa. In short he concentrates on rock dinosaurs of the seventies: Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and, of course, Sting.

Some of the writing verges on the banal, such as this: "It is also important to distinguish celebrity from expertise. The factors that contribute to celebrity could be different from, maybe wholly unrelated to, those that contribute to expertise."

There is very little in this book that opens up new vistas, or shines a light on a dark and dusty corner of music - it's all pretty obvious stuff.

Towards the end of the book we get a quick run through arguments for the importance of music in mate selection. Here's just one: "Far more women want to sleep with rock stars and athletes than marry them." Aside from being asinine (do more women want to sleep with Britney Spears than marry her?) hasn't Levitin been arguing he's talking about music, and not celebrity?

I read a great many pop science books. This has to be one of the worst. Levitin makes a fascinating subject achingly dull. His writing is trite, long-winded, dreary, boring and fatuous. And every time he mentioned Sting I wanted to throw the book across the room. I kept at it hoping it would get better. It doesn't.

I hated this book. I hated it it because it took two weeks of my life away. Finally, to the blurbs: "Endlessly stimulating" writes Oliver Sacks - he should know better; "You'll never hear music in the same way again" says Classic FM magazine.

"Music seems to have a wilful, almost evasive quality, defying simple explanation, so that the more we find out, the more there is to know. Daniel Levitin's book is an eloquent and poetic exploration of this paradox." And guess which pretentious old rock arse gave Levitin's book this high praise?
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