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Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination

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What makes a distant oboe's wail beautiful? Why do some kinds of music lift us to ecstasy, but not others? How can music make sense to an ear and brain evolved for detecting the approaching lion or tracking the unsuspecting gazelle? Lyrically interweaving discoveries from science, psychology, music theory, paleontology, and philosophy, Robert Jourdian brilliantly examines What makes a distant oboe's wail beautiful? Why do some kinds of music lift us to ecstasy, but not others? How can music make sense to an ear and brain evolved for detecting the approaching lion or tracking the unsuspecting gazelle? Lyrically interweaving discoveries from science, psychology, music theory, paleontology, and philosophy, Robert Jourdian brilliantly examines why music speaks to us in ways that words cannot, and why we form such powerful connections to it. In clear, understandable language, Jourdian expertly guides the reader through a continuum of musical experience: sound, tone, melody, harmony, rhythm, composition, performance, listening, understanding—and finally to ecstasy. Along the way, a fascinating cast of characters brings Jourdian's narrative to vivid life: "idiots savants" who absorb whole pieces on a single hearing, composers who hallucinate entire compositions, a psychic who claims to take dictation from long-dead composers, and victims of brain damage who can move only when they hear music. Here is a book that will entertain, inform, and stimulate everyone who loves music—and make them think about their favorite song in startling new ways.

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What makes a distant oboe's wail beautiful? Why do some kinds of music lift us to ecstasy, but not others? How can music make sense to an ear and brain evolved for detecting the approaching lion or tracking the unsuspecting gazelle? Lyrically interweaving discoveries from science, psychology, music theory, paleontology, and philosophy, Robert Jourdian brilliantly examines What makes a distant oboe's wail beautiful? Why do some kinds of music lift us to ecstasy, but not others? How can music make sense to an ear and brain evolved for detecting the approaching lion or tracking the unsuspecting gazelle? Lyrically interweaving discoveries from science, psychology, music theory, paleontology, and philosophy, Robert Jourdian brilliantly examines why music speaks to us in ways that words cannot, and why we form such powerful connections to it. In clear, understandable language, Jourdian expertly guides the reader through a continuum of musical experience: sound, tone, melody, harmony, rhythm, composition, performance, listening, understanding—and finally to ecstasy. Along the way, a fascinating cast of characters brings Jourdian's narrative to vivid life: "idiots savants" who absorb whole pieces on a single hearing, composers who hallucinate entire compositions, a psychic who claims to take dictation from long-dead composers, and victims of brain damage who can move only when they hear music. Here is a book that will entertain, inform, and stimulate everyone who loves music—and make them think about their favorite song in startling new ways.

30 review for Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    I have a dream. I don't think it's an unrealistic dream. In fact, it's one that seems to have been realized multiple times -- except this dream is a damn tease, and it's all lies, and leaves me bereft every time I think it's come true. My dream is simple: I am cheerfully reading a non-fiction book about the emotional/psychological effect of music. I keep looking -- and in looking, I have read about the following topics a million FREAKING times, so no: I don't care about layperson sonic physics. I I have a dream. I don't think it's an unrealistic dream. In fact, it's one that seems to have been realized multiple times -- except this dream is a damn tease, and it's all lies, and leaves me bereft every time I think it's come true. My dream is simple: I am cheerfully reading a non-fiction book about the emotional/psychological effect of music. I keep looking -- and in looking, I have read about the following topics a million FREAKING times, so no: I don't care about layperson sonic physics. I don't care about which side of the brain likes melody and which likes rhythm. I don't care about why a violin needs a body to amplify its strings. I DON'T CARE ANYMORE. I'm DONE. Can we PLEASE devote more than the last chapter to how music makes you feel? There's got to be research being done in this. There HAS to be some kind of aesthetic philosophy about it. WHY THE FUCK, in a 330-page book titled Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy, does ecstasy receive LITERALLY FOUR PAGES of explanation?! To say this book was a disappointment would be an understatement. But -- John Powell's How Music Works was also a disappointment in that my dream remained unfulfilled. But that book, unlike this one, was actually good. It was witty, engaging, lucid, and informative. So: being that I am now clearly the authority on pop-science music books because I've read like 3 of them, I have some suggestions for Robert Jourdain. 1) Retitle your book. Classical Music and the Brain: Why Art Music Is Superior to All Other Types and Peasants Who Like Popular Music Are Morons is a much more fitting title. 2) Examine your damn bias. The directly implied superiority of: a) Western music b) classical Western music c) long classical Western music pieces d) long classical Western music pieces that exclude most listeners' interest was unpalatable after the first mention. Just a few sentences you may want to reconsider: "Composers working with [non-Western] scales must labor harder to devise deep musical relations, their melodies will prosper more by contour than harmony, and ultimately their music will go less far." (78) Um. According to whose damn defintion, Mr. Hegemony? "It is the absence of complex meter in the West that is anomalous..." (122) Okay, cool -- the West has developed harmony far more than meter, for whatever reason, but the development of African drumming is on par, right? FUCKING WRONG. "[Western composers] didn't want [complex rhythmic] devices in their music...Harmony inherently holds out more musical potential than meter." (152) LIKE BRO, FOR REAL, CHECK YOUR CULTURAL BIAS. To your ears it holds more potential. You can't say for an entire species -- particularly when you later explain the importance of the individual listener in the musical experience -- that harmony is better. "Devotees of classical music complain that the obsession with beat trivializes everything it touches, appealing to our lowest instincts, like greasy food. ... Enthusiasts of phrase and form, or just of an old-fashioned melody, are often to be found cowering with fingers in ears, their sole consolation in reflection upon a tradition that has lasted centuries and survived greater assaults. The battle is far from over." (154) The battle is far from over. THE BATTLE IS FAR FROM OVER. Gee I wonder which side you're on, Rob. "Where music once nourished a healthy appetite, whether in the concert hall or the village square, now a perpetual banquet of song serves only to soothe a blunted palate. We live in an age of widespread musical obesity."(245) Sorry, grandpa. I'll turn it down. And finally, my favourite: "It's hard to imagine a human mind going any further in writing great music." (333) Culture is dead, everyone. Pack up your efforts and head to the glass bead game. Just a sampling of a truly offensive collection of hegemonic bullshit. If there's nothing directly stated, the implications run rampant: my art music is better than yours; you're stupid if you listen to pop music (that one IS directly stated, actually); whine whine whine music is going to shit and rock concerts are so loud and I'm not sure if you got the point that you're STUPID if you don't like FUGUES and SYMPHONIES and Mozart and Beethoven. I am not stupid, Rob. My experience of music is valid. What makes this book so frustrating is that my experience, and that of literally anyone non-Western, and probably most peoples', is completely invalidated. According to you, the best music has already been written, centuries ago -- and nothing since could possibly compare. People who respond emotionally to "banal" pop music are just eating "a bread roll, not caviar." Fuck your elitist bullshit, Rob -- you have no right to write a book about such a universal, powerful phenomenon. So my final suggestion. 3) Give your research to someone else so they can rewrite this entire thing. Keep some of the info; it was interesting. But your voice, your bias, makes the experience of reading it so damn frustrating and alienating that it's not worth the effort. And for the record: I love classical music. But that doesn't make me better than anyone else. And my ecstatic experiences of what you'd call banal music are, I think, beyond what you can imagine. So someone ---- SOMEONE --- please rewrite this book? Or maybe just tell me where I can find a better one.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    This one of the best books of this topic I have ever read. It is exponentially more informative that This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession and much more accessible than Music, Language, and the Brain, making it the perfect entry book for someone who is interested in the science of music. Robert Jourdain (NOT Robert Jordan), provides an intelligent examination of what music does to our brains, how our brains process and organize music, and why musical prodigies, like Mozar This one of the best books of this topic I have ever read. It is exponentially more informative that This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession and much more accessible than Music, Language, and the Brain, making it the perfect entry book for someone who is interested in the science of music. Robert Jourdain (NOT Robert Jordan), provides an intelligent examination of what music does to our brains, how our brains process and organize music, and why musical prodigies, like Mozart, can do what they do from an early age. He pulls from a wide range of disciplines and sources to provide the reader with a relatively complete survey of the topic. Ever wanted to know why we love music? What happens to us when we listen to it, and how humans are able to produce it? Well, if you answered yes, then this is the book for you. Get to it. If you answered no, then maybe you should read the book anyway, and perhaps you'll find an interest in the topic you never knew you had.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    okay, so it took me a while to read this book, but i finally finished it, hooray! two reasons: 1. it was a self-task of mine to read this book, even though i knew most of the information presented there. 2. i went on 2 tours with 2 different bands over the 3-week period. now that i've got those excuses out of the way, on to the good stuff. so i think this book is wonderful for those who want a general, nontechnical approach to music cognition (including psychoacoustics and neuromusicology). great okay, so it took me a while to read this book, but i finally finished it, hooray! two reasons: 1. it was a self-task of mine to read this book, even though i knew most of the information presented there. 2. i went on 2 tours with 2 different bands over the 3-week period. now that i've got those excuses out of the way, on to the good stuff. so i think this book is wonderful for those who want a general, nontechnical approach to music cognition (including psychoacoustics and neuromusicology). great for the students i will hopefully have in my class next quarter (introduction to music and the mind). jourdain has a distinct writing style - appropriate for the masses, yet technical enough for those who have a little more serious interest, as well as organized in a logical manner (from sound...to tone...to melody, etc). however, the difference between his broad and technical language isn't very consistent. in other words, he'll describe the specific functions of the parietal cortex on one page, and write "color hearing" instead of using the term "synesthesia." perhaps he's more knowledgeable in those areas he explores more deeply, but at least offer that as an explanation instead of skirting over particular terms/topics. furthermore, jourdain is a bit overly wordy in some of his descriptions - a little redundant at times. i could've used more discussion on cross-cultural studies in music cognition, but hey, the book is already over 300 pages. good read overall - it's hard to say, but it may be my first pick for a basic book on music cognition.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    A better "This is your Brain on Music." Jourdain speaks to the musician throughout, while shaking hands with neurological evidence and kissing interesting historical factoids. Similar to an arriving cadence he drives the reader forward, always dangling the carrot of more clarity just out of reach. But as he so eloquently put it, "Reaching an unsatisfying cadence after much anticipation is a sign of an elementary composer." Well, Jourdain, the same can be said for the final chapter of your book, A better "This is your Brain on Music." Jourdain speaks to the musician throughout, while shaking hands with neurological evidence and kissing interesting historical factoids. Similar to an arriving cadence he drives the reader forward, always dangling the carrot of more clarity just out of reach. But as he so eloquently put it, "Reaching an unsatisfying cadence after much anticipation is a sign of an elementary composer." Well, Jourdain, the same can be said for the final chapter of your book, Ecstasy. I arrived, anticipated enlightening resolutions, but was left unsatisfied, by an elementary writer. Hinting to a climax without a delivery is frustrating for those seeking pleasure. Read and you'll see.

  5. 4 out of 5

    James

    Masterful! The author systematically analyzes the structure of Western music, starting with the most basic elements and building to higher-level arrangements, then examines the human brain and the way sound, especially music, is experienced in the various parts of the brain. Finally, he examines the nature of pleasure and pain and proposes some intriguing ideas as to why good music can have such an intense and direct emotional impact on listeners. This book offers plausible answers for some quest Masterful! The author systematically analyzes the structure of Western music, starting with the most basic elements and building to higher-level arrangements, then examines the human brain and the way sound, especially music, is experienced in the various parts of the brain. Finally, he examines the nature of pleasure and pain and proposes some intriguing ideas as to why good music can have such an intense and direct emotional impact on listeners. This book offers plausible answers for some questions that I've been wondering about for as long as I can remember, and I think it will enable me to get even more pleasure from music from now on.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Hodge

    First off, I should clear up that the "ecstasy" in the title refers to the pleasure listeners derive from music - this is not a book about the rave scene. Jourdain explains how the ear and then the brain processes music and why it is we like and understand some types of music but don't get others. Unfortunately, he's somewhat of a classical music snob so all his illustrations are in terms of classical music, which would probably be quite off-putting if that wasn't your type of music. However, for m First off, I should clear up that the "ecstasy" in the title refers to the pleasure listeners derive from music - this is not a book about the rave scene. Jourdain explains how the ear and then the brain processes music and why it is we like and understand some types of music but don't get others. Unfortunately, he's somewhat of a classical music snob so all his illustrations are in terms of classical music, which would probably be quite off-putting if that wasn't your type of music. However, for me, the value of the book lies in Jourdain's analysis of why we like certain types of music. His ideas about peer pressure being the biggest influencer of musical taste and the idea of the four types of listening - melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and phrasing - helps explain why large complex pieces of music (like much classical music) is not enjoyed by so many people today. We're in early days yet, but I believe that any classical music organisation that decided to take these principles and run with them would be able to reach a much larger audience. And that really would be exciting.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alissa McCarthy

    Gregg, a friend at the bagel store I frequent, gave this book to me knowing my love of music and I am very grateful he did. This book intertwines discoveries from science, psychology, music theory, paleontology, and philosophy to examine why music speaks to us in ways that words cannot, and why we form such powerful connections to it. In clear, understandable language, Jourdian guides the reader through a continuum of musical experience: sound, tone, melody, harmony, rhythm, composition, perform Gregg, a friend at the bagel store I frequent, gave this book to me knowing my love of music and I am very grateful he did. This book intertwines discoveries from science, psychology, music theory, paleontology, and philosophy to examine why music speaks to us in ways that words cannot, and why we form such powerful connections to it. In clear, understandable language, Jourdian guides the reader through a continuum of musical experience: sound, tone, melody, harmony, rhythm, composition, performance, listening, understanding—and finally to ecstasy. As a life-long musician, I found this book entertaining, informative, and stimulating, and it made me them think about both my favorite music as well as new music in an entirely different light.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This was a fascinating overview for the layperson of how our brains and bodies process music, in listening to, performing, and composing it. Jourdain presents the physics and neurology involved in music processing (as well as the evolution behind some of it) in easily understood terms. Much of the brain is not well understood, and he made sure to make that clear as well, often presenting multiple theories and the arguments for and against each one. Along the way he provides an overview of the hi This was a fascinating overview for the layperson of how our brains and bodies process music, in listening to, performing, and composing it. Jourdain presents the physics and neurology involved in music processing (as well as the evolution behind some of it) in easily understood terms. Much of the brain is not well understood, and he made sure to make that clear as well, often presenting multiple theories and the arguments for and against each one. Along the way he provides an overview of the history of (mostly Western) music, highlighting various famous and less well-known music personalities. Reading this book put me once again in awe of the complexities of our brain. Despite some minor criticisms (a bias towards Western, classical music, and a focus on virtuoso musicians), I highly recommend this book. For a more complete review, see http://booksandmiscellany.wordpress.c....

  9. 4 out of 5

    Dameun Strange

    This book is a comprehensive study of all this music, from acoustics to the physiological effects of listening, to the psychology of composers and musicians. This book changed my musical life. I only wish I had read it before I went to college.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    An excellent primer on music psychology for the layman. Has absolutely nothing to do with the drug ecstacy; would recommend a title alteration.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Elazar

    Fascinating topics. I learned a lot. And, didn't understand a lot 🙂

  12. 4 out of 5

    Klerik

    By and large, I had fun reading this book. The blend of neuroscience, psychology and musicology(?) works very well indeed. Together with Jourdain's fluid prose, it makes for an inspirational and educational read. It is, however, not entirely without issues. Though Jourdain explains all the necessary music terminology needed to follow along, I still sometimes felt like I was missing something which would have been clear to a more musically inclined mind. Also, he sometimes spends a lot of time to By and large, I had fun reading this book. The blend of neuroscience, psychology and musicology(?) works very well indeed. Together with Jourdain's fluid prose, it makes for an inspirational and educational read. It is, however, not entirely without issues. Though Jourdain explains all the necessary music terminology needed to follow along, I still sometimes felt like I was missing something which would have been clear to a more musically inclined mind. Also, he sometimes spends a lot of time to explain concepts covered earlier, which makes for boring breaks in the otherwise very fluid writing. These complaints are fairly minor, though. Overall, the book does what it sets out to do, with the caveat that a lot of the questions it raises must be answered with "we don't know" and some speculation based on current theories. Considering the scope of the questions, though, I guess we can't really hope for more. It is also a very inspirational book, and though it may be an exaggeration to say you'll never look at music the same way again, I suspect it does open the ears of non-musically inclined people like myself to many beautiful aspects of music.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Soohyun

    It was true and true pleasure while I was reading this book. I just started reading this for the topic research. It was't serious. But in the end this book becomes something so important and huge to me. I don't know what future awaits me. I don't know how my life leads and directs me. I don't know whether my life would disturb me to the way I want to go or not. I don't know anything. But I know now something for sure right now. This books have me realize myself more. This book gives me an idea, It was true and true pleasure while I was reading this book. I just started reading this for the topic research. It was't serious. But in the end this book becomes something so important and huge to me. I don't know what future awaits me. I don't know how my life leads and directs me. I don't know whether my life would disturb me to the way I want to go or not. I don't know anything. But I know now something for sure right now. This books have me realize myself more. This book gives me an idea, very exciting and ambitious. It got me from the nineth chapter. Just I feel so happy and full with joy. By the way I just found the book, "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Diasaurs." on his reference list.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    This book was absolutely fascinating! I was captivated throughout the entire book. Excellently written with higher-level vocabulary and was entertaining and not too nitty gritty when it came to explaining the science behind music, but still very in-depth. The examples and figurative language used helped me understand the meanings of some of the scientific terms, and made everything crystal clear. I highly recommend this book, even to those who are not musicians or composers or not interested in This book was absolutely fascinating! I was captivated throughout the entire book. Excellently written with higher-level vocabulary and was entertaining and not too nitty gritty when it came to explaining the science behind music, but still very in-depth. The examples and figurative language used helped me understand the meanings of some of the scientific terms, and made everything crystal clear. I highly recommend this book, even to those who are not musicians or composers or not interested in this subject; if you listen to any sort of music, then this book is a must.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Juan

    Muy interesante estudio sobre la ciencia detrás de la música. El autor comienza describiendo la música como un fenómeno físico (ondas de sonido) y va subiendo el nivel de abstracción en cada capítulo, mis favoritos fueron los últimos, cuando habla sobre la composición y como escuchamos y entendemos la música.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chad

    For a long time I've been trying to figure out why I get goosebumps when listening to certain kinds of music. Jourdain covers a lot of ground on his journey to such an answer—from how the ear and brain process sound to why humans love melodies and the "carefully ordered experience" music provides. Ultimately, our brains generate a flux of anticipations that, once satisfied, can trigger transcendence: “For a few moments it makes us larger than we really are, and the world more orderly than it rea For a long time I've been trying to figure out why I get goosebumps when listening to certain kinds of music. Jourdain covers a lot of ground on his journey to such an answer—from how the ear and brain process sound to why humans love melodies and the "carefully ordered experience" music provides. Ultimately, our brains generate a flux of anticipations that, once satisfied, can trigger transcendence: “For a few moments it makes us larger than we really are, and the world more orderly than it really is. We respond not just to the beauty of the sustained deep relations that are revealed, but also to the fact of our perceiving them. As our brains are thrown into overdrive, we feel our very existence expand and realize that we can be more than we really are, and that the world is more than it seems.” Very in-depth yet readable exploration of how humans interact with music. Focuses mostly on classical music but applicable to any kind.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rahul Verma

    Music, The Brain, and Ecstasy The book is an in-depth exploration of how music and the mind are connected. It progresses through the sequence starting from tone, moving forward to melody, harmony…..understanding, and finally to ecstasy. I loved the way in each of the section the links between the human mind and music are examined and questioned from different perspectives such as history, psychology, neurology, and sociology. For me, the best discovery was how music’s progress depends much on and Music, The Brain, and Ecstasy The book is an in-depth exploration of how music and the mind are connected. It progresses through the sequence starting from tone, moving forward to melody, harmony…..understanding, and finally to ecstasy. I loved the way in each of the section the links between the human mind and music are examined and questioned from different perspectives such as history, psychology, neurology, and sociology. For me, the best discovery was how music’s progress depends much on and is limited to a great extent by the level of audience’s understanding and comprehension capability. If after listening to music you wonder why you feel the way you feel, then this book can provide some of the answers. I felt the book had a very wide target audience in music listeners, composers, performers, music teachers, students, philosophers, and anybody interested in the working of the brain.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alain Patrick

    Robert Jourdain has a phenomenal feeling to perceive the Music’s fundaments within our Mind. Regardless the reader’s Music level, it’s a brilliant reasoning. For Composers & Musicians, it’s deeply rewarding.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Stefan Lischewski

    Honestly, I hate that book. How can you claim this to be scientific? The author is full of himself, very Eurocentric, subjective and judgemental.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dominic Sarnacki

    Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy is possibly the most interesting book that I have read on such an uncommon topic. As a young musician, I find that the book has changed the very way I look at the music I make and has helped me to develop a better overall idea of musicianship and just how great and important music really is. Originally, I picked up the book for a school project, but I found myself enjoying the informative teachings of the author and the down to Earth language he uses. Robert Jourdain Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy is possibly the most interesting book that I have read on such an uncommon topic. As a young musician, I find that the book has changed the very way I look at the music I make and has helped me to develop a better overall idea of musicianship and just how great and important music really is. Originally, I picked up the book for a school project, but I found myself enjoying the informative teachings of the author and the down to Earth language he uses. Robert Jourdain has a very unique style which makes complex concepts easy to understand. Through the use of metaphors and simple explanations, he is able to make the science behind music relatable to someone like me, a high school student with little scientific background. Jourdain focuses on music from a very broad perspective, From the beginning, he explains sound from the varying perspectives of physicists and psychologists. From there, he goes on to show the views of biologists, paleontologists, musicians, neurologists, philosophers, and even historians at a few points. In showing the views of so many specialists, I feel as though the book has given me a much broader view of what music is and why it is so special to us. Jourdain focuses on the big and small picture as he goes from something as simple as a sound wave to the complexity of a concert and the effect of music on the human mind, and in doing so he answers many music related questions. (clearly he has done his research.) He starts By explaining what sound is and talks about the long evolutionary development of the human ear, and goes on to explain why humans have the capability to be musical while other animals do not. It is interesting to finally hear a clear explanation of what music really is, a topic that I am very passionate about. Above all, I think Robert Jourdain has peaked my curiosity about music and made me even more enthusiastic about learning about it. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about music. A background in music is not necessary to appreciate this book. Jourdain constantly delves into different fields of science, but it is easy to understand his ideas without a scientific background as his explanations are clear. Most people will probably find something they find interesting in this book as it covers such a wide range of subtopics dealing with music.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Upgnaiden nava

    I like to read books like these.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

    Would I recommend it? Yes. But significant caveats to follow. When I started reading this book (I started in the section explaining the physics behind music) I thought it was excellent. But then I realized I was essentially reading two different books. All the parts explaining music are incredibly well-researched and helpful (they're a bit clumsily phrased at times, but if you're willing to push on through Jourdain's tortuous wording, it's worth it and you'll learn a lot). I came away with a bette Would I recommend it? Yes. But significant caveats to follow. When I started reading this book (I started in the section explaining the physics behind music) I thought it was excellent. But then I realized I was essentially reading two different books. All the parts explaining music are incredibly well-researched and helpful (they're a bit clumsily phrased at times, but if you're willing to push on through Jourdain's tortuous wording, it's worth it and you'll learn a lot). I came away with a better, richer understanding of musical theory. But the parts explaining psychology, on the other hand, overwhelmingly were excruciatingly inaccurate. Yes, this was written almost twenty years ago, but even then there was no excuse for trying to use the completely ascientific left-brain/right-brain "hypothesis" to explain anything. This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how the brain works. Worse, the author uses Freudian-style psychoanalysis to analyze musicians, even though he debunked Freud's theories and methods in another chapter. I cringed when he made the bizarre assertion that the reason male musicians supposedly tend to be less "masculine" (by which he meant less aggressive) is because they need to be ravaged by their music, and female musicians are supposedly more aggressive than average women because they need to "ravage" their music. (As opposed to the much more likely explanations of gender roles and societal expectations.) What?? Also, some of the author's opinions seem pretty ethnocentric. Basically, read this book by all means, but take the parts about psychology with a serious grain of salt. One other complaint: there are a LOT of typos, like omitted "an"s and "the"s. That gets annoying when you're reading about fairly complex concepts, because it interrupts the flow of your thoughts when you have to stop and think about what word should have been there, making it hard to concentrate and therefore to process the information. I found some sentences a bit clumsily written, as well. For the most part, it was good, but more clarity would have been useful.

  23. 4 out of 5

    L.A.

    One of humanity's greatest mysteries, under the microscope. That sounds counter-intuitive. Surely knowing how the sausage is made kills the mystery? Jourdain manages to break down the biology and psychology of how music works without ruining the listening experience in the process. In fact, once you see all the underpinnings, you're likely to have a far greater appreciation for sound. Beginning with the structures in the ear and brain that had to evolve before we could perceive anything, then on t One of humanity's greatest mysteries, under the microscope. That sounds counter-intuitive. Surely knowing how the sausage is made kills the mystery? Jourdain manages to break down the biology and psychology of how music works without ruining the listening experience in the process. In fact, once you see all the underpinnings, you're likely to have a far greater appreciation for sound. Beginning with the structures in the ear and brain that had to evolve before we could perceive anything, then on to the brain clusters that sort it all out, Jourdain leads the reader through the history of how music came to exist. Many of the chapters are dedicated to music theory, which might be a little dry for anybody who hasn't already studied it. However, Jourdain redeems himself with colorful anecdotes and examples (his use of one particular song to illustrate various things about music theory amused this reviewer to no end). I do wish he'd spent a bit more time on the "ecstasy" parts; then again, they're the most mysterious, and we still don't really understand them. Also, Jourdain has a tendency to err on the side of "Classical music is lovely and everything else is crap," which is not only elitist but annoying. When you realize, though, that he's a living example of the kind of thing that happens when you're educated into one style of listening and experience another, you cut him some slack. Besides, I've finally solved the mystery of why it took me so long to "get" Radiohead, and what a lovely little light bulb going on THAT was (hint: exposure to new sounds must be repeated pretty damn often before they start to sound good to you). This is the best non-fiction book I've read in a while, because I feel I've truly learned something new about something I enjoy very much. If you're at all interested in how music "works," this book is your perfect primer. Recommended for all collections.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rand Harker

    I'm waffling between three and four stars here. The book purports to explain just why it is that the brain permits us to experience music the way we do. However though there is a lot of interesting material related to music history and structure, the promised illumination regarding the function of the brain related to the topic never quite materializes. The chapter on performance goes into great detail on how the brain controls the physiology of, saying, pressing the piano keys with the fingers, I'm waffling between three and four stars here. The book purports to explain just why it is that the brain permits us to experience music the way we do. However though there is a lot of interesting material related to music history and structure, the promised illumination regarding the function of the brain related to the topic never quite materializes. The chapter on performance goes into great detail on how the brain controls the physiology of, saying, pressing the piano keys with the fingers, but simply can't (or at least doesn't) explain why one person becomes a virtuoso while another simple stumbled through a piece. And though the last chapter is about the ecstasy produced by listening to a piece of music, it fails completely in its attempt to address why certain pieces send shivers down our spines--and why what sends one person shivers does nothing at all for the next listener.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    It's an interesting book but though it purports to be simplifieds so anyone can understand how sound and hearing works (which is as far as I got) it continuously makes asides and references to classical music pieces and composers that only someone very familiar with the genre would understand, rendering many of the examples useless. This came across as oblivious; not everyone is familiar with or has had exposure to classical music or orchestral instruments and to assume so is to make assumptions It's an interesting book but though it purports to be simplifieds so anyone can understand how sound and hearing works (which is as far as I got) it continuously makes asides and references to classical music pieces and composers that only someone very familiar with the genre would understand, rendering many of the examples useless. This came across as oblivious; not everyone is familiar with or has had exposure to classical music or orchestral instruments and to assume so is to make assumptions that reek of privilege. The book opens on the assumption that any readers have had the experience of sitting in a concert hall watching a symphony play. It is alienating to anyone attempting to learn more about the subject.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Banks

    Learned lots about music; also intensely annoyed by his over-dramatic style, and unnecessarily florid metaphors for basic physics and music concepts. Really basic--for example, that things vibrate is described using a line of drunk people hassling each other at different rates. Excellent bibliography in the back that will keep you occupied, and is necessary to get any grip on the science involved. Worse and more speculative as it goes up in levels of organization from "low-level" perception to e Learned lots about music; also intensely annoyed by his over-dramatic style, and unnecessarily florid metaphors for basic physics and music concepts. Really basic--for example, that things vibrate is described using a line of drunk people hassling each other at different rates. Excellent bibliography in the back that will keep you occupied, and is necessary to get any grip on the science involved. Worse and more speculative as it goes up in levels of organization from "low-level" perception to emotion and affective response. Chapter on composition too focused on genius.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Chris Leuchtenburg

    I am giving this four stars despite the fact that I didn't finish it. Popular science books often err by providing too little technical information to be substantial; this one doesn't have that flaw. However, that made it a bit challenging for a bedtime read. Actually, I would like to own the book as a reference. I particularly liked his ruminations at the end about the nature of pleasure and its relationship to anticipation and fulfillment or surprise.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Youngmasterreed

    Incredible book, essential reading for any musician. Opens up whole new ways of thinking about songwriting by describing exactly how the brain processes and interprets sounds and music. Just the right combination of science and analogy. Very cleverly structured too - each chapter builds upon the last to go from the basic physics of sound, to how our ears and brain work together, to why music causes pleasure and other emotions. Will be going to this for inspiration for years to come.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    [mid read] this book is gorgeous. as someone who was previously heavily involved in music, dance and the performance of both, this book is a buffet of mind-candy. I am loving this one so much, I've already marked up the pages with notes, highlights and little tabs despite being about half way through. truly, truly, truly enjoyable even if a dog ate the cover of my copy.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dave Peticolas

    This was a gift from my friends Amy & Keith Wiley, and it turned out to be a wonderful present. Using evolutionary theory, physics, biology, neurology, psychology, and philosophy, Jourdain explores our ability to appreciate and create music. The writing is clean and quickly-paced and each chapter contains several "I didn't know that!" moments. Highly recommended.

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