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How Music Works: The Science and Psychology of Beautiful Sounds, from Beethoven to the Beatles and Beyond | [John Powell]

How Music Works: The Science and Psychology of Beautiful Sounds, from Beethoven to the Beatles and Beyond

Have you ever wondered how off-key you are while singing in the shower? Or if your Bob Dylan albums really sound better on vinyl? Or why certain songs make you cry? Now, scientist and musician John Powell invites you on an entertaining journey through the world of music. Discover what distinguishes music from plain old noise, how scales help you memorize songs, what the humble recorder teaches you about timbre (assuming your suffering listeners don’t break it first), and more.
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Publisher's Summary

An enthralling investigation into the mysteries of music. Have you ever wondered how off-key you are while singing in the shower? Or if your Bob Dylan albums really sound better on vinyl? Or why certain songs make you cry?

Now, scientist and musician John Powell invites you on an entertaining journey through the world of music. Discover what distinguishes music from plain old noise, how scales help you memorize songs, what the humble recorder teaches you about timbre (assuming your suffering listeners don’t break it first), why anyone can learn to play a musical instrument, what the absurdly complicated names of classical music pieces actually mean, how musical notes came to be (hint: you can thank a group of stodgy men in 1939 London for that one), how to make an oboe from a drinking straw, and much more.

With wit and charm, and in the simplest terms, Powell explains the science and psychology of music. Clever, informative, and deeply engaging, How Music Works takes the secrets of music away from the world of badly dressed academics and gives every one of us—whether we love to sing or play air guitar—the means to enhance our listening pleasure.

©2010 John Powell (P)2010 Gildan Media Corp

What the Critics Say

"Powell conveys the material with enough humor and cocktail party facts to keep the book light and fun." (Publisher's Weekly)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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Performance
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  •  
    C. Beaton Eureka, CA 01-25-11
    C. Beaton Eureka, CA 01-25-11 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great book - wrong narrator"

    The book was entertaining, enlightening, and educational, plus funny. The only problem was the book was written by a Brit, using many humorous British expression and slang. The reader was American and the contrast of British writing and American reader didn't work. At the end of each chapter the author, John Powell, comes in and demonstrates with guitar or other instrument what the chapter was about. The author is hilarious and I wish that he or another Brit had read it. I recommend it highly and I learned a lot!

    18 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tim Fremont, NE, United States 02-18-11
    Tim Fremont, NE, United States 02-18-11 Member Since 2014

    Computer Programmer and Worship Leader. Have enjoyed reading since my mom got me hooked on Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie prior to my teen years. My brother got me hooked on audio books after I started having a longer commute to work. Love a variety of genres.

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    "Nearly everyone will get something out of this!"

    As a guitarist, choral director and musician of over 30 years, I have a pretty good understanding of the physics of music as well as music theory. However, I came away learning a number of new things from this book AND with a more solid understanding of things I already knew.

    While I agree that a British reader may have made the listen a little more fun, the narrator was fine for me. The author's recordings at the end of chapters were good in most cases, but his demonstration of vibrato and rubato were generally not that obvious, even to someone who knew exactly what he was doing and trying to communicate.

    His explanation of the overtone series and how they contribute to an instrument's sound was VERY good, as was his explanation of how the pentatonic scales were mathematically derived (something that I didn't know).

    The author also did a good job near the end of the book explaining the weird "names" for classical compositions. His appendix explaining the intervals and songs that used them was also very good.

    Only other criticism (and it is a small one) is that the use of terms tone and semi-tone is less common than whole step and half step, which may confuse some readers a bit.

    All in all a really nice read and the author has a GREAT sense of humor!

    16 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sher from Provo Utah 09-26-11
    Sher from Provo Utah 09-26-11 Member Since 2015

    tired teacher

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    "Great book for learning more about music"

    This book is so entertaining! It is funny and clever and very enlightening. The narrator has just the right style, the right mix of humor and seriousness to make it funny and informative. I enjoyed almost all of it. It is written for non-musicians in an effort to help them understand what music is all about. The author does a great job of hitting so many aspects of music, but for me, a professional musician, it was a little elementary. With that said, I did learn a few things that I can use in my classroom, and that made it all worth it. I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions. I can recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the workings and meanings of music.

    I must add that I am glad the editors did not have the author read his own book. He interjects on several occasions with musical examples that have been discussed by the narrator. He is very hard to understand. I liked his interjections and loved his use of his guitar playing examples, but the narrator, Walter Dixon, brings the book to life.

    10 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rikki Friday Harbor, WA, United States 08-03-11
    Rikki Friday Harbor, WA, United States 08-03-11 Member Since 2012
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    "Every musician should read this!"

    A easy and fun read about everything music. A complete explanation of how sound and music work, from origins to how and why we listen. I recommend this to every musician and every music lover. Rikki Swin

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marcheta 01-05-11
    Marcheta 01-05-11 Member Since 2007

    love audio books - Anglophile

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    "Great background info for a beginning musician"

    I am just starting guitar lessons and the info in this audio is amazing. I knew some of it, but not the background. I've recommended it to several other friends who are music students.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rissa HOUSTON, TX, United States 11-01-11
    Rissa HOUSTON, TX, United States 11-01-11
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    "Something for everyone."

    I enjoyed this book beginning to end. It provided a wide variety of information, examples and stories about music that anyone could gleam insight from. Very entertaining and educational.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gilmara Lima Mendes Piscataway, New Jersey 05-05-14
    Gilmara Lima Mendes Piscataway, New Jersey 05-05-14 Member Since 2014

    Audible Obsessed wishes she had more time for so many audiobooks.

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    "Enlightening, but..."

    Although the author tries to give layman an over view of music and how it works, if you don't know anything (or practically anything) this book is not for you. This book should be read, not listened to. This is the kind of book where you have to read some concepts over and over, and you also have to do some practice on your own (even though there is some demonstration at the end of each chapter, but it feels too theoretical).
    When I purchased this book, I thought I was going to learn about psychology of music, or even some concepts of music therapy, but this book is not about that. This book gets very technical at some points, and some dumb at others. I feel a little disappointed.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jonathan Fourways, South Africa 02-25-13
    Jonathan Fourways, South Africa 02-25-13 Member Since 2013
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    "A simple way to gain depth and breadth in music"
    Would you listen to How Music Works again? Why?

    I'd listen to it again because there were many fascinating bits I'd like to hear again, and to reinforce the learning.

    The author is quite a funny guy, reminds me of Ricky Gervais a bit, which is refreshing and keeps you listening for the next funny bit.

    The information is presented so well, and I learnt so much about how and why music works, and how and why it makes one feel the way it does, I can't say enough good things about this book.

    If you're interested in the science of music, or are starting out with an instrument you'll find this book has a breadth and depth of knowledge that explains so much more than any other single source.

    Also, I would say that since having listened to this material, my appreciation of all music has been enhanced. I appreciate the skill in making great sounds so much more.


    Any additional comments?

    This book has a ton of information, which may or may not be interesting or useful to you. If you don't like learning for the pleasure of it, or are not really interested in how music works, you probably won't enjoy this book. But if you do, then you'll love it.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Arthur Simi Valley, CA, United States 05-17-14
    Arthur Simi Valley, CA, United States 05-17-14 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Depends on what you know coming into this book"

    As a musician, I soak up almost anything related to music. This presentation is somewhat of a music 101 on various levels - so if you personally have a solid understanding of music fundamentals, you could easily pass by this book as it will likely be extremely repetitive regarding music fundamentals. That said, I still picked up a couple of interesting tid bits here and there, though not sure the trade of time for this book was personally a good use of time. There are also multiple attempts to spice up the book with humor - you'll either be amused or will be rolling your eyes when those offerings emerge.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Matt Mole Te Atatu Peninsula, Auckland New Zealand 04-09-12
    Matt Mole Te Atatu Peninsula, Auckland New Zealand 04-09-12 Member Since 2008

    Matt Mole

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    "Outstanding. Making a technical subject easy."
    Would you listen to How Music Works again? Why?

    I've already listened to it three or four times. It really is interesting and well presented.


    Have you listened to any of Walter Dixon???s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    First time I've heard Walter Dixon. I like his presentation.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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  • Malcolm Russell
    United Kingdom
    3/24/11
    Overall
    "Music is my business"

    So THAT is why melody works! And why loudness is so hard to measure... If you are just mildly interested in how music works and why it by-passes the brain to reach directly to the soul, then this is a work that will keep you glued to your earphones. Its is well read but, and this is the best part, well illustrated in music by the author with his end-of-chapter appearances. So its a treat, whatever music you enjoy. And even though I've been a broadcaster and closely involved with music for over fifty years there was plenty to learn and marvel at in this book by John Powell. I'd love to do an interview with him!

    8 of 8 people found this review helpful
  • Lindy
    Cape TownSouth Africa
    4/25/11
    Overall
    "Enjoyable"

    An enjoyable book - well written and the technical information is explained very well so that anyone can understand it. Parts will be boring for those with musical training, but there is enough other substance to ensure that everyone learns something. The audio 'illustrations' at the end of some of the chapters are useful too. I think it is a brilliant book for people who are perhaps learning an instrument and are wanting to understand where all the technical intricacies originated.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Pen Name
    Søborg, Denmark
    8/8/12
    Overall
    "Generally good"

    But there are some parts that could have been better. The narrator for example could have sung the examples mentioned instead of reciting them monotonously. Nonetheless, supplementary musical material by John Powell himself is inserted every now and then, taking advantage of the audiobook format. The appendix can't be appreciated completely in such format, so I skipped the boring part where the narrator is enumerating a lot of things (like having someone read a dictionary to you).

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Dror Speiser
    5/6/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Nice book about music"

    the book gives details on the history and making of music, in more senses than one.
    anyone who hasn't studied history or the mathematics behind music will find this book rewarding. this will include most musicians.

    hearing the discussions on strings and organ tubes organized ideas in my head that I might have had before, but not well stored.

    the author's and narrator's pace are good, humor is mostly funny, and the narrator does a good job signing sometimes.

    the additional excerpts by the author are very informative. I would suspect most people, including musicians, haven't heard notes from an instrument without the begining of the note, and most will not be able to identify the instrument the author plays in one of his examples . this excerpt, and others like it, really make you think, and understand, how music works.

    I do wish there was more about the history of instruments and pitches and so on, and also more audio excerpts of actual music to really bring home some of the points.

    I have also listened to The Great Courses lectures on music, and I think they complement each other well, even if overlapping by quite a bit.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • David Brown
    Liss UK
    1/17/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Interesting but doesn't make best use of format"
    Any additional comments?

    This is a good book and explains the physics of musical instruments very clearly. The author seems to have a foot in the physicists’ camp and the musicians’ camp which he combines very well.

    The only down-side is that the book seems to have been written as a printed book first and then simply read out for Audible.com, missing out on the benefits an audio book could give when describing music. When you describe notes, volume, pitch, harmonies or the moods which different styles of playing evoke, you really need to give audible examples. When the narrator tells us that a scale that goes tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone gives better musical punctuation than tone, semitone, tone, tone, semitone, tone-and-a-half, semitone, it’s hard to follow; but if someone played it you’d understand in an instant. To address this, the author inserts his own comments and examples at the end of each chapter, played on instruments, which does help a lot.

    The book goes on to explain a little about musical notation but unfortunately, when teaching that, a printed book _IS_ what you need because it's difficult for an audio book to describe the notation - you need to see examples written down.

    Despite these problems this book does a great job at making things as clear as it could. To do better you'd need to find some kind of multi-media presentation where the author has really used each format to its best and interleaved them well.

    Btw there is a strange error in the book where the narrator tells us that musicians indicate a sharp note by writing a pound sign. The correct symbol is a ‘#’ which is often found on non-UK qwerty keyboards on the 3 key, where the ‘£’ is in the UK, and I can only imagine that there has been some technical slip-up here and the narrator has read it out unquestioningly.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Yard Sale
    London
    4/14/13
    Overall
    "Most appropriate book to be an audio book"

    Brilliant once you start listening , it just flows .. more over you get expose to the sound samples right then an then... it feels like as proper lecture.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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