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Publisher's Summary

In this groundbreaking union of art and science, rocker-turned-neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin explores the connection between music - its performance, its composition, how we listen to it, why we enjoy it - and the human brain. Drawing on the latest research and on musical examples ranging from Mozart to Duke Ellington to Van Halen, Levitin reveals:

  • How composers produce some of the most pleasurable effects of listening to music by exploiting the way our brains make sense of the world
  • Why we are so emotionally attached to the music we listened to as teenagers, whether it was Fleetwood Mac, U2, or Dr. Dre
  • That practice, rather than talent, is the driving force behind musical expertise
  • How those insidious little jingles (called earworms) get stuck in our heads

    And, taking on prominent thinkers who argue that music is nothing more than an evolutionary accident, Levitin argues that music is fundamental to our species, perhaps even more so than language. This Is Your Brain on Music is an unprecedented, eye-opening investigation into an obsession at the heart of human nature.

  • ©2007 Daniel J. Levitin; (P)2007 Penguin Audio, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. and Books on Tape. All rights reserved.

    Critic Reviews

    "Levitin's snappy prose and relaxed style quickly win one over and will leave readers thinking about the contents of their iPods in an entirely new way." (Publishers Weekly)
    "Levitin is a deft and patient explainer of the basics for the non-scientist as well as the non-musician....By tracing music's deep ties to memory, Levitin helps quantify some of music's magic without breaking its spell." (Los Angeles Times Book Review)

    What members say

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    • Overall

    Neuroscience for the right brain

    If you have an interest in how the brain works, and you like music, you'll enjoy this book. The author gives some great vocabulary to the lay person to help to describe music in precise terms without getting too technical. The book walks through the interaction between music and the brain functions and explores some of the ideas that are current in musico-neurophysiology. He spends the last chapter or so of the book on the evolutionary basis of music-brain interaction, which seems out of place in an otherwise cohesive study.

    14 of 14 people found this review helpful

    • Overall

    Intricate Reading

    I advice a core group of musicians and people whose livelihood depend on music to view this book as compulsory. Orchestral composers and conductors, program directors and any student of music all should add this book to their cart and buy it NOW! The information this book contains is simply too foundational and new to pass up.

    As a critique of the book, there are two general ways in which I perceive this book. First, it is a very intricate review of how our brains process music. I have a general interest in the neurology of psychology and Daniel Levitin proves to be very informative, thus making his book interesting to me. On the flip side of this (my second perception), the presentation is dry. It reminds me of the book "Getting to Yes" (Fisher, Ury & Patton) in that it is good information delivered in nearly monolithically by a narrator. I feel like I am having information downloaded into my thinking brain while my emotional brain is ignoring everything said. Where as Stephen Covey's "The 8th Habit" is read by Stephen Covey, himself, with complete sincerity and from his heart, "This is Your Brain on Music" is tough to listen to considering the intricate details and monotone narrator.

    Last, considering the topic, music, I think Levitin had a perfect opportunity to go much further using this audio book as a tool. While there are simple examples of music to support points that Levintin is making, not once when he mentions an actual song does he then play the actual recording of the song on the audio tape. Yes, there are legal recording ownership rights that Levintin would have to negotiate in order to play song recordings on this audio book, but it would have enhanced the book tremendously. Additionally, when speaking about tone and tambour, examples rapidly inserted at the referenced points in the book would have helped. To be fair, I should mention that I am the executive producer of a radio program; I am sensitive to these quality issues.

    34 of 36 people found this review helpful

    • Overall

    Interesting, but Abridged?

    I have always been intrigued with this subject and always wondered why we enjoy music so much, and how our brains evolved to interpret it the way we do.

    I listened to every word on this book, and I welcomed the detailed explanation of musical terms and definitions. But I finished wishing that I had listened to the unabridged version. There was a big gap between the study of our the connections between our reptilian and rational brains, and the cultural reasons (mostly sexual) for using music as an expression of ourselves.

    I really enjoyed the fact that the author took the time to insert musical examples. Usually audio books are basically read aloud, but this one includes music. I wish it had more of it.

    Because the book was abridged, I was left with that strange feeling we get when we listen to a beautiful musical piece, and the last note is left unplayed. A feeling of incompleteness, but the knowledge that the author meant well. If you can deal with those feelings, then buy the audio book. If not, I suggest you read it the old fashioned way.

    18 of 19 people found this review helpful

    • Overall
    • Marko
    • Los Angeles, CA, United States
    • 12-29-10

    Not for the novice musician...

    I bought this book expecting a scientific view of how and why music works. This is one of those occasions where I would say "Be careful what you wish for because I may come true". I got exactly what I expected. Unfortunately, I was so unprepared and uneducated when it came to music that it lost me almost right away.

    I would recommend this book for someone is very highly educated in music, is familiar with music terminology, and has a curiosity about the brain and our anatomy of the ear. It is very "heady" and detailed.

    I imagine someone who fits the description above will very much enjoy this book and learn a lot from it.

    I, on the other hand, found myself taking far too long to process some information. By the time I was able to process it, I had missed about two minutes of the audio book and had to go back.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful

    • Overall
    • Performance
    • Story
    • Randy
    • Bakersfield, CA, United States
    • 03-30-13

    Music for the scientist

    This is a scientific approach to how we process music. I love that it has audio samples of musical concepts that laymen may not understand.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful

    • Overall
    • Performance
    • Story
    • Jeff
    • Pickering, Ontario, Canada
    • 05-20-12


    Im sorry to say that this book is even better than Oliver Sack's book on the same topic(Im a big fan of Sacks) , though both are worthy reads. Music has a profound physiological effect on us. We all know this to be the case but until now we had no concrete understanding of the hows and why's.

    Levitin does a great job relating the mystery and latest scientific probings of this remarkable and profound element in all our lives. Its a fascinating listen, learning whats behind the strange power music has on all of us. Its very rewarding to know what weve learned but also peeks our interest in what revelations are just around the corner.

    I think part of the reason music effects us so profoundly is it communicates to that huge yet hidden subconscious part of our minds where we think without and beyond language. Excellent narration and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful

    • Overall

    Left me wanting to hear more

    This abridged edition definitely felt shortened - it did sound like many subjects were not fully fleshed out and could have used more detailed explanation.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful

    • Overall

    Well done could be even more science-based

    I thought this book was very interesting and thought-provoking. I would have enjoyed it even more with injections of more medical or science-based studies and evidence. But it is very good, especially in audio book format since he has audio examples throughout, and these audio clips really bring his points to life. In short, this book is definitely worth listening to and/or reading especially if you like music, which so many of us do.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful

    • Overall
    • Dennis
    • Washington, DC, United States
    • 08-31-07

    Mind Numbing

    The studies examining the effect of music on the brain are off to an interesting start, but Levitin benumbs us with so much detail that the book quickly becomes boring. In the areas where he uses music to highlight his point, his concpts are clear, but where he tries to explain the finer points like tambre and pitch, the book sounds too much like a graduate-level lecture.

    I heard Daniel Levitin at a local book store and he was terrific. The crowd, and there was quite a large one, was enthralled as was I. Levitin's studies are ground breaking and will aid science in understanding why we enjoy one type of music but not another.

    I will try to finish listening to the book someday, but the first two hours were lente,lente.

    11 of 15 people found this review helpful

    • Overall
    • Performance
    • Story

    Attempts to please two audiences, fails at both.

    Would you try another book from Daniel J. Levitin and/or Edward Herrman?

    Sure, Levitin's broad-mindedness could work in another context.

    Were the concepts of this book easy to follow, or were they too technical?

    Yes. The book simplifies both acoustics/music theory and neuroscience to the point where there isn't much useful information about either. If you're even a modestly seasoned traveler in either subject, skip this one. The tone is best described as 'cool dad neuroscientist,' particularly when speaking reverently about dated commercial rock music.

    What does Edward Herrman bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Books don't usually have a deep baritone.

    Was This Is Your Brain on Music worth the listening time?

    It wasn't a waste of time, just a neutral use of time.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful