Think of a song that resonates deep down in your being. Now imagine sitting down with someone who was there when the song was recorded and can tell you how that series of sounds was committed to tape, and who can also explain why that particular combination of rhythms, timbres and pitches has lodged in your memory, making your pulse race and your heart swell every time you hear it. Remarkably, Levitin does all this and more, interrogating the basic nature of hearing and of music making (this is likely the only book whose jacket sports blurbs from both Oliver Sacks and Stevie Wonder), without losing an affectionate appreciation for the songs he's reducing to neural impulses. Levitin is the ideal guide to this material: he enjoyed a successful career as a rock musician and studio producer before turning to cognitive neuroscience, earning a Ph.D. and becoming a top researcher into how our brains interpret music. Though the book starts off a little dryly (the first chapter is a crash course in music theory), 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.
Quotes and Reviews
"Endlessly stimulating, a marvelous overview, and one which only a deeply musical neuroscientist could give. Daniel Levitin has a huge knowledge of music developed since the 1950s (and of Blues, Jazz, and etc. before this), and not merely a formal but a deep personal knowledge as an expert performer no less than as a listener. I liked the discussion of 'safe' and 'dangerous' music, and I very much liked the final chapter on the evolutionary origins of music. An important book."
- Oliver Sacks, M.D.
"A dissection of music perception and creation that starts slowly and inexorably builds to a grand finish. I loved reading that listening to music coordinates more disparate parts of the brain than almost anything else--and playing music uses even more! Despite illuminating a lot of what goes on this book doesn't "spoil" enjoyment- it only deepens the beautiful mystery that is music."
- David Byrne
- Sunday Times of London
"Levitin has a real flair for analogy. His dual background adds to the fun."
"A layperson's guide to the emerging neuroscience of music. Dr. Levitin is an unusually deft interpreter, full of striking scientific trivia. Levitin is a cognitive psychologist who runs the Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University in Montreal, perhaps the world's leading lab in probing why music has such an intense effect on us."
- The New York Times
"Levitin is a deft and patient explainer of the basics for the non-scientist as well as the non-musician. . . Aimed squarely at the general reader, "This Is Your Brain on Music" successfully unravels some of that long chain of neural events without getting tangled up in it. . . Levitin helps quantify some of music's magic without breaking its spell."
- The Los Angeles Times
"Artful and elegant. Simultaneously scientist, music professional and seductively graceful writer, Levitin gets to the very crux of the truth-is- beauty equation that the mystery of music represents. No other book comes close."
- Sandy Pearlman
"A fascinating subject, compellingly treated."
- Keith Lockhart
"Levitin's lucid explanation of why music is important to us is essential reading for creative musicians and scholars. I've been waiting for years for a book like this."
- Jon Appelton
"I take my hat off to anyone who tackles the Ramones, the Beatles, and Beethoven's Sixth Symphony in the same breath. With insight, empathy and humor, Dan Levitin addresses age-old questions about the overwhelming role of music in our existence - and this without diminishing the ever-elusive wonder of musical communication and perception. An important achievement."
- Matt Haimovitz
"This broad, deep, and entertaining book, written by the only person I know who is uniquely qualified to write it, is certain to delight and challenge any lover of music."
- Perry R. Cook
"This volume is a beautiful integration of art and science applied to understanding music. Scientific readers will appreciate the effort to explore the neural networks that underlie musical processing, the mental operations involved and the links to genes and evolution written in a fashion that is both informative and a pleasure to read."
- Michael I. Posner
"[Levitin] brings a rare mixture of street and lab cred together in this accessible and fascinating book on the cutting edge of music psychology. . .At the edges of pop-music savvy and experimental precision, Levitin brings empiricism to the heart of the beat . . .Your Brain On Music takes the reader to unexpected places."
- David Rothenberg
"Composer John Cage called music "a means of rapid transportation." Certainly, nothing pierces our sensibility as instantly as an evocative tune. Nobody knows that better than psychologist Dr. Daniel J. Levitin, who runs McGill University's Levitin Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition, and Expertise. This Is Your Brain on Music explores humankind's unique connection to sounds that speak to us even when words fail."
- Barnes & Noble Booksellers
"Both impressively scholarly and readily accessible to lay readers. 'This Is Your Brain on Music' segues deftly from a crash course in pitch, timbre, tempo, melody , and other music characteristics to the electrochemical processes of the brain and the elucidation of such topics as 'ear worms,' those insipid jingles and pop songs that get infuriatingly stuck in our heads. A compelling read even for those of us for whom neuroscience remains as baffling as, well, brain surgery."
- The Boston Globe
"The goal of musical performance is to unite artist and audience in a common experience. Levitin's writing aims for a similar convergence. Setting jargon aside in favor of everyday terminology, he gives readers enough background to understand what to listen for in music and to connect what they hear to his science. Readers, with Levitin, leap from the experience of music to . . . plunge beneath the thinking mind into the living brain, discovering how responses to music arise from the physical structure and electrochemical activity of the most primitive and the most highly evolved subsystems of that remarkable organ."
- Seattle Times
"In a book brimming with scientific research and musical references, Levitin skillfully investigates our profoundly human love of music."
- Paste Magazine
"Every musician, at whatever level of skill, should read this book. And that means all of us."
- Howie Klein
"Dan has struck a chord, a harmony of all cultures, informing all who care about music and the experience we all share. I now more fully understand some of my 'intuitive' moves, and appreciate the way Dan presents the facts, sautÈed with a bit of humor. A really good book for anyone who cares about music, poetry and art. This is a book that matters."
- Don DeVito
"Daniel Levitin writes in a spirit reminiscent of Douglas Hofstadter's now classic Gödel, Escher, Bach or Andy Clark's Being There - making the difficult transition from technical reflection on the minutiae of cognitive science to an engaging account of the mind at work look easy."
- Essays in Philosophy
"...offer[s] keen insights on the relation between mind and melody."
- Scientific American Book Club
"The questions he asks are very very musical, very concerned with the fact that music is an art that we interact with, not just a bunch of noises."
- Rita Aiello
"Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin's wonderful new book explains why music is a critical step in human evolution and why the songs we loved as teens remain stuck on 'play' in our heads...This Is Your Brain on Music is delightful. Levitin explains the intricacies of two difficult subjects—neuroscience and music theory—without ever losing the reader."
- Salon Magazine
"Fascinating . . . and valuable on many levels."
- Paul Lehrman, Mix Magazine
"A remarkable achievement . . . provides a compelling and lucid overview of important developments in the science of music . . . truly has a sense of the excitement and inspiration surrounding the research."
- Frank Russo
"Levitin has produced a book wonderfully accessible to lay readers. Levitin has a good sense of humor and is a genial explainer. He starts out with a forty page first chapter "What is Music?", which is as good a short explanation of key concepts as tone, scale, fifths, and timbre as anyone could want, and is a fine foundation for all that comes after, a collection of scientific lore and tidbits from all over. The final chapter is an engaging final argument that serves to emphasize the importance of all that the book has presented before, a demonstration that looking at an important human activity in a scientific way only increases our wonder and delight in the activity itself."
- The Commercial Dispatch
"Some scientists have the gift of writing so clearly that it's like being taken backstage by a magician and shown all the tricks-oh, that's how it's done. Daniel J. Levitin writes lucidly and humorously . . . absolutely fascinating."
- Cincinnati Public Library
"Levitin's enlightening work is worthwhile reading for any music lover."
- Grass Valley, California Union-Prospector
"In Dan Levitin, readers could not ask for a more understanding, amusing, accessible and lively guide. It's impossible to read this book and not learn something that will advance an understanding of and love for music, regardless of genre."
- Hamptons Independent Newspaper
"One of those books you can't put down . . . Should be on every engineer's shelf."
"Whether you're a musician or a scientist (or both, or neither), Levitin's enthusiastic, accessible prose will lead you through the complexities of both fields with ease."
- NYU ScienceLine
"Levitin illustrates how music beats at the very heart of our evolution. He does it in such a way as to open your ears afresh to familiar tunes and he helps you discover new ones."
- Metro Scotland
"An absorbing examination of the mechanics of why music affects us the way it does."
- Sunday Business Post (Ireland)
"Unlike other books on the issue, This Is Your Brain manages a chatty, informal tone without ever patronising the reader with oversimplification, while also steering clear of baffling the enthusiast with complex terminology."
- Oxford (U.K.) Times, and Blackpool Gazette
"A super intelligent scientist, his gift for explaining complex brain functions is perhaps even more impressive."
- Western Daily Press and Burton Mail (UK)
"A valuable resource into the study of the relationship of the human brain and music."
- South Wales Argus
"If music is the voice of the culture, than Levitin is both its Talmudic scholar and scientist. This is Your Brain on Music is a gem. It contains a language with which to write about music. It cracks an egg over a frying pan, heats it over a flame and serves it to the reader. Except instead of showing said egg to the audience and intoning that "this is your brain on drugs," he straps headphones to the scrambled eggs and cranks up The Clash until breakfast explodes."
- Undress Me Robot
"A marvellous book."
"Examines the neuroscience of music in layperson's terms - no mean feat, given how many lay people may balk at the idea of reading about neuroscience for pleasure. Yet Levitin draws you in . . . with his personal passion for music."
- The Irish Examiner
"He most certainly knows his onions, as a music lover and as a super intelligent scientist."
- East Anglian Daily Times
"Levitin, a sound engineer turned chirpy academic, helpfully word-hums for us in this ambitious and worthwhile round-up of current thought on humans' physiological, psychological and social relationship with music...intriguing cae studies...concisely explained hard facts and smartly argued work-in-progress theories."
- TIme Out London
"Even the tone deaf will be enthralled."
- The Guardian (U.K.)
"...writes with catchy enthusiasm and has a knack of couching complex ideas in user-friendly language...a delightfully informative read."
- Classic FM Magazine (U.K.)
"Levitin presents full, beautifully organized details in lively, clear prose, well-sprinkled with pointed anecdotes and musical examples that you'll recognize whatever your musical tastes. He neither dumbs it down nor floats into academic obscurity."
- Now Toronto Magazine
"Explains the connection between the brain and music in a short book that readers won't need a doctorate to understand. One of the leading researchers of music cognition in the world, he can talk you under the table about the Beatles, from the perspective of an avid, but not pretentious fan."
- Montreal Gazette
"A compelling read, peppered with extraordinary personal encounters."
- Stanford Magazine
"A fascinating, lively and clear-headed wilderness adventure of a volume."
- Nashville Scene Magazine
"How we receive music, why it moves us, delights us and induces certain behavior in us. Levitin is in an excellent position to know as a musician and cognitive neuroscientist."
- Bob Edwards (Public Radio International and XM Satellite Radio)
"All about music's effect and the neuroscience behind music, takes us from Bach to Count Basie to Van Halen to Eminem as we gain a greater understanding of the science of music."
- Forum with Michael Krasny, KQED Radio San Francisco
"An accessible introduction to the science of music."
- Bravo! TV, "Arts & Minds"
"A scientific exploration into the way music arouses and plays with expectations, memory and emotion. Provides insights into brain structure and function and the neuroscience of sound."
- Leonard Lopate, WNYC Radio New York
"Gracefully written, pitched at general audiences and note-perfect."
"Interesting and stimulating. Very clear and well-informed explanations of a range of musical phenomena, their underlying psychological processes and possible neural correlates."
- Times Higher Education, 2008
"Fantastically interesting . . . with a light touch that doesn't betray the complexity of [the] subject."
- Sunday Herald (London)
"It is fascinating to read about the things that some composers consider when they sit down to write."
- Shropshire Star (UK)
"Celebrates a capacity for analysing and understanding music . . . Listening to music . . . causes every part of the brain to get fired up. Here is a book to do the same."
- The Independent on Sunday (London)
"An essential tool for any music lover. Illuminates in a new way something we all feel: Music is an intrinsic and vital piece of human existence."