This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession

by Daniel J. Levitin

From the perspective of someone with a lifelong passion for a wide range of music and with a job based on language acquisition, this book was utterly fascinating.

It’s dense. My background in linguistics from college (with a dash of cognitive science) really helped in the scientific language as well as the idea of linking functions to specific parts of the brain. If you’re not familiar with that, I recommend referencing the handy dandy brain diagram at the back of the book showing where different functions of humans experiencing music (recognizing pitch, experiencing emotion, forecasting a change in music chord, memory, etc) resides as you read.

The cool thing about this book is that Levitin himself is a musician and goes at musical processing within the context of a musicians inside knowledge and love for it. He brings up questions at the beginning that I never really considered before, like the amazing ability humans have to recognize the tune “happy birthday” regardless of what speed it is sung, what pitch it starts on, if half of it speeds up, etc. and what that implies about the way our brains work.

“The story of your brain on music is the story of an exquisite orchestration of brain regions, involving the oldest and newest parts of the human brain, and regions as far apart as the cerebellum in the back of the head and the frontal lobes just behind your eyes…When we love a piece of music, it reminds us of other music we have heard, and it activates memory traces of emotional times in our lives.”

Excellent book for anyone interested in human emotion, cognition, musicians, or the concept of talent.

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