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The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can't Do Without It

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All human cultures seem to make music - today and through history. But why they do so, why music can excite deep passions, and how we make sense of musical sound at all are questions that have, until recently, remained profoundly mysterious. Now in The Music Instinct Philip Ball provides the first comprehensive, accessible survey of what is known - and what is still unknown - abou All human cultures seem to make music - today and through history. But why they do so, why music can excite deep passions, and how we make sense of musical sound at all are questions that have, until recently, remained profoundly mysterious. Now in The Music Instinct Philip Ball provides the first comprehensive, accessible survey of what is known - and what is still unknown - about how music works its magic, and why, as much as eating and sleeping, it seems indispensable to humanity. Even with what appear to be the simplest of tunes, the brain is performing some astonishing gymnastics: finding patterns and regularities, forming interpretations and expectations that create a sense of aesthetic pleasure. Without requiring any specialist knowledge of music or science, The Music Instinct explores how the latest research in music psychology and brain science is piecing together the puzzle of how our minds understand and respond to music. Ranging from Bach fugues to Javanese gamelan, from nursery rhymes to heavy rock, Philip Ball interweaves philosophy, mathematics, history and neurology to reveal why music moves us in so many ways. The Music Instinct will not only deepen your appreciation of the music you love, but will also guide you into pastures new, opening a window on music that once seemed alien, dull or daunting. And it offers a passionate plea for the importance of music in education and in everyday life, arguing that, whether we know it or not, we can all claim to be musical experts.


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All human cultures seem to make music - today and through history. But why they do so, why music can excite deep passions, and how we make sense of musical sound at all are questions that have, until recently, remained profoundly mysterious. Now in The Music Instinct Philip Ball provides the first comprehensive, accessible survey of what is known - and what is still unknown - abou All human cultures seem to make music - today and through history. But why they do so, why music can excite deep passions, and how we make sense of musical sound at all are questions that have, until recently, remained profoundly mysterious. Now in The Music Instinct Philip Ball provides the first comprehensive, accessible survey of what is known - and what is still unknown - about how music works its magic, and why, as much as eating and sleeping, it seems indispensable to humanity. Even with what appear to be the simplest of tunes, the brain is performing some astonishing gymnastics: finding patterns and regularities, forming interpretations and expectations that create a sense of aesthetic pleasure. Without requiring any specialist knowledge of music or science, The Music Instinct explores how the latest research in music psychology and brain science is piecing together the puzzle of how our minds understand and respond to music. Ranging from Bach fugues to Javanese gamelan, from nursery rhymes to heavy rock, Philip Ball interweaves philosophy, mathematics, history and neurology to reveal why music moves us in so many ways. The Music Instinct will not only deepen your appreciation of the music you love, but will also guide you into pastures new, opening a window on music that once seemed alien, dull or daunting. And it offers a passionate plea for the importance of music in education and in everyday life, arguing that, whether we know it or not, we can all claim to be musical experts.

45 review for The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can't Do Without It

  1. 5 out of 5

    Elia

    Wow, i'm super excited to review this book. Overall, it was a really gratifying experience to read about music in such a scientific yet emotional manner. I first started this book on a plane, and four hours later I didnt realize I had landed. The first part is really breathtaking. Around the middle, it becomes a little challenging because it defines the ease with which you can pusrue depending on your background. If you have received some training in music, the theoretical part is just a refresh Wow, i'm super excited to review this book. Overall, it was a really gratifying experience to read about music in such a scientific yet emotional manner. I first started this book on a plane, and four hours later I didnt realize I had landed. The first part is really breathtaking. Around the middle, it becomes a little challenging because it defines the ease with which you can pusrue depending on your background. If you have received some training in music, the theoretical part is just a refreshment, if not, the book is so well-written that it will take you a little more time to grasp the initial concepts but keep you in the loop for the whole book without feeling overwhelemed. The author also adds that most of the pieces he discussses are available online with provided links so you would really feel what you are reading. This book is an argumentative one, many theories and points of view are exposed while the author keeps his in the background. The theme distribution and chronology is just perfect. For all the music enthusiats, this book is worth it! But I mean serious enthusiasts that are willing to persevere through a piece yo realize how rewarding it is in the end. Highly highly recommended!!!

  2. 5 out of 5

    David

    Why does music stir our emotions? To what degree is our reaction to music innate, and to what degree is it learned? These are the basic questions discussed here, with lots of psychology experiments that shed some light on the subject. The book shows that even non-musicians, people who do not overtly give music much thought, are experts in music. Subconsciously, we learn about musical styles based on probabilities; given a certain set of notes, we can guess what the next note might be. We use the Why does music stir our emotions? To what degree is our reaction to music innate, and to what degree is it learned? These are the basic questions discussed here, with lots of psychology experiments that shed some light on the subject. The book shows that even non-musicians, people who do not overtly give music much thought, are experts in music. Subconsciously, we learn about musical styles based on probabilities; given a certain set of notes, we can guess what the next note might be. We use these probabilities to base our expectations for what will come next in a piece of music. The power of music, the spine-tingling attraction, comes when the expectations are broken. The book pays attention not just to Western music, but also to music from around the world. It is interesting to learn what aspects of musical styles are universal, and what aspects are particular to individual cultures. I also found it very interesting, how timbre and pitch affect the concepts of consonance and dissonance. Dissonance is not an absolute given; A pitch interval that is dissonant in the lower registers may sound consonant in upper registers. And the degree of dissonance will depend on the timbre, that is to say, the set of overtones played by an instrument. The subjective degree of tension that a listener feels can be predicted objectively by analysis of the interference overtones among successive notes. But what is most fascinating, is that music can be spine-tingling even after listening to the same piece, over and over again! How can music have this effect, when we know exactly what will happen next? This seems to me to be a fundamental quandary, one that the book asks, but is not quite able to answer. If you are a musician, or if you can read music without too much difficulty, you will find special appeal to this book. It is full of short excerpts from scores, that help you to understand the concepts.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rob Adey

    It's testament to Philip Ball's readability that I got through this book without skipping bits too badly. But there's a lot of (for a non-musician) technical detail here, and really you need to reading the book at a piano, or I suppose listening to an audio version with musical examples, to properly understand it. I do all my reading on the tube, where pianos are frowned upon.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Laurence

    explains why we are affected by music (A: Don't know), and a lot of music theory. Book was a present from Beatrice. Loved it, but found it difficult to finish - waiting for the revelation, and the reveal was that there is no reveal. A bit of a let down

  5. 5 out of 5

    Liam

    Much more technical than I expected for a popular science book. It takes pains to explain detailed technical language but I found myself deeply confused at times, having no almost no practical experience making music. Of what I understood, I did get pleasure from the less technical chapters such as the one about the history of notation, and the parts addressing the warring avant-gardists in the 20th century. But the main draw of the book, the cognitive questions that the musical capacity raises, Much more technical than I expected for a popular science book. It takes pains to explain detailed technical language but I found myself deeply confused at times, having no almost no practical experience making music. Of what I understood, I did get pleasure from the less technical chapters such as the one about the history of notation, and the parts addressing the warring avant-gardists in the 20th century. But the main draw of the book, the cognitive questions that the musical capacity raises, seemed frustratingly inconclusive to me. Could it be linked to the capacity for number? The capacity for language? Could it have evolved? Ball seems a bit sheepish about putting his foot down when several experts disagree. He begins the book by slamming Pinker's claim that music is just a pleasurable simultaneous stimulation of our different sensory channels - "an auditory cheesecake" and a "spandrel." But from Ball's tepid overview of contradictory expert opinions, little seems to sink this hypothesis. At least no good argument is given to think that the cognitive processing of music is a distinct unit in the mind as is language, as the title of the book would lead you to anticipate. I can reccommend this series for a more accessible rundown of musical theory: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnbOWi...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Billy Maise

    52% confusing. 35% already heard it before. 13% interesting music information. 100% eh.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Khalil

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaLLSS...

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jake Goretzki

    Very dense and thorough, but not an easy read and often a little frustrating. One of the difficulties, I suppose, comes with reading about music (you need to hear the music, right). I often found myself clamoring for more examples and illustrations of points that he was making (you'd be in trouble if you couldn't read a bit of music with this, actually). Amusingly too, way too many of the pop/rock citations were dusty museum pieces. Think: "This can be heard in the final cadence of Pink Floyd's Very dense and thorough, but not an easy read and often a little frustrating. One of the difficulties, I suppose, comes with reading about music (you need to hear the music, right). I often found myself clamoring for more examples and illustrations of points that he was making (you'd be in trouble if you couldn't read a bit of music with this, actually). Amusingly too, way too many of the pop/rock citations were dusty museum pieces. Think: "This can be heard in the final cadence of Pink Floyd's 1972 'Curing My Insomnia' but is also vividly echoed in Joe Cocker's 1971 number 'Christ Nobody Listens to That (It's Not On Spotify I've Checked)'". I know it's about how music works, but I found that you could tell this was a 'science man' and chemistry buff talking, sometimes losing the 'bigger picture' and obsessively dissecting scales and tones for the sake of it. It took me back to electron pair clouds. At a certain point I found myself lost as to why we were taking so long to explain why the scale looked like it does and why we were now assigning chords roman numerals. I guess a more populist book would stick to A-B-C-D-etc. For me in fact the most thrilling point in the book came where he suggests that blues come from an attempt to marry an African (slave-imported) scale to a Western one - coming out with something fused. Which is a wonderful idea, but isn't especially dwelt on. This goes too for the neuroscience, which - as ever - comes with a giant asterisk saying 'Look, we don't really know yet'. Whenever I read about neuroscience it seems to mostly amount to 'some interesting observations, but, look, this is all guesswork'. To the extent where I'd rather it just be whacked in to the postscript. On the plus side, I like its anti-elitism: especially the knocking down of claims that (instrumental) music 'tells a (semantic) story' and the deflating of absurd claims that certain Tchaikovsky symphonies reveal his latent homosexuality, etc etc. Amazing that that nonsense is tolerated. I also like its optimistic conclusion that we're all naturally musical (to the extent that we can all spot patterns, feel rewarded by expectations met and jolted by expectations thwarted). So, interesting, but a bit too 'micro' for the lay reader. There are a few titles (I can think of three others) out there at the moment ('How Music Works'; 'The Rest is Noise', etc) that I suspect might deliver better on the brief.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Felix Hayman

    We dont really understand the neurological basis of musical appreciation, so here comes another book on why we listen to music from the musical perspective.It's a well written study across the technical basis of music but falls down in its appreciation of the neurological interface.If you have a musical background this is a good book for you to read, however, if you dont, forget it.It will come out as gobbledeegook and will confuse you further....Hey, it is worth a try

  10. 5 out of 5

    Colin

    I couldn't work out who this was aimed at; the overview of music theory seemed to be too rushed to really be comprehensible to someone without a good background knowledge, but the substance of the book really offered little beyond interesting anecdotes.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Abraham Lewik

    It was a tough to finish. Has a fascinating premise, little pockets of trivia, and a gruelling thorough investigation from the premise.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alex Lee

    This is a fabulous book. There is one main question it tries to answer: What does music mean? This question is not an easy to answer question. The short answer is that we don't know. Because we don't know, it's also somewhat difficult to know where to start. Ball manages though, to get the ball rolling. Still, it's a wild ride, as what music means (to us) is also, what is it? How is it? What are the mechanics? How do various groups react to it? And how do we find, in all these loose s This is a fabulous book. There is one main question it tries to answer: What does music mean? This question is not an easy to answer question. The short answer is that we don't know. Because we don't know, it's also somewhat difficult to know where to start. Ball manages though, to get the ball rolling. Still, it's a wild ride, as what music means (to us) is also, what is it? How is it? What are the mechanics? How do various groups react to it? And how do we find, in all these loose structures, tons of opinions and endless variations, any kind of universal over-arching box for which we can place music in a sock drawer and be done with it? Even given such a huge domain, one which touches us so intimately as music touches us, Ball manages to designate borders around this cloud of what "music" is. His main push lies in the classical music tradition... which has very much to do with an interplay of themes and melodies, harmonies of sonic form -- that in the Baroque period, when composers aimed to portray the states of the soul, such as rage, excitement, grandeur or wonder. They were not trying to tell us how they felt, but were offering something like symbols of ideas and feelings in a systematic language that their audiences understood. They employed stock figures and devices, often drawn from the principles of classical rhetoric, such as the inventio (finding a musical subject) and its elaboratio or exposition. No one believed that the music had some intrinsic, mystic power to evoke these things; they simply expected the audience to know the language. During the Classical era and the Age of Enlightenment, in contrast, the objective was to make music that was 'natural', that moved and entertained with its grace and lyricism -- as music historian Charles Burney wrote, this made music 'the art of pleasing by succession and combination of agreeable sounds.' It was in the nineteenth century, when composers started to believe music had an intrinsic potential to express raw emotion without the mediation of agreed conventions, that they and their audiences lost sight of the strictly conventional assignation of meaning and started to think that music produced immediate imaginative suggestion. [In this same time period] composers were less likely to produce works commissioned for particular patrons, audiences or events, but instead felt they were writing for eternity. [...] The composer, like the painter, was no longer a craftsperson but a priest, prophet and genius. In a way, music was most natural when people were "expected to just know" even though music at that time was made of Baroque rhetorical devices. But when the medium of music became a thing in-itself, music detached from this naturalness of rhetoric and became lovely sounds. Eventually that became Romanticism, as the theme emerged from chaos, wrought from pain and angst in the medium, and so composers themselves were also hardpressed. The genius himself is the creation of genius... the genius is so beyond, that the conventions that are used, the rhetorical devices are blasted apart, but somehow loosely held enough together in our contemporary era. Ball also writes that the best music shows us how to hear, but it has no linguistic equivalent as if language is the true language of reality. Instead, Ball says music is simply itself, it has no deeper meaning in language (although we may think it does) in that others can hardly verify that meaning in its specificity. This is another way of saying that Ball means that meaning can only be verified as being "out there" if "enough" people can independently find that meaning in its object. Because music cannot be verified this way, music becomes "a little bit of the Real" that we can directly apprehend. This is his meaning too when he points out that music cannot have developed for our evolutionary advantage because processing music is not assigned to a specific part of the brain like other functions (such as speech or movement or counting). Instead, music lights up the entire part of the brain, including areas as "basic" as our motor skills in processing rhythm... or rather, does rhythm excite our motor skills? Either way, inasmuch as anyone wants to see meaning in music, a meaning which they most likely could just as easily find anywhere else in the universe because of how they specifically are, we also see ourselves in music... struggling, finding brief happiness, being gloomy, running naked in a field, flying through the air, laughing with friends, having sexy time... music can tell us of how we each individually are just as it can remind us to be appropriately happy or sad as we have learned to listen to it as being those emotions. Just as over time, music has changed its meaning, or its ability to speak to us, so our expectations of ourselves have changed too. When music becomes the work of geniuses, we need to find geniuses out there who can write such music. When music was natural, obvious and everything good, so was our idea of society, our progress as a species, our ideas of God and universe. Music has served historically, as a mirror to us. Many non-Western cultures use music differently, but in each, they are moved by it, place it appropriately in their social setting, and enjoy it as a group activity. Music is the glue that binds us in as much as it reminds us of who we need to be, who we are already and who we think we should be. Ball's book is not that thick. But it is a moving, touching piece, that reaches the range of what we think are our ways of knowing reality (logic, science, history, math, art) and applies each in turn to music, to find out how it is music is able to show us what we are, to be our partner in time and reality. But despite all these approaches, Ball succeeds not only in exciting us but also showing us how each area is somehow adequate and inadequate... for each aspect of music is always simply what it is, each study may serve to show patterns, assignations, but these qualities quickly dissolve into the body of music again as if music resists being anything other than completely itself. If this book does anything, it at least reminds us of the different ways we can enjoy and participate in music. In other words, by trying to tell us what music is, Ball manages to tell us what it is not. Rather than dampening our spirit, this rejection of the limits of music only heightens our wonder at the wide variation of music, the huge range of effect it has on us, personally and collectively. In a self reflexive way, not knowing what music is allows us to not only enjoy it (which is great), but also see ourselves reflected in it. Music falls through the cracks in languaged meaning to be only what it is, outside of language. In this way, literally, through music, we can reach ourselves just as we reach the world totality as knowing the world and knowing ourself is two sides of the same coin.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marco Klein

    Phillp Ball’s ‘The Music Instinct’ is an extensive excursion into a variety of musical aspects, exploring them deeply, scientifically and philosophically. This includes the social and cultural importance of music, the physical science of sound, cognition, music theory, emotion and meaning, to just name a few. I took away several learnings on the matters of social, emotional and philosophical aspects of music, while brushing up on the basics of acoustics and music theory, including harmony a Phillp Ball’s ‘The Music Instinct’ is an extensive excursion into a variety of musical aspects, exploring them deeply, scientifically and philosophically. This includes the social and cultural importance of music, the physical science of sound, cognition, music theory, emotion and meaning, to just name a few. I took away several learnings on the matters of social, emotional and philosophical aspects of music, while brushing up on the basics of acoustics and music theory, including harmony and rhythm. The insights into these aspects are surprising and not always conclusive. This inconclusiveness however doesn’t come from any shortfall of the author, it rather seems to be one of music’s eternal mysteries and highly subjective as well as individual, that we can’t agree on music in regards of emotions or meaning. It is a fairly demanding read, but also rewarding. The vast amount of references and examples contribute to a good overview of music as a phenomenon. The terminology is complex and sometimes require slow and attentive reading, as well as some research. The detail and accuracy of the author’s questioning of the matter is outstanding, but leaves the reader somewhat behind at times. It really helps to listen to the mentioned pieces of music throughout the book, to experience what is being described in scientific terms. It also widens your repertoire of composers, traditions and styles of music available to you. I would recommend this book to someone with an existing understanding of music and its aspects, to widen the horizon on what music does with and for us outside of pure pleasure or mood manipulation. If you enjoy the idea of wanting to understand music, and are an avid fan of deep inquiry and philosophy, this book is for you.

  14. 4 out of 5

    dv

    Ampio, approfondito e ambizioso. Ball riesce molto bene a informare, analizzare e ipotizzare, in modo diverso - e con difficoltà e astrazione crescente - procedendo dai primi capitoli basati sulla comprensione del linguaggio musicale e della sua armonia verso gli ultimi, dove il cosiddetto linguaggio musicale è esposto in quanto tale a una comparazione con linguaggi più propriamente intesi - in primis quello verbale - che apre a una raccolta di riflessioni illustri che risultano interessanti spe Ampio, approfondito e ambizioso. Ball riesce molto bene a informare, analizzare e ipotizzare, in modo diverso - e con difficoltà e astrazione crescente - procedendo dai primi capitoli basati sulla comprensione del linguaggio musicale e della sua armonia verso gli ultimi, dove il cosiddetto linguaggio musicale è esposto in quanto tale a una comparazione con linguaggi più propriamente intesi - in primis quello verbale - che apre a una raccolta di riflessioni illustri che risultano interessanti spesso proprio perché ardite e arbitrarie. In tutto ciò, il filo rosso della musica come istinto attraversa l'intero libro, ponendosi come ulteriore spunto ambizioso che, con tutte le difficoltà interpretative che presenta, non può che affascinare e far apprezzare l'impresa di ricerca e scrittura di Ball.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    I have long been puzzled why music seems to be so important to so many of us, since almost everything else about us seems readily explained in terms of either natural or sexual selection. I was hoping for a simple answer. I did not get a simple answer, but I now have a much clearer idea of how music works. I particularly enjoyed Mr Ball's takedown of the pretentiousness of serialism, and of providing context by looking at the nature of sophisticated music such as gamelan in other cultures in add I have long been puzzled why music seems to be so important to so many of us, since almost everything else about us seems readily explained in terms of either natural or sexual selection. I was hoping for a simple answer. I did not get a simple answer, but I now have a much clearer idea of how music works. I particularly enjoyed Mr Ball's takedown of the pretentiousness of serialism, and of providing context by looking at the nature of sophisticated music such as gamelan in other cultures in addition to classical, jazz and other musics in our own. You may or may not find it worthwhile to understand music better, because you can enjoy it without reading this book, but if you want to understand it better, this book is a good place to start.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sdubby

    This is a very comprehensive and well written book about many aspects of music. I really enjoyed it, however it was very dense and some of the information was admittedly over my head. Phillip Ball did an amazing job researching and writing on this topic, the amount of musical examples, research, and other narrative references was superb. I would definitely recommend to anyone interested in music, however it would greatly help to have a foundation knowledge of music theory.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jorg

    An excellent overview of history, psychology, and sociology of music--and a little bit of history. The final chapters, with devastating and funny critiques of both formalism and narrativism in musicology are quite awesome. Anyone who cares about music should read this, and those who do not--try caring, you don't know what you are missing.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Keith Wheeles

    Unbelievably good book. What is music? How does it work? How is music theory built? Fascinating, thought-provoking, even inspiring. Well-written and very well thought out. I wished it had been on kindle so I could keep my highlights! Packed with brief music references from a broad repertoire (non-western, classical, modern). Delicious.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Emma Sommerville

    Really mind-blowing book, it gave me a new perspective on music despite having studied it for a very long time. It's definitely a book I'll come back to again and again to reread bits of chapters. And it's really helped me with ideas for my Master's thesis. It's written for everyone to read and understand, not just those who already know lots about music. Read it!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mikael Lind

    This is a very ambitious book. Perhaps too ambitious, since I feel that the book would have gained if it had more focus on two or three topics instead of ten. The author really tries to write THE comprehensive book of most aspects about music; its origin, its structure, its neurological foundation and so on. Parts of The Music Instinct are really well written and investigated. Philip Ball actually manages to give a really good account of the foundations for counterpoint - perhaps thanks to This is a very ambitious book. Perhaps too ambitious, since I feel that the book would have gained if it had more focus on two or three topics instead of ten. The author really tries to write THE comprehensive book of most aspects about music; its origin, its structure, its neurological foundation and so on. Parts of The Music Instinct are really well written and investigated. Philip Ball actually manages to give a really good account of the foundations for counterpoint - perhaps thanks to his background in physics and fascination for shapes and structures. Also, the physical foundations of sound and mankind's attempts at trying to create a perfect scale are described in a lucid and thoughtful way. Some problems arise on the psychological level, albeit not in such a grand scale as in the very confusing book named This is Your Brain on Music. Put shortly, people listen to music, not their minds or brains. You can state where certain processing functions take place in the brain, and that is interesting information. However, it's confusing to say that our minds or brains "like" structures; who would this person the mind/brain that "likes" things be? People like things, and people may be disposed (genetically, evolutionary) to like certain things. Sometimes it is correct to say that the brain adds things; f.e. in the "McGurk effect" and when the brain adds frequencies that aren't there due to a computational function. Here, the brain does it because it's completely separated from consciousness. However, listening to music and enjoying it is not only a function of "the mind". Your enjoyment of a certain tune depends, one could say, on certain predispositions in your brain, a conscious or habitual evaluation of the tune, and the physical structure of the tune itself. So, I don't agree conceptually that "music is a product of the mind"; it's too vacuous a statement. Also, who's mind? Is music a private, mental thing, or a shared thing with meanings that work between people due to the fact that the musical meanings are shared, in a Wittgensteinian sense. Philip Ball says that the connection of the tritone to the devil can't really be a chord connected to a meaning in the same sense as the word "devil" is connected to the concept, and this is so, he says, because you have to learn the symbolism of medieval Western music to know the connection. But we can easily think of languages where the situation is the same, for example small groups of people using sign language. The connection between the word "devil" and the concept of the devil is an arbitrary one, and so is the tritone's connection to the concept of the devil. It seems to me that music can be a more of a conveyor of meaning than Ball wants to acknowledge. Anyway, I enjoyed this book as a whole. It's a bit dry at times, but it has some parts that are really well written. Philip Ball has done an overall good job with this book on music, albeit a bit too ambitious.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kostas

    Quite stunning tour de force about pretty much everything one needs to know about how music impacts on the human mind. Based on state of the art research, classic studies as well as the author's own theories, it gives a very convincing account of the power of music and the fact that it is often our musical preferences that determine its impact, rather than some inherent quality in the music itself (hereby rubbishing the 'Mozart effect'). But the book does much more than that. It point Quite stunning tour de force about pretty much everything one needs to know about how music impacts on the human mind. Based on state of the art research, classic studies as well as the author's own theories, it gives a very convincing account of the power of music and the fact that it is often our musical preferences that determine its impact, rather than some inherent quality in the music itself (hereby rubbishing the 'Mozart effect'). But the book does much more than that. It points out that the human brain has a remarkable ability to integrate musical elements, navigating with ease, even in quite unfamiliar musical territories. The author makes a strong case for the fact that musical appreciation is an inherent quality of the human mind that can be possibly explained in evolutionary terms (among others, the human mind likes games of 'expectation' and its violation, and many composers handily manipulate human cognition to stimulate this need). There is a clear message there that music should not be degraded to a product for elitist snubs or 'musical experts', who often don't understand the way human cognition interacts with organised sound themselves, thereby often denying people their right to appreciate the more 'mundane' aspects of music, as if there is only one way to appreciate music, by following set guidelines. Quite clearly, this is not the case. Even at its most speculative, this book remains a very interesting read, suggesting that there is still plenty of scope to learn much more about how music impacts on our minds, without any of this taking away from the wonder and mystery of what is surely the most intense and satisfying of arts.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mark Changizi

    Music ought to be one of the greatest human mysteries, the one kids say they're going to grow up and solve. Why does it exist? Why do we love it? You'd think we would have made some progress figuring out these questions, given the past two millennia of effort. In fact, if you read a "music theory" book, you might leave with the impression that we actually understand music. Music theory books are teeming with arcane mathematical nooks and crannies, from harmonics to timbre, Music ought to be one of the greatest human mysteries, the one kids say they're going to grow up and solve. Why does it exist? Why do we love it? You'd think we would have made some progress figuring out these questions, given the past two millennia of effort. In fact, if you read a "music theory" book, you might leave with the impression that we actually understand music. Music theory books are teeming with arcane mathematical nooks and crannies, from harmonics to timbre, and from diminished sevenths to the cycle of fifths. But music theory books aren't on theory at all, not, at least, on "theory" as a scientist knows it. Music theory is better described as accumulated musical lore, an inelegant pile of regularities for how music tends to work, and rules for what tends to sound "musical." Such repositories of musical knowledge are critical to our eventual understanding of what music is and why it exists -- but not because this knowledge is "theory." Music theory is important because it amounts to data. Lots of data. Millennia of data! On rhythm, beat, scales, chords, harmony, melody, timbre, dynamics, style and more. Phillip Ball's book, The Music Instinct, is a music theory book, in the sense that it covers that terrain. But The Music Instinct is not, by any means, a typical music theory book. See the rest of my review at The Atlantic... http://www.theatlantic.com/technology...

  23. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    Occasionally very good, occasionally so dry that I found myself rereading paragraphs or sentences several times without really comprehending them, but generally fairly good and readable. Ball touches on an impressive array of aspects of music, from cognition to emotion therein to what I really should have retained from my Music Theory classes. At times I found him making statements about Western music that seemed rather hypocritical given his repeated postmodern eye-rolling at early ethnomusicol Occasionally very good, occasionally so dry that I found myself rereading paragraphs or sentences several times without really comprehending them, but generally fairly good and readable. Ball touches on an impressive array of aspects of music, from cognition to emotion therein to what I really should have retained from my Music Theory classes. At times I found him making statements about Western music that seemed rather hypocritical given his repeated postmodern eye-rolling at early ethnomusicologists. And his seeming dismissal of Romantic-era music as shallow/"good for those who don't really want to be challenged by music" struck me as remarkably snobbish for someone who, again, repeatedly criticized previous/other authors for their musical snobbery. But we're none of us free from hypocrisy, I suppose. Overall, an interesting, but not gripping, book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    David

    The British science writer Philip Ball decided to read up on music, throw everything he learned into a book, and he got Oxford to publish it. As a useful repository of other people's interesting research, I'm glad "The Music Instinct" is out there, and I will be recommending it to students. As a book, the 400+ pages of music theory, neuroscience, acoustics, psychology, philosophy, and history doesn't hold together. There are also some poorly prepared attacks on others (Deryck Cooke, Susan McClar The British science writer Philip Ball decided to read up on music, throw everything he learned into a book, and he got Oxford to publish it. As a useful repository of other people's interesting research, I'm glad "The Music Instinct" is out there, and I will be recommending it to students. As a book, the 400+ pages of music theory, neuroscience, acoustics, psychology, philosophy, and history doesn't hold together. There are also some poorly prepared attacks on others (Deryck Cooke, Susan McClary, Schenker); ridiculous opinions (recitative is not musical); and pompous statements of the obvious ("We should never forget that music takes place in a social context"). But I learned some things I'm glad to know and circled a few things in the bibliography I want to follow up on. So, three stars.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mangoo

    In this offering, Ball digs into music - with his usual comprehensivity and apparent mastery of the matter (this time, he is also personally knowledgeable on the topic). Many aspects of the best of the arts are treated (temperament, harmony, rythm, psicoacoustics, syntax and semantics, emotions and meaning, styles and gestalt), and decent if not ample space is given to all details. This on the other hand makes the book very verbose at times: it could have been more compact and concise oftentimes In this offering, Ball digs into music - with his usual comprehensivity and apparent mastery of the matter (this time, he is also personally knowledgeable on the topic). Many aspects of the best of the arts are treated (temperament, harmony, rythm, psicoacoustics, syntax and semantics, emotions and meaning, styles and gestalt), and decent if not ample space is given to all details. This on the other hand makes the book very verbose at times: it could have been more compact and concise oftentimes. Nonetheless, all concepts are well explained to laymen and there is also a lot for experts. Musical excerpts, examples, graphs and maps illustrate the text throughout. Recommended to all music lovers, particularly (but not only) to beginners.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rhoda

    Marvelously constructed series of essays on music and perception of music, drawing on everything from musical historical tradition to the physics of sound, theoretical inter-relations of notes and keys and tuning systems,, ethnomusicology, western music theory as advanced by a variety of analysts, and current neuroscience - all pulled together in a fascinating discussion. Each chapter addresses a different aspect of music; each relates to what went before but also stands on its own (which is for Marvelously constructed series of essays on music and perception of music, drawing on everything from musical historical tradition to the physics of sound, theoretical inter-relations of notes and keys and tuning systems,, ethnomusicology, western music theory as advanced by a variety of analysts, and current neuroscience - all pulled together in a fascinating discussion. Each chapter addresses a different aspect of music; each relates to what went before but also stands on its own (which is fortunate, because this is not a quick read, although very absorbing to this musically 'naive' reader.). A testimony to the author's depth of knowledge and joy in his avocation!

  27. 4 out of 5

    TinHouseBooks

    Elissa Schappell (Editor at Large): The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It by David Byrne, front man of the most successful art school band ever, The Talking Heads, has written a book that manages to be both personal and scholarly and altogether fascinating. The man is a genius. On one page he explains why he became a performer, “I couldn’t talk to people face to face so I got on stage and started screaming and squealing and twitching.” Then playing musicologist, he j Elissa Schappell (Editor at Large): The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It by David Byrne, front man of the most successful art school band ever, The Talking Heads, has written a book that manages to be both personal and scholarly and altogether fascinating. The man is a genius. On one page he explains why he became a performer, “I couldn’t talk to people face to face so I got on stage and started screaming and squealing and twitching.” Then playing musicologist, he joyfully geeks out on the roles music has historically played in the lives of human beings, weaving in his own evolution as a musician, performer and lover of music.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bill Leach

    Ball starts this book with an excellent introduction to music, showing the basis of how the notes are arranged into scales, the importance of the intervals, harmonics and dissonance. The core of the book explores human perception of music, presenting the ideas of various thinkers and adding his own thoughts and experience. Chapters include detailed discussions of melody, rhythm, timbre. A terrifically interesting book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    D.

    I debated giving this one or two stars. The only reason why I gave it two stars because it is very detailed and the author is clearly an expert, which I'm sure will prove very valuable to some readers. However, I did not actually like this book - I found it way too technical and difficult to understand. This is mainly a book about the technical details of music itself, definitely not what you would expect from a popular science book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Stan Cornett

    This very astute musician attempts, at one point, to refute Pinker's claim that, as adaptation, music is just "...auditory cheesecake." Unlike Pinker, Dr Ball relies on a string of facts followed by a leap of faith. Nonetheless, an important book.

  31. 5 out of 5

    Clive Buckingham

    Essential, accessible, thoughtful. Heavyweight academics like Sloboda are referred to where relevant: he's read them so you don't have to. Fascinating stuff - does what it says in the title, and a great survey of it too.

  32. 4 out of 5

    pianogal

    This book is boring. I have been a musician my whole life and never have I been so bored talking about it. Blah blah blah blah blah blah...pass...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  33. 4 out of 5

    Jose Manuel

    ¿qué es música? ¿cómo la percibimos? Si amas la música es un excelente libro de divulgación científica que muestra cómo el cerebro está programado para disfrutar de la música.

  34. 5 out of 5

    Rohan Mehta

    so far getting very exciting. the science, psychology, sociology, philosophy and anthropology of music and it's various uses in our life.

  35. 4 out of 5

    Garrett Robinson

    Great book. Well organized and an exceptional introduction to a number of theories regarding the phenomenon of music.

  36. 4 out of 5

    Piadora

    Im sure there are people who can appreciate this book but this was way too technical for me. I´m sure there are people who can appreciate this book but this was way too technical for me.

  37. 4 out of 5

    Stefano Lodi

    Forse pretendeva troppo, apre molte domande e non dà molte risposte. Interessante ma un po' troppo corposo.

  38. 4 out of 5

    Steve Clark

    An interesting read on how music affects us. The answer in a lot of cases is that we don't really know. This is a case where an ebook that played the examples would be really useful. I think they are on-line, but I've not looked yet as I tended to be reading on the train. Worth a read if you are interested by the science of music.

  39. 5 out of 5

    Elentarri

    Interesting. Technical. Some new stuff, mostly old stuff.

  40. 5 out of 5

    Per Westby

    far to technical

  41. 4 out of 5

    Cinyras Saṃsāri

    I digged

  42. 5 out of 5

    Timothy Cook

    An excellent, and quite thorough study of how we respond to music, and why it is important. Though the author and I do disagree on some aspects of his theories, I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in the mysteries of music.

  43. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Very stimulating, if slightly tough going for the muscial layperson. Like most pop-sci books it became progressively woolly towards the end as author either became bored or the topics veered into territory without much supporting data.

  44. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    This might be amazing to a scholar of musicology, but I had to give up. I'm too much of a layman. I tried. I really did. It made my feel like a complete idiot.

  45. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    Hmmm. A bit dry. Besides, I disagreed with him about a few value judgements and I am never wrong!

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