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

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Oxford University Press, Sep 2, 2010 - Psychology - 464 pages
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From Bach fugues to Indonesian gamelan, from nursery rhymes to rock, music has cast its light into every corner of human culture. But why music excites such deep passions, and how we make sense of musical sound at all, are questions that have until recently remained unanswered. Now in The Music Instinct, award-winning writer Philip Ball provides the first comprehensive, accessible survey of what is known--and still unknown--about how music works its magic, and why, as much as eating and sleeping, it seems indispensable to humanity. Deftly weaving together the latest findings in brain science with history, mathematics, and philosophy, The Music Instinct not only deepens our appreciation of the music we love, but shows that we would not be ourselves without it. The Sunday Times hailed it as "a wonderful account of why music matters," with Ball's "passion for music evident on every page."

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User Review  - HadriantheBlind - LibraryThing

Impressive book about the technical and psychological sides of music. Explained things very well, although some questions still remained unclear. Interesting, all the same. Read full review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

In general a book touching very diverse aspects of our perception :
I focus on my favourite Chapter 11, It is going in and out of style:
An interesting thought considers the importance of the originality of the melody. While pop music can be distinguished by a catchy and lush melodic charms, classical music sometimes even lacks an emphasized melodic line. What is captivating more often in it are the global structures and instrumental arrangements.
The music expert Aaron Copland noted:
A theme is after all only a succession of notes: Merely by changing the dynamics ... one can transform the emotional feeling of the very same succession of notes. By a change of harmony, a new poignancy may be given the theme; or by a different rhythmic treatment the same notes may result in a war dance instead of a lullaby.
I share this opinion because it partly explains of the questions that do not let me sleep: is popular music more popular than classical or more esoteric one because of its easy to remember melodies or?
In my opinion a beginner music listener will be more attracted by the catchy melodies than other aspects like the harmonic depth or the originality of rhythm. Well this is true since we develop an ability how to read the melodicity of human voices already as kids. Advancing in our listening experience lets us appreciate gradually the music as a whole - rhythm, harmony, dynamics, structure.
Therefore like all other areas in lives - our music taste evolves with the experience as we are able to more and more "read between the lines" .
At least it happens to me: I find myself doing an in interesting experience. Sometimes I listen to some favourite songs, which I have not heard for a couple of years. Then distinguish new things that I like, as if they were never there before: it is not only the melody, now I hear the drum patterns. the groovy bass guitar riffs, the flowing piano chords. It is like seeing an old friend and spotting new inspiring traits in his character. Then I say to myself: This explains why I have loved the song before - I have maybe known even long ago that there are more implicit messages inside which I have not been ready to decode... but I have known it is more than the melody.
Does that happen to you?


The Harmonious Universe An Introduction
Why We Sing What is music and where does it come from?
The Atoms of Music What are musical notes and how do we decide which to use?
Whats In a Tune? Do melodies follow rules and if so which?
Keeping It Together How do we decode the sound?
All Together Now How do we use more than one note at a time?
Slave to the Rhythm What gives music its pulse?
The Colour of Music Why do instruments sound different and how does that affect the music?
Going In and Out of Style What are musical styles? Is music about notes or patterns or textures?
Why Music Talks to Us Is music a language? Or is it closer to the nonverbal arts?
The Meaning of Music What are composers and musicians trying to say? Can music in itself say anything at all?
The Condition of Music

All In the Mind Which bits of the brain do we use for music?
Light My Fire How does music convey and elicit emotion?

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About the author (2010)

Philip Ball is a freelance writer and the author of numerous books, including Universe of Stone: A Biography of Chartres Cathedral and Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads To Another, which won the 2005 Aventis Prize for Science Books.

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