This is Your Brain on Music – Review – ****

I am finishing up my last year of undergrad. I will graduate with a combined honours degree in Journalism and Psychology, with minors in Biology (genetics, neuroscience, and ecology) and Classical Civilization (specifically, Archaeology). Music is my most treasured art form, and even though I haven’t practiced in years, and therefore sort of suck now, I still can say that I play piano, saxophone, trumpet, and guitar.

All this to say, that Daniel J. Levitin, a musician, neuroscientist, and journalist, has somehow written my book, the bastard! This is Your Brain on Music is, like At Home, another fascinating and fairly far-ranging topic informational, general interest novel, only this one, rather than social history, focuses on the following in relation to music: genetics, neuroscience, anthropology, memory, and cognitive psychology – so…kind of everything I’m actually studying – as well as the study of babies, motor movement, audio and visual systems, and more.

Among the interesting concepts Levitan brought up was the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything. I had a professor at Carleton who said something similar, telling us all that it would take 10 years. So, let’s see…that would be presumably 1000hrs/year, or about 3 hrs/day. I think I could manage that.

Another concept I liked at just wanted to single out: music uses all areas/regions of the brain. It is the only subject we know that does so.

He talked about the Mozart effect, and explained how the complexity bell curve may explain why critics LOVE stuff that isn’t necessarily popular – their schemas are more developed from years of critical listening (or observing, or reading, or whatever the case may be), giving them a physically different mental framework for what constitutes “complex” – not necessarily “complicated”, more higher division from what is considered “normal” in a schema. INTERESTING STUFF.

So with all this, you might think it would be my favourite book ever written, like a bible and life instruction manual in one. And it is very good – like reading a very intimate, fascinating, short, approachable introductory textbook – but it IS just an overview, and it’s full of flaws which you will find fully expounded upon in any amazon book review.

Maybe it would help if Levitan dropped the informality somewhat, so that all his name-dropping would read more like good research citing, and less like…name-dropping (for example, in a phenomenal biography of Capote I read, the author Gerald Clarke knew his subject well, and Capote’s close friends, and other interesting people, but it’s never framed in an “I MET SO-AND-SO and also am totally just as cool as them!” manner; in fact, he doesn’t mention his relationship to Capote until the end of the book, where he clarifies that he was the unidentified “close friend” mentioned often throughout the book; this would be a great 5-star book right there, but I read it a couple of years ago, and I’m not re-reading that 600+ page brick with only 3 months to go until the end of CBRIII).

Also, he commits the same frustrating mistake I chastised Mary Roach for so many months ago (see paragraph 5); characters are reintroduced over and over again. I remember who Bob was from 2 pages ago, thank you, you don’t have to keep reminding me. This wasn’t even as defensible as in Packing for Mars, because at least Roach reintroduced characters from different chapters, so you could, like a textbook, treat each chapter as a separate entity. But Levitan does this paragraphs apart (and what’s more, this book, unlike Packing for Mars, actually DOES have an index).

Cannonball Read III: 17/52

Posted on September 29, 2011, in 100 things in 1000 days, Book Reviews, Books, Cannonball Read 3 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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