This Is Your Brain on Music, By Daniel Levitin

Reviewed,Laurence Phelan
Sunday 25 May 2008 00:00 BST

We can all appreciate and enjoy music, yet the study of it can seem excessively rarefied, and you'd think the study of its neurological effect on the brain even more so. The success of this book, by a record producer turned cognitive neuroscientist, is both that it goes out of its way to make the general reader feel at ease, and that it celebrates a capacity for analysing and understanding music that is extraordinary – in several regards still inexplicably so – but that is nevertheless shared by any person with a normal brain.

Consider the job that the auditory cortex has to do in separating and processing even, say, the sound of a cat's purr over a refrigerator's hum, merely by analysing the way that various air molecules – which in themselves are, of course, indistinguishable from one another – cause the eardrum to vibrate. Then go and listen to your favourite piece of orchestral music. The listening to and appreciation of music, with its complex interplay between raw sensory data, cognition, memory and emotion, causes every part of the brain to get fired up. Here is a book to do the same.

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