Saturday, October 30, 2010

This is Your Brain on Music – A Review



This is Your Brain on Music (Daniel J. Levitin) is one of the best popular science books I’ve read. I find the subject matter personally appealing and the author does a good job a discussing scientific ideas in a manner accessible by the general public.

The problems I did have with the book were not a fault of the author’s, but of my own tendency to not enjoy such books. He insulted physics at least twice (in fairness, his aim was to make an endearing joke poking fun at a discipline the majority of the population does find annoying) and I found his use a musical references to be superfluous. Even if I was familiar to the music he was using as examples, the usage of these examples still went overboard at times.

The last third of the book, as with the first few chapters, was more science based with fewer personal tangents. The chapter What Makes a Musician? was appealing to me both as an amateur musician and for the psychological parallels between learning new musical skills and learning new behavioural and cognitive skills. In this chapter he references a study in which the results indicated that a predisposition toward talent can be overridden by practice. He also emphasises the importance of caring about what you are doing, “…caring leads to attention, and together they lead to measurable neurochemical changes. Dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with emotional regulation, alertness, and mood, is released, and the dopaminergic system aids in the encoding of memory traces.”

Another quote: “Although music certainly uses brain structures and neural circuits that other activities don’t, the process of becoming a musical expert…requires many of the same personality traits as becoming an expert in other domains, especially diligence, patience, motivation, and plain old-fashioned stick-to-it-iveness.” The importance of these qualities to overcoming any psychological illness is obvious.

Final Rating: For people without a background in music or neuroscience, this is a wonderful book. For those with a background, it is still entertaining and one can easily skim through sections they find trivial.

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