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By Greg Beets, December 1, 2006, Music

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession

by Daniel J. Levitin

Dutton, 314 pp., $24.95

As a musician-turned-
neuroscientist, McGill University professor Daniel Levitin is in a unique position to tackle questions about what constitutes music, what role music plays in various aspects of the human condition, and why it cannot be dismissed as just a happy evolutionary accident. While most of us will have to digest the research findings described in This Is Your Brain on Music very slowly, Levitin transcends peer-reviewed turgidity with concise summations and a ready wit (i.e., explaining that having no cerebellum does not constitute a lobotomy, as the Ramones would have you believe). Levitin begins by reviewing the elements of music – pitch, rhythm, tempo, melody, harmony, and timbre – then explains how different areas of the brain process these elements. Development of musical anticipation and the engagement produced by confounding expectations is illustrated with examples running the gamut from Haydn to Creedence. Levitin explains how we tend to seek more complex musical surprises as the brain develops, yet too much complexity tends to drive listeners away. When the author contemplates the evidence of music's role in human evolution, it's hard to fathom a more profound way of appreciating music.

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