Cover image for This is your brain on music : the science of a human obsession / Daniel J. Levitin.
This is your brain on music : the science of a human obsession / Daniel J. Levitin.


Publication Information:
New York : Plume, 2007, ©2006.
Physical Description:
x, 322 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Introduction: I love music and I love science -- why would I want to mix the two? -- What is music?: from pitch to timbre -- Foot tapping: discerning rhythm, loudness, and harmony -- Behind the curtain: music and the mind machine -- Anticipation: what we expect from Liszt (and Ludacris) -- You know my name, look up the number: how we categorize music -- After dessert, crick was still four seats away from me: music, emotion, and the reptilian brain -- What makes a musician?: expertise dissected -- My favorite things: why do we like the music we like? -- The music instinct: evolution's #1 hit -- Appendices.
Explores the relationship between the mind and music by drawing on recent findings in the fields of neuroscience and evolutionary psychology to discuss such topics as the sources of musical tastes and the brain's responses to music.


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
781.11 LEV Book Adult General Collection

On Order



In this groundbreaking union of art and science, rocker-turned-neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin explores the connection between music--its performance, its composition, how we listen to it, why we enjoy it--and the human brain.

Taking on prominent thinkers who argue that music is nothing more than an evolutionary accident, Levitin poses that music is fundamental to our species, perhaps even more so than language. Drawing on the latest research and on musical examples ranging from Mozart to Duke Ellington to Van Halen, he reveals:

* How composers produce some of the most pleasurable effects of listening to music by exploiting the way our brains make sense of the world
* Why we are so emotionally attached to the music we listened to as teenagers, whether it was Fleetwood Mac, U2, or Dr. Dre
* That practice, rather than talent, is the driving force behind musical expertise
* How those insidious little jingles (called earworms) get stuck in our head

A Los Angeles Times Book Award finalist, This Is Your Brain on Music will attract readers of Oliver Sacks and David Byrne, as it is an unprecedented, eye-opening investigation into an obsession at the heart of human nature.

Author Notes

Daniel J. Levitin was born on December 27, 1957 in San Francisco, California. He studied electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and music at the Berkley College of Music before dropping out of college to become a record producer and professional musician. He returned to school in his thirties, where he studied cognitive psychology/cognitive science, receiving a B.A. from Stanford University in 1992 and a M.Sc. in 1993 and Ph.D. in 1996 from the University of Oregon.

He is a cognitive psychologist, neuroscientist, and author. He runs the Levitin Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill University. He has published extensively in scientific journals and music trade magazines such as Grammy and Billboard. He is also the author of several books including This Is Your Brain on Music, The World in Six Songs, and The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Think of a song that resonates deep down in your being. Now imagine sitting down with someone who was there when the song was recorded and can tell you how that series of sounds was committed to tape, and who can also explain why that particular combination of rhythms, timbres and pitches has lodged in your memory, making your pulse race and your heart swell every time you hear it. Remarkably, Levitin does all this and more, interrogating the basic nature of hearing and of music making (this is likely the only book whose jacket sports blurbs from both Oliver Sacks and Stevie Wonder), without losing an affectionate appreciation for the songs he's reducing to neural impulses. Levitin is the ideal guide to this material: he enjoyed a successful career as a rock musician and studio producer before turning to cognitive neuroscience, earning a Ph.D. and becoming a top researcher into how our brains interpret music. Though the book starts off a little dryly (the first chapter is a crash course in music theory), Levitin's snappy prose and relaxed style quickly win one over and will leave readers thinking about the contents of their iPods in an entirely new way. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this exploration of the brain-music relationship, musician and neuroscientist Levitin, who heads the Levitin Laboratory for Musical Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill University, begins by defining and explaining musical terms. Lay readers can take these chapters as reference material; musicians and scientists will grasp the apparatus of organized sound, hearing, and brain function, structured in detail with examples ranging from Johann Sebastian Bach to the Beatles. Following that material is an explanation of how music arouses and plays with expectations, creates tension and resolution, and provides insights into brain structure and function. Levitin concludes with three delightful chapters: "What Makes a Musician?" (10,000 hours of practice), "My Favorite Things" (why we like what we like), and "The Music Instinct," in which he argues-against experimental psychologist Steven Pinker-that music plays a role in evolution (singers and dancers are perceived as being more attractive as mates). In Levitin's study, current brain research becomes comprehensible through music-a wonderful accomplishment. Along with Anthony Storr's Music and the Mind and Kathleen Marie Higgins's The Music of Our Lives, this book extends the appreciation of music as neural training. Essential for most libraries.-E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.