Book review: Why You Love Music: From Mozart to Metallica

I have to say, I was intrigued when I saw the book. Lots of things about music seem intuitive, from movies to how it makes us feel. And the book puts a theoretical aspect on it. So definitely something I HAD to read.

Content and opinions

There are 15 chapters in the book, covering lots of different facets of music. The first chapter tries to associate music genre and psychological profile. It was really interesting to see that the evolution of the music we like is dictated by things we listened in our childhood. And I have to say that my favorite music is indeed tightly correlated to the music style I prefered in my teens! The second chapter is more classic, as it tackles lyrics. Of course, it is easier to dive in a song with lyrics, even when they are misunderstood!

Third chapter is about emotions in music. I think that emotions are definitely the foremost element that composers want to convey. It seems there are basic rules, although it can be different depending on the culture (which was also interesting to know). The chapter also goes on different mechanisms music “uses” to create emotions. Basic conclusion: it is good for you. Fourth tackles the effect of repetition. It seems that it is mandatory to enjoy the music, and I enjoy the repetition of goose bumps moments in the songs I prefer.

The next chapters address the effect of music on our lives, starting with health. The type of music we listen has an impact on our mood, and also indicates in what shape we are. Sad songs, and we may be soothing from something, happy songs, and we may be joyful. Some people also say that music makes people smarter, this is also an element of the book, and the conclusion didn’t surprise me that much 😉

Moving on to using music in movies. I thought a lot about this, and indeed the tone of the music does ‘impact the way we feel about the different scenes in a movie. I likes the different examples that were used here. Chapter 8 was more intriguing, as it is about talent. Are we naturally gifted, or is it work. The majority of the people are not talented, they are just hard-working people (which in itself may also be a talent!). There is hope for everyone!

Let’s move on to more scientific stuff for the next chapters. The explanations on sounds, waves and frequencies were simple but efficient. Of course, as I have a music training and a signal processing background, it may have been easier to figure out where the author wanted to go, but I think that the elements he mentioned and their interactions was simple enough for everyone to understand how music worked. The chapter after deals with the rules of music writing. It was quite nice to see how some rules were analyzed and why they were “created” (like the big jump up, small down).

Going on in the music analysis, the next chapter is about the difference between melody and accompaniment. There are examples in this section to show what happens and explanations as to why the brain can make the difference. The chapter after tackles the strange things that happen in a brain when it creates something that didn’t exist in the first place. The following chapter on dissonance may have been the one I enjoyed the most, as it explains something I felt for a long time: you can’t play ont he bass whatever you want. The notes get murky if there are too many of them, compared to a guitar melody. The physical explanation tied everything nicely together, the jigsaw puzzle is solved!

Then 14th chapter handles the effect of the way a musician plays the notes on the feeling we get. I always think of an ok drummer and a great one, between a jazz drummer and a hitting drummer. The notes may be the same, but the message is completely different and is appreciated differently depending on the song. Finally the conclusion remembers us that we probably used music since the dawn of humanity, and lots of our experience is derived from the usage we made of music since then.

Conclusion

I don’t think I know music better now. But perhaps thanks to this book I can understand how it acts on what I feel. Maybe I over-analyze things too much as well. But I definitely appreciated the analysis of music effect on us!

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