Review: Do You Have The Music Instinct?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Image: Oxford University Press

I’ll admit it, I’m no musician. But I have an appreciation for music, and come from a very musical family. I may be the only person in my extended family who hasn’t been trained to sing or play an instrument. (My two forays into the clarinet and the violin don’t count.) But my mom did send my sister and me to classes at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music when I was a kid, and I did have an excellent music teacher in elementary school. So despite the fact that I can’t perform music with flair, I wish I could, and I’m fascinated by the topic.

Enter The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It by Philip Ball. This book is so full of information that you don’t normally find, tackling a topic both simple and complicated. Chapters are titled with musical terms such as “Prelude” and “Overture.” Subject matter runs from what music is, to why and how we enjoy it. Along the way, we also learn about the evolutionary role of music, musical notes, sound, instruments and music’s language. The book addresses physics and biology issues related to music, as well as the history of it and the mathematical patterns it follows. It also tackles regional and historical differences in music, and how and why music makes us feel emotion. And as if that wasn’t enough, the book also gives plenty of ammunition for promoting music education.

Throughout, The Music Instinct references musical examples, which you can then listen to on the Oxford University Press website. This very helpful companion site also has podcasts and further resources, and you can also get more information on each chapter of the book. The book itself has just enough diagrams and musical notations to explain the accompanying text, and also includes extensive end notes, a thorough bibliography and an index.

A great deal of this book went over my head, but it is still a tremendous read for anyone interested in music. It has something to offer people with a casual interest, or for experts in the field. I have learned quite a lot from reading it, and know that each time I look at it, I’ll pick up something that I missed the time before.

You might not pick up this book if you merely enjoy listening to music, but if you’re interested in the intricacies of what music really is, it’s a great resource. To get the most of it, read it slowly and utilize the resources on the companion website.

The Music Instinct just came out this month and retails for $29.95.

Wired: A thorough, in depth study of music, the science and math behind it, its history and what it means to us.

Tired: The book contains much advanced language and subject matter, which may go over the heads of the unlearned (like me).

Note: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes.

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