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Fascinating Books on Music and the Brain

Updated on September 23, 2014

Books I want to read someday about the psychology of music

The subject of how the brain responds to music fascinates me.

Here are a sampling of some books that I would love to sit down and dig into to learn more about how our minds perceive and interpret the mystery of music.

Any of these would make a fantastic holiday gift for me or for any music geek. But I what I really need is the gift of TIME to sit down and read them!

Music is both a passion and a job for me

That's a great thing because it means that can spend a lot of time doing music work. But sometimes the musical things that I "have to do", because they relate to an upcoming choir performance or a pending customer order, can leave me with little time to pursue musical things that I want to do just for the joy of it.

These philosophical books about the psychological responses that humans have to music are an example of the type of musical exploration that I would love to spend more time on. When I can get a break from charting out choir songs and making lead sheets for musicians.

Two of these books I started reading but never finished.

Beethoven's Anvil: Music In Mind And Culture - by William Benzon

Beethoven's Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture
Beethoven's Anvil: Music in Mind and Culture

I checked this book out of the library, dug into the first chapter, and then it got lost! (There's nothing worse than having to pay that replacement fine for a book you didn't even get to read!)

But what William Benzon was exploring in "Beethoven's Anvil" was engrossing and also of particular interest to me as a choir director. He talked about how experiencing music together unites people. He pointed out that when people sing, dance, or play instruments together, they are synchronizing their nervous systems with one another (e. g., you sing a note and I match it, or we both clap in synchrony to the same rhythm). Benzon theorizes that this could be why music is such an important part of cultural traditions, because it causes bonds to be formed by getting people on the same wavelength together.

According to the Amazon reviews of the "Beethoven's Anvil", Benzon goes on to propose theories about music and culture that he hopes will be researched and tested. I wish I had gotten to that part of the book. One of these days, I will.


This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science Of A Human Obsession - by Daniel Levitin

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

I read a portion of the first chapter of this book, and it was fascinating. Levitin talked about how our neurological processing is actually what makes music out of the vibrations that are produced by instruments. Without our brain response, there would be no music. (In other words, if a tree falls in the forest and nothing is there to hear it, it does NOT make a sound.)

Levitin is a veteran of music producing and has worked with many fantastic artists creating historic recordings. He is able to look at the science of sound with fascination and true love.

I didn't finish "This Is Your Brain On Music" because my time ran out and I had to return it to the library. But someday . . .


The rest of the books I have never read at all.

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain - by Oliver Sacks

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Revised and Expanded Edition
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Revised and Expanded Edition

Sacks is a neurologist. In "Musicophilia", he shares case histories of unusual brain disorders that involve music. People who have amazing forms of increased or decreased musical sense, and all of them are physiologically-based.


Musicophilia videos with Oliver Sacks

Music, The Brain, And Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination - by Robert Jourdain

Music, The Brain, And Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination
Music, The Brain, And Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination

Robert Jourdain looks at how our brains piece together the building blocks of music, with an eye toward explaining what specific elements cause us to actually enjoy music (and what influences us to enjoy some musical sounds more than others).


Music and the Mind - by Anthony Storr

Music and the Mind
Music and the Mind

Anthony Storr is a psychiatrist, and "Music and the Mind" leans more heavily toward the psychology side of the mind-and-music equation. He examines the development of the Western tonal music system, how the left and right brains perceive music, and more.

In particular, Storr takes on Sigmund Freud, who was known to be a music hater. Rejecting Freud's argument that music is a semi-neurotic escape from reality, Storr asserts that listening to and making music is a healthy behavior that brings order to the mind and brings a positive outlook that benefits the life of the individual.


Have you read these? Which one is best?

Which is your favorite out of these books (only vote if you've read some of them!)?

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    • MartiLawrence profile image

      Marti Lawrence 3 years ago from Grain Valley, Missouri

      I love music. It can really influence your mood and emotions with an uplifting song, or a sad song being able to make a person feel cheerful or depressed. Thanks for sharing!

    • KarenTBTEN profile image

      KarenTBTEN 3 years ago

      I like reading about the neurobiology of music, too. I've read Musicophilia and some of Daniel Levitin's work It looks like there is more good stuff out there!

    • YsisHb profile image

      YsisHb 6 years ago

      Music can certainly have a great influence on mind and soul, even on wild beasts. Remember Orpheus.

      Music can heal but it can destroy too.

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 6 years ago

      Lenrolled to Keep your Brain Fit and Beautiful

    • sorana lm profile image

      sorana lm 6 years ago

      Very interesting subject and a beautiful lens Joan. I am sure that there is a connection between music and mind.