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Sunday, February 10, 2008

An Excerpt from "Your Brain on Music" by Daniel Levitin

This is an excerpt from the introduction to the wonderful book "Your Brain on Music" by Daniel Levitin. I highly recommend it!!

"Many people who love music profess to know nothing about it. I've found that many of my colleagues who study difficult, intricate topics such as neurochemistry or psychopharmacology feel unprepared to deal with research in the neuroscience of music. And who can blame them? Music theorists have an arcane, rarified set of terms and rules that are as obscure as some of the most esoteric domains of mathematics. To the nonmusician, the blobs of ink on a page that we call music notation might just as well be the notations of mathematical set theory. Talk of keys, cadences, modulation, and transposition can be baffling.

Yet every one of my colleagues who feel intimidated by such jargon can tell me the music that he or she likes. My friend Norman White is a world authority on the hippocampus in rats, and how they remember different places they've visited. He is a huge jazz fan, and can talk expertly about his favorite artists. He can instantly tell the difference between Duke Ellington and Count Basie by the sound of the music, and can even tell early from late Louis Armstrong. Norm doesn't have any knowledge about music in the technical sense - he can tell me that he likes a certain song, but he can't tell me what the names of the chords are. He is, however, an expert in knowing what he likes. This is not at all unusual, of course. Many of us have a practical knowledge of things we like, and can communicate our preferences without possessing the technical knowledge of the true expert. I know that I prefer the chocolate cake at one restaurant I often go to over the chocolate cake at my neighborhood coffee shop. But only a chef would be able to analyze the cake - to decompose the taste experience into its elements - by describing the differences in the kind of flour, or the shortening, or the type of chocolate used."

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