Book Review: This is Your Brain on Music

by Kimberly on January 7, 2010 · 7 comments

If you read my blog, you know that I am a big fan of neuroscience. The brain  fascinates me and understanding how it works is a big part of my clinical work.

So it should be no surprise that Dan Levitin’s book This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession has been on my reading list for awhile.

And I finally finished it! (Though technically I finished it last month,  but with the bustle of the holidays, I haven’t been able to share this review with you.)In short–I loved it. I highly, highly recommend this book. If you enjoy this blog, then you will love This is Your Brain on Music.

Dr. Levitin (you can access his website here) has a unique background. He began his career as a recording artist and producer, then went back to school, eventually earning his doctorate in neuroscience. He is currently a professor, writer, and researcher at McGill University.

The field of music neuroscience is only about 10 years old, just a decade younger that the field of neuroscience itself. But it’s a field many neuroscientists are interested in because music affects so many different areas in our brain. You understand music neuroscience, and you understand much of the brain.

In This is Your Brain on Music, Dr. Levitin gives a thorough, yet easy-to-understand overview of our current understanding of how our brain processes and understands music. It’s not an easy endeavor. Music touches our emotions, memories, motor system, language, senses–it’s everywhere! Yet he explains this incredibly complex information in terms easy to comprehend.

There are two ways in particular he organizes and explains information that I appreciated. One, his book uses lots stories about music and many real-life vignettes to highlight his examples. Dr. Levitin can just as easily talk about a Beethoven symphony in one chapter and the Rolling Stones in the next. As a fellow musician, I appreciate his musical knowledge and expertise.

Second, major sections begin with observations and questions. These are part of the scientific process. Observations lead to questions, which lead to hypotheses, which lead to testing hypotheses, which lead to learning. Dr. Levitin takes you through this thought process with all the different questions he asks about how our brain processes music. After he asks the questions, he answers them for you.

In conclusion, if you are a music therapist or music therapy student, this book is a must read. Even if you’ve had no neuroscience training, you will understand this book because of how accessible Dr. Levitin makes the information.

And if you are a music lover, you will thoroughly enjoy this book. It’ll get you thinking about and listening to music in new and exciting ways–and wouldn’t that be fun!

If you are interested in learning more about the book, click on this link: This Is Your Brain on Music.

If you’ve already read the book, let us know what you think by leaving a comment. Simply enter a comment in the field below, then click “Submit.”

P.S. One of the reasons it took me so long to read this book is that I don’t have time right now to sit and read. But last fall I finally joined Audible and began listening to audiobooks while driving and working out. It’s the only way for me to read these days.

If you are interested in learning more about Audible, click on the link below:
Audio Books at


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle Payne January 7, 2010 at 10:52 am

I LOVE this book. I am a music teacher, and I have quoted this books more times in my lessons than any other music book out there. The best thing I learned from this book is that music is the ultimate workout for your brain! For people concerned with health, this is a big motivator to get them learning music at any age, and it also encourages those of us who already play 🙂

I loved learning about the different parts of the brain, and I have a self-diagnosed learning disability in science, so you are correct that the author puts it all into simple terms.

Thanks for your post!
.-= Michelle Payne´s last blog ..My First Video =-.

Keiko January 7, 2010 at 10:28 pm

Hello! The title of this book fascinated me and I purchased it two years ago, but actually haven’t finished reading yet. I am an international student from Japan who is interested relationships among brain, music, and language and studies music therapy. When I got this book, my English was not fluent enough to enjoy it…but now I should be able to! You made me want to try the book again! Thank you!

Kimberly January 8, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I hope you enjoy it, Keiko! I think it’s the kind of book you can go back and read over and over again and learn something new every time. ~Kimberly

Kimberly January 8, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Isn’t that amazing? I LOVE how music impacts so many different parts of our brains–and also of who we are. I can’t wait to read his next book that came out last year, “The World in Six Songs.” ~Kimberly

Psychotherapist Los Angeles June 3, 2011 at 12:06 pm

My best friend was reading this book and just passed it onto me. Just started reading the first several pages before bed last night so I’m anxious to get through it. Just like you, the brain fascinates me. There’s so many parts of our brain that haven’t been discovered or have an explanation of. Do you think scientists or doctors will ever find the function of everything that happens in our mind?

Kimberly June 7, 2011 at 9:25 am

That’s an interesting question–“do you think scientists or doctors will ever find the function of everything that happens in our mind?” I think no, primarily because I don’t think we’ll ever run out of questions to ask 🙂 ~Kimberly

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