“Why You Love Music”, by John Powell

This book is, without a doubt, the most engaging and most enjoyable book about music that I have read. It is not about music per se, rather it is about the psychology of listening to music. I love it.

The book opens with an interesting statistical correlation linking personality types to different music genres. Then the book describes a fascinating experiment, where different types of music were played in a supermarket, to understand the influence on wine purchases. German music induced greater sales of German wines, while French music induced purchases of French wines. Classical music induced more sales of expensive wines. Wine taste tests showed that playing heavy or light music induced subjective observations of wines being “heavy” or “light”. In restaurants, slow music induces slower bites and greater spending on drinks.

The book describes seven basic psychological mechanisms for producing emotions through music. These seven mechanisms can be useful for survival in non-musical contexts. The unstated implicit deduction is that perhaps evolution, in furthering survival, also plays a hand in generating emotional responses to music.

The book describes how we like music that has repetitions. Music with repetitions is much more memorable, and sets up a context for unexpected contrasts.

Music has been proven to be a good therapy for many physical and mental disorders–so long as the patient chooses the music. Without the benefit of choice, music can be detrimental. The so-called “Mozart Effect” works by putting you into an enjoyable state of mind. Any upbeat music or even listening to a Stephen King can potentially have the same effect.

What surprised me, was a statistical analysis that found there is no correlation between music skills and mathematical ability. It is difficult to figure out cause and effect between music skills and intelligence. There are no strong correlations. Musically-trained people have better listening skills, a better memory for things heard, better language ability, and better visuo-spatial skills. There is some evidence that musical training does lead to a slight increase in IQ.

Film soundtracks have been shown to influence viewers, changing their opinions of the characters. Sometimes music alone is more effective than the dialogue in getting a desired message across.

I was flabbergasted to read that in 2015, the song “Happy Birthday” was ruled not to be under copyright. It is the most-sung song ever.

There is an interesting chapter on counterpoint–although for some reason, that term is not used. The chapter describes how the mind sorts out melodies, when multiple melodies are playing.

Most of all, I loved the humor that shines through everywhere in the book. As one example, Sir Thomas Beecham described the harpsichord as sounding like “two skeletons copulating on a tin roof during a thunderstorm.” Well, maybe this isn’t the best example, but the humor puts me into a wonderful frame of mind for reading this excellent book.

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