I found the introduction to basic music theory as it pertains to science that this book provides to be a very useful refresher course. I learned some things about frequencies and amplitudes in sound waves and how those related to pitch, loudness, etc. from a previous class. I really enjoyed reading about them again in this book, though, because the examples the author provides really clarified the concepts and his stories made for an interesting read. Below are a few things I noted (either out of confusion, amazement, or just plain interest) as I was reading the chapter.
1. In the introduction when Levetin discusses his first pair of stereo headphones, I was brought back to the summer prior when I purchased (after many years of using tiny earbuds and inexpensive computer speakers) a good quality pair of headphones. “Records were no longer just about the songs anymore, but about the sound.” When reading this, I found myself smiling and nodding along, thinking, “Yes! This is exactly how I felt about it, too!”
2. Levetin mentions how in many languages, the word singing also means to dance and that in some cultures singing and dancing go hand in hand. I found this interesting because most often, people don’t dance without music, but I never considered singing to be an essential part of dancing in the same way that music is.
3. The idea that music can be defined as “organized sound” is a simple, elegant definition. Often times I listen to abstract, unusual music and wonder how anybody can consider such noise to be music… however, simply having intention behind the noise is a fantastic way to make the distinction between actual music and just plain annoying sound!
4. The relationship between the key of C major and A minor (that we use the exact same notes to create completely different sounding music) was not one I had previously considered. This relationship really clarified for me why songs can sound incomplete when they begin or end on notes other than the tonic note.
5. Levetin’s choices of 6 songs that defined Rock and Roll music made me consider what 6 songs I would choose if I were tasked with defining a genre of my generation. This also made me wonder if 6 would be enough, or even too many? I was reminded of 6 word memoirs and couldn’t help but wonder… why 6?
6. The most jarring concept I came across in this chapter was the idea that pitch is completely psychological. When I first read this, I didn’t understand at all what Levetin was trying to describe. However, as the chapter progressed he explained it further, it really came together as a concept. I think all our senses can in fact be described as purely psychological, since nothing feels like anything until someone touches it; nothing has a scent until a being smells it; etc.
(On a related note, perhaps the best part of the entire chapter was when Levetin puts to rest the question of whether a tree falling in the woods makes a sound if nobody is there to hear it. As a girl who grew up in the woods with a father who asked me that question consistently, I can finally give him a definitive answer after all these years - NO! - and back it up with science.)
This is a response to the reading This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levetin, introduction and chapter 1.