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Monday, June 6, 2011

Review: How Music Works by John Powell

Since I first learned about things like tuning and temperament, the cognitive processing of rhythm, and the perception of timbre, I have had thoughts of writing some sort of universal how-music-works book. Music is usually taught through cultural context (sometimes without revealing this angle), and little to no mention of universal perceptual and cognitive facts. Clearly, however, I am not alone in having this idea of writing some universal music book. John Powell's 2010 book How Music Works: The Science and Psychology of Beautiful Sounds, from Beethoven to the Beatles and Beyond has a same main title that is included in the subtitle of the book I previously reviewed by Philip Ball from just earlier in 2010. These two books are far from alone in this burgeoning arena of authors hoping to enlighten the world to their grand universal insights on the nature of music. Unfortunately, these attempts all fall short of what I would like to see. If I had the same standards as John Powell, I would probably have already written my submission to the field. But I'm trying to learn from the attempts of others first and/or to find existing books I can truly recommend without qualification (Music and Memory: An Introduction by Bob Snyder being among the best I've yet found).