This is essential reading for people who listen to music, and that means almost everyone. It gives considerable scholarly detail on what music consists of, as understood by a professor of music presently at McGill University. It is authoritative and meaningful. Get the book at Amazon – THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON MUSIC by Daniel J. Levitin. Here is a 16-minute video of Levitin that gives a quick introduction with some suggestions of how music can help your life.
The last chapter of the book brings up a scholarly argument based on some comments made in a lecture on the evolutionary origins of music given at MIT in 1997 by the Harvard linguist Steven Pinker. Those twenty-year-old comments asserted, “The cognitive mechanisms that we, as cognitive psychologists and cognitive scientists, study, mechanisms such as memory, attention, categorization, and decision-making, all have a clear evolutionary purpose.” He said that “Music is auditory cheesecake,” “It just happens to tickle several important parts of the brain in a highly pleasurable way, as cheesecake tickles the palate.” Those were fighting words for scientists, and sure enough they rose to the challenge. The last twenty pages of this book prove that music does have an evolutionarily valid reason for existing. The concluding sentences cap Levitin’s contention that music has an evolutionary foundation. “As a tool for activation of specific thoughts, music is not as good as language. As a tool for arousing feelings and emotions, music is better than language. The combination of the two—as best exemplified in a love song—is the best courtship display of all.”