From Mozart to Metallica—the Emotional Power of Beautiful Sounds
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A buffet of insights and oddities regarding “the psychology of music.”

A professor of physics with a master’s degree in music composition, Powell (How Music Works: The Science and Psychology of Beautiful Sounds, from Beethoven to the Beatles and Beyond2010) writes with a breezy style that belies his education. Much of this book involves the translation of scientific and academic research into the popular vernacular, with a wry, dry humor, proceeding from the account of how “early researchers” divided musical taste into two camps: “the posh and the rabble”—i.e., high and low culture, or classical and popular. Some of what the author offers about music’s subconscious effect on the brain is fascinating—e.g., how certain types of music can not only make wine taste better, but will also affect how much you’re willing to pay for that wine. Much of the rest, however, provides researched support for what has long been anecdotally obvious—that music can make us feel happy, that it has therapeutic powers to offset depression, that we respond best to music that is familiar and repetitious, that music is an important factor in developing and asserting our identities, and that we have less penchant for musical exploration after we’ve passed the identity-forging stage of adolescence and young adulthood. There’s sort of a grab-bag feel to the book’s organization, even before the appendices (“Fiddly Details”). The last proper chapter has the same title as the book, and its conclusion offers the answer to the question posed by that title: “Music has the power to alleviate depression, reduce perceived pain, help you cope with various illnesses and disorders, reduce boredom, aid relaxation, help you focus on a physical task, help you bond with others, reduce stress, improve your mood, and fill your life with emotions from nostalgia to joy. No wonder you love it.”

A succinct summation of all that has come before, much of which readers will already know before beginning the book.

Pub Date: June 14th, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-316-26065-7
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2016


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