Musicophilia Book Summary - Musicophilia Book explained in key points
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Musicophilia summary

Oliver Sacks

Tales of Music and the Brain

4.3 (83 ratings)
20 mins

Brief summary

Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks explores the wonders and mysteries of music as experienced by individuals with neurological disorders. From the therapeutic use of music to the fascinating ways the brain processes sound, this book shows the profound impact music can have on our lives.

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    Not everyone can comprehend, produce or even enjoy music.

    Musicophilia, the propensity for producing and the desire to listen to music, exists in virtually every culture.

    But this doesn’t mean that every single individual is occupied or preoccupied by music. In fact, some people don’t have musical abilities, while others are completely indifferent to music. This latter category of people have a condition called amusia, which means they lack certain kinds of musical abilities.

    One kind of amusia is tone deafness, present in about five percent of the population. People who are tone deaf don’t realize if they hit the wrong notes while singing, and are also unable to recognize when others sing off-key.

    Another kind of amusia is rhythm deafness, meaning the inability to follow the rhythm of a piece of music. One famously rhythm-deaf person was Che Guevara. It was said that when the orchestra played a tango, he would dance a mambo.

    There are also many cultural forms of rhythm deafness, meaning the inability to follow musical rhythms from “foreign” cultures. Research shows that infants can detect all kinds of rhythmic variations, but by 12 months their range has already narrowed down to the ones they hear in their daily lives – the ones in their culture.

    While those with gross tone or rhythm deafness can still enjoy music and dancing, people with amusia in its most absolute sense don’t even experience music as music. For such people, melodies simply don’t sound like music and might even acquire a disturbing character. Instead of hearing what we think of as music, a man with absolute amusia said he heard the sound of a screeching car!

    There are also people who don’t have any problems perceiving music, but simply don’t enjoy it. Certain historical figures reported that they were indifferent to music. For example, in his autobiography, Darwin reveals that in his adult life he lost his feeling for music. And Freud once explained that he never listened to music voluntarily because he was incapable of deriving any pleasure from it.

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    What is Musicophilia about?

    Musicophilia explores the enriching, healing and disturbing effects of music. It delves into fascinating case studies about disorders that are expressed, provoked and alleviated by music.

    Musicophilia Review

    Musicophilia (2007) explores the fascinating and often mysterious relationship between the human brain and music. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With compelling stories of individuals with extraordinary musical abilities or unique responses to music, it reveals the profound impact music can have on our lives.
    • By examining the scientific explanations behind different musical phenomena, it provides a deeper understanding of the complexities of the human brain and its connection to music.
    • Through its thought-provoking anecdotes and insights, it challenges conventional notions of music and showcases its power to evoke emotions, stimulate memories, and even heal.

    Best quote from Musicophilia

    The embedding of words, skills or sequences in melody and meter is uniquely human.

    —Oliver Sacks
    example alt text

    Who should read Musicophilia?

    • Anyone who loves listening to music
    • Anyone who wants to learn how music affects our brains
    • Anyone who wants to know how music can heal people

    About the Author

    Oliver Sacks is a British-American physician, writer and professor of clinical neurology at Columbia University. He is also the author of Awakenings, which was adapted into an Academy Award-nominated film, and the bestselling The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

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    Musicophilia FAQs 

    What is the main message of Musicophilia?

    The main message of Musicophilia is the transformative power of music on the human brain.

    How long does it take to read Musicophilia?

    The reading time for Musicophilia varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Musicophilia a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Musicophilia is worth reading as it explores fascinating case studies where music has a profound impact on individuals with various neurological conditions.

    Who is the author of Musicophilia?

    The author of Musicophilia is Oliver Sacks.

    What to read after Musicophilia?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Musicophilia, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • How Music Works by David Byrne
    • This Is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin
    • On the Move by Oliver Sacks
    • The Poetry and Music of Science by Tom McLeish
    • The Disordered Mind by Eric R. Kandel
    • Phantoms in the Brain by V. S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee
    • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
    • Untangle Your Emotions by Jennie Allen
    • My Name Is Barbra by Barbra Streisand
    • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson