Playing music is an experience but learning what goes on psychologically, socially and inter personally is just as engaging to learn about.
There are thousands of books, downloadables and guides focused on helping musicians to learn to count music, how to read music, how to meet other musicians to play with but there are very few books out there that help readers understand their art and how it affects other musicians and the people who are listening to your music.
Regardless of your depth of interest in this field, these three books should be required reading for anyone who plays an instrument and loves to play, create and compose.
1. This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin
Levitin’s book tackles some of music’s most fundamental stubjects with a healthy dose of scientific inquiry and approach to each of them, bringing it all back to why we enjoy music or don’t. Levitin breaks down key technical aspects of music like scale, tone, tempo and timbre and combines them with a palatable mixture of compelling cross-disciplinary reflections spanning neurobiology, psychology, philosophy, cognitive psychology, memory theory, behavioral science and much more.
The book serves as a guide, illuminating diverse subjects like what makes up a diversity of musical tastes and what makes a music expert, framing music processing as a fundamental cognitive function embedded in human nature.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Levitin’s book is that the piece manages to do this while preserving the mystery behind music and the magic that it brings. The book doesn’t over-dissects or over-analyzes music to the point that what makes music so engrossing and encompassing nothing more than a series of facts and objective statements. Levitin does justice to the art form by preserving the integrity and beauty of the craft.
Back in 2008, New Yorker music critic Alex Ross published The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, a comprehensive and encompassing historical and social look at contemporary music. The Rest is Noise was lauded as one of the greatest music history books of all time and still is regarded in high esteem by literary and music critics alike to this day.
In 2010, Ross released his sequel to The Rest is Noise: Listen to This — an comprenensive and powerful effort to explain and understand the world through its musical traditions and norms across the world’s cultures into one comprehensive synthesis through a series of detailed essays and articles.
Opera, folk, rock and even avant-garde acts and musical styles are brought together by Ross as a means to illustrate the world’s musical culture. Though the entire work, Ross manages to outline the greater emotions and symbolism that run through music and transcend genre, player, listener and style, painting a detailed look at how music shapes us as people.
I’ll be the first to admit – I’m not a big fan of self help books. Usually the advice was just that – advice – and nothing substantial or actionable was provided. To me they generally seemed like a waste of time to read. They saddle the line between literature and psychology but never successfully cater to one or the other.
Except for this book.
The Tao of Music: Sound Psychology offers a different kind of reading experience, one that actually helps the reader and the self in a sensible, actionable way that brings you to widen your eyes and nod your head in agreement. The book blends the psychological powers of music with the ideas and philosophy of Taoism to deliver an unusual but addictive and satisfying reading experience.
Through cognitive-behavioral exercises, meditative techniques and melodic visualizations, Ortiz offers a powerful music-driven toolkit for navigating life’s obstacles, and even curates specific “musical menus” of songs and melodies that target specific emotional states and psychological dispositions.