‘How Music Works’

In the time since the last post (admittedly ample), I have read the book How Music Works by John Powell. Though I focused more on the parts relating to the connection between the psychology of music, the book also delves into the general science of music. This is generally regarding wavelengths of sounds, such as what distinguishes any ordinary sound from a note. Yet, while I personally find this fascinating, I’m sure not everyone holds the same curiosity. So, back to the topic of this blog- the psychology.

As said in the previous book I read on this subject, This is Your Brain on Music, one of the main components of the effect that music has on emotions relates to the building, meeting of, and breaking expectations. Though we are not all conscious music theory exports, our subconsciouses know a lot more than we do. We subconsciously follow the trend of the music; the keys, the chord progressions, the time signatures. And if an expectation is met, such as resolving a chord, that pleases us. If an expectation is violated, we are surprised and may feel unnerved.

Many of the effects of music also are due to our own trained notions of associations. For instance, when you hear a soft violin melody, you may associate that with romance due to our copious exposure to this instrument being used in a ‘romantic’ fashion. If you were on a date and a tuba player came out and began to serenade you and the object of your affection with the same melody, you likely would not experience the same perception of romance. These are not responses due to biology, but rather association with culture.

Though there is much more to be gleaned from this book, these are some of the main points to be gained. It’s quite an interesting read, though this is coming from the girl interested in researching the topic for a year. The author also writes on both the topics of music and psychology in a way that those who are not familiar with the specialized terms of either topic can understand. In a nutshell- give it a read.