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The Music of My Mind: A Neuroscientist Examines the Recipe for Listening Ecstasy (2006) by Daniel J. Levitin

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The Music of My Mind: A Neuroscientist Examines the Recipe for Listening Ecstasy (2006) by Daniel J. Levitin

Step 1: Survey

  • The author’s purpose is to inform his audience regarding how musicians provide pleasurable and rewarding music to listen to, comparing it to “ecstasy”.
  • Since it is published in an American entertainment magazine, I expect the writing style to be informal.
  • The passage is 4 pages long

Step 2&3: Question and Read

  • How did a neuroscientist examine the recipe for listening ecstasy?
  • The author converged similar points between music and neuropsychology (the study of the relationship between behaviour, emotion, and cognition on the one hand, and brain function on the other.)
  • Why did a neuroscientist examine the recipe for listening ecstasy?
  • To inform his audience that creating “great, unforgettable music” comes from violating expectations and contradictions against the norms of music throughout generations.
  • List of some actions that lead to convergence between music and neuropsychology:
  • Violate expectations: Pitch
  • We are used to melodies being composed of different notes
  • “Something” by The Beatles, the melody plays the same note
  • [This] has masterfully violated our expectations that melodies need to move from one note to another, and further that they need to move from a leading tone to a tonic.
  • Violate expectations: Rhythm
  • A lifetime of musical experience has taught us that (expectation) music contains steady beats, and when the beat stops, the music’s over.
  • Musicians work hard to establish a song’s groove and, when they stop, it becomes sort of neuromusical joke. After a second of silence, the guitar riff comes back and your brain realizes it’s been had- the band members were keeping time all along in their brains, waiting for the right moment to surprise the listener.
  • Variations on a Theme
  • Our brains have evolved to love variety
  • A classical idea is when musicians restate a musical idea on a different instrument (which plays the same melody as the vocal)
  • Paradox and Contradiction
  • Musicians surprise listeners by playing songs we wouldn’t expect them to, or in a style we wouldn't expect.
  • Soft-ballad to abrasive classic
  • “The inherent juxtaposition of styles is musically (and neutrally) rewarding” – two contradicting styles that go well together are rewarding to listeners?
  • Juxtapose Expectations: Rhythms and Genre
  • Rock’s standard rhythmic convention is to have a guitar or piano play downbeats while a snare drum plays backbeats.
  • Reggae turns this around putting guitar with the backbeat.
  • Violate Structural expectations
  • One of the most basic assumptions of popular music: the four- or eight- measure phrase (nearly all rock/pop songs have musical ideas organized into phrases of those lengths) We have incorporated this tendency as a “rule” about music we know.
  • Even though we’ve heard the song 1,000 or even 10,000 times, it still interests us because it violates schematic expectations that are even more firmly ingrained than our memory of this particular song. (M.Jackson- Thriller; Outkasts- Heya)
  • Don’t do the same thing twice
  • Master musicians add subtle shadings of nuance and difference to their parts; each time they play a part, they change it a bit; example: Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”, the beat on the hi-hat is never played exactly the same way twice.
  • It keeps the audience on their mental toes by changing the pattern’s aspects every time, making just enough of it the same to keep us grounded and orientated.
  • Unfold Chords one note at a time
  • This is one of the oldest tricks there is.
  • Composers will often spoon-feed the guitar chords to the audience one note at a time.
  • This builds tension and exercises our brains by forcing them to assemble the notes into a coherent harmonic object; we become participants in the music’s creation by creating in our heads the chords the guitarist implies.

Step 4: Recite

The author has concisely explained connection between music— its composition, how we listen to it, why we enjoy it—and the human brain. Dr. Levitin has given a list of “recipes” explaining why audiences listen and enjoy music. And although these contradict to the norm expectation of most music throughout generations, these anomalies are what make these types of music unforgettable and pleasurable.

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