Sunday, March 1, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

This is your brain dealing with the world of books

By
September 12, 2010 |

Enterprise columnist

I recently finished a book about music that was a real day-brightener for me. ItÕs a non-fiction best-seller from 2006 called ÒThis is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human ObsessionÓ by Daniel J. Levitin.

It answered many questions for me, including one I posed in a recent column, ÒWhy is it so hard for me, a new guitar student, to memorize songs?Ó I had resolved to learn five songs by heart on the guitar, but the project was going slowly.

Levitin explains that experienced musicians, with hands on knowledge of musical genres and styles, can anticipate what comes next in a song or a composition because they know about structure. Where I need to memorize chord-by-chord, a person with more background has an innate sense of what comes next.

This information was helpful to me, as were many things Levitin pointed out about what the ÒordinaryÓ person can do musically, even with no special talent. For example, we can hear in our heads hundreds of songs in the correct tempo. We also have a remarkable memory for timbre, the sound of the instrument or the voice that produced a piece of music.

He also said something important about foot-tapping: ÒSometimes people tap at half or twice the beat, due to different neural processing mechanisms from one person to another as well as differences in musical background, experience and interpretation of a piece.Ó

You mean, all these years, when I look around and other people are tapping differently, IÕm not necessarily getting it wrong?

What good news.

I like the way Levitin helped me shed my self-criticism to acknowledge my normal ability to take in music, especially its emotional component, and enjoy it as part of my life.

Many of the details he offered made me eager to write a column about what I was learning.

But at the same time, my tension rose as I kept bumping into LevitinÕs orchestra-sized ego. I donÕt know what heÕs like in person, but in his book, he sounds very impressed with himself.

His biography is unusual: He worked in the music business as a successful record producer, and then went back to school to get an undergraduate degree at Stanford and a doctorate at the University of Oregon. He become a neuroscientist who studies music, now on the faculty of McGill University.

Although he duly acknowledges Ñ in fact gushes Ñ over the scientific contributions of others, Levitin has a lot of good to say about himself. He makes sure we learn that he worked, studied and dined with greats; musicians such as Stevie Wonder and Joni Mitchell, and scientists like Francis Crick, whose attention he got by being Ñ he almost says it Ñ just so clever. I began to take breaks whenever he started going on about all the important people he knows.

In my breaks, I wondered, ÒWhy does this happen so often?Ó Someone who teaches me something, someone who seems credible Ñ in a book or in real life Ñ also has a giant ego.

I guess you have to take the bad with the good, but little things started getting under my skin. One example is LevitinÕs subtitle, ÒThe Science of a Human Obsession.Ó Why does he call music an obsession? Obsession is a powerful word. Is it accurate, or is he using it to make his subject sound more impressive?

I think the word is inaccurate. ÒObsessionÓ carries a negative connotation, the idea that we engage in music too much or too often, that individuals can ruin their lives by over-indulging, as they might with gambling or drugs.

For most people, music is a pleasure; for some, probably including Levitin, ÒpassionÓ might be the right word. But Òobsession?Ó

Then I remembered something.

Several years ago Davis resident Sally Springer and I co-authored a college guide called ÒAdmission MattersÓ (now in its second edition with a new collaborator).

One of many things I learned from publishing a book is that authors are handicapped in some of the same ways that journalists are. Newspaper writers donÕt normally compose their own headlines; book authors donÕt get to design their own book jacket.

You can end up with a photo that is dated, blurbs you donÕt like, and sometimes a title you didnÕt write, although ÒAdmission MattersÓ encountered only photo problems.

Did Levitin get to write his own subtitle, or did the publisher foist it on him? I didnÕt see the word ÒobsessionÓ anywhere in the book except on the cover. I began to suspect that LevitinÕs publisher, not satisfied with an already catchy title, made him add the ÒobsessionÓ subtitle with its sour note.

The publisher probably also chose the New York Times blurb on the cover, which says, ÒDr. Levitin is an unusually deft interpreter full of striking scientific trivia.Ó

Levitin would weep to have anything about his work called trivial.

So in the end, I found myself feeling a little sorry for Levitin, a little forgiving and, finally, grateful for a book that brought me new ideas.

Ñ Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at [email protected] Her column appears Sundays.

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Pig out at Farmers Market’s Pig Day

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A1

     
    Sheriff: Mother ‘sole person responsible’ for infant’s death

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Rifle Team has a blast with competitive shooting

    By Savannah Holmes | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Child abduction case in jury’s hands

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1

    Pipeline project will soften water in 2016

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1

     
    Weekend storm drops snow, rain, hail in California

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Christie to Republicans: No rush to pick 2016 nominee

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Bob Dunning: Colon prep can be hard to swallow

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2

    Scouts help fill STEAC’s pantry

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

     
    Parole denied in 1987 killing spree

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Explore Asia at Arboretum storytime

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    MU Games closing in late March

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    Still no parole in toddler case

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    City offers wetlands tour

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    UCD student with meningococcal disease is recovering

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Young patients bond with special stuffies

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4 | Gallery

    Diversity theater group continues creativity workshops

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Radio talk show moves to Mondays

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Assault awareness campaign kicks off

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A4

     
    UCD student panel to cover anti-Semitism, Islamophobia

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

    Yolo Food Bank hosts thank-you breakfast on Pig Day

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

     
    .

    Forum

    Weekly claw pickup necessary

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

     
    Mars or ISIS? Similar outcome

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

    City may get charged up over energy choices

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

     
    Milt Priggee cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: B4

    Rowing: PE as well as life skills

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

     
    Police complaint procedures drafted

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

    Clarifying energy update letter

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

     
    Design innovation centers for the 21st century

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

     
    Speak out

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B5

     
    A new perspective on life

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A7

    Distant water crisis has lessons for Davis

    By Marion Franck | From Page: A7

     
    Call for study to settle if anesthesia poses risk to babies

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

    .

    Sports

    The mystery continues: lowly Gauchos upset UCD women

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Devils get a soccer win despite finishing woes

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Winning close games is the key for DHS softballers

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Aggie men get a bounce-back win at Cal Poly

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Sports briefs: Razo throws well as Aggies get a baseball win

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

    Defending champion Blue Devils have diamond holes to fill

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B3 | Gallery

     
    Republic FC falls to storied New York Cosmos

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B10

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    .

    Business

    Yolo Federal Credit Union honored for supporting business education

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

     
    Online store will celebrate, mock People’s Republic of Davis

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A10 | Gallery

    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, March 1, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B8