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Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain is available at

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

by Oliver Sacks

A fascinating look at how music works in the brain.
Published by Vantage 2008,  ISBN 1400033535 [Paperback,Kindle]
  Buy from or or Kindle Store

My son Grahame gave me a copy of Musicophilia for Christmas. Oliver Sacks is a physician and neurologist you may have come across before if you are interested in how people process music. Musicophilia is a fascinating exploration of the wonders of how the human brain processes music. The book looks at many case studies that involve exceptional musical ability, loss of musical ability due to injury or illness, and the retention of musical abilitie when most other musical faculties are lost.

There is much to explore in this book. One thing that interested me especially was the discussion of the ability to identify notes without reference, known as absolute or perfect pitch. Sacks refers to studies that suggest that early exposure to music training increases the likelihood that a person will develop absolute pitch. Other studies have shown a correlation between pitched Asian language and absolute pitch (p. 136). Both language and music seem to most easily acqured when young and seem to have some similarities in the brain.

Later, a discussion of hearing loss describes the brain's ability to reshape itself through musical training. "The brain itself can improve it's ability to make use of whatever auditory information it has. This is the power of cerebral placisity." (P.156). Gives me hope!

Near the end of the book, Oliver Sacks discusses patients with severe dementia and other ailments that seem incurable:

But music therapy with such patients is possible because musical perception, musical sensibility, musical emotion, and musical memory can survive long after other forms of memory have disappeared. Music of the right kind can serve to orient and anchor a patient when almost nothing else can. (p 373)

Music truly is a gift.

There is much more here than I can describe in this review A thorough bibliography at the end of the book can help you expand your investigation.

There is video and more information about Oliver Sacks and his writing and research at

Paperback,Kindle reviewed by Greg Dixon
Sunday, March 1, 2009

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Subject keywords: music psychology neurology personal development