How Music Works

  • by John Powell
  • Narrated by Walter Dixon
  • 8 hrs and 6 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

An enthralling investigation into the mysteries of music. Have you ever wondered how off-key you are while singing in the shower? Or if your Bob Dylan albums really sound better on vinyl? Or why certain songs make you cry?
Now, scientist and musician John Powell invites you on an entertaining journey through the world of music. Discover what distinguishes music from plain old noise, how scales help you memorize songs, what the humble recorder teaches you about timbre (assuming your suffering listeners don’t break it first), why anyone can learn to play a musical instrument, what the absurdly complicated names of classical music pieces actually mean, how musical notes came to be (hint: you can thank a group of stodgy men in 1939 London for that one), how to make an oboe from a drinking straw, and much more.
With wit and charm, and in the simplest terms, Powell explains the science and psychology of music. Clever, informative, and deeply engaging, How Music Works takes the secrets of music away from the world of badly dressed academics and gives every one of us—whether we love to sing or play air guitar—the means to enhance our listening pleasure.


What the Critics Say

"Powell conveys the material with enough humor and cocktail party facts to keep the book light and fun." (Publisher's Weekly)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Great book - wrong narrator

The book was entertaining, enlightening, and educational, plus funny. The only problem was the book was written by a Brit, using many humorous British expression and slang. The reader was American and the contrast of British writing and American reader didn't work. At the end of each chapter the author, John Powell, comes in and demonstrates with guitar or other instrument what the chapter was about. The author is hilarious and I wish that he or another Brit had read it. I recommend it highly and I learned a lot!
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- C. Beaton

Nearly everyone will get something out of this!

As a guitarist, choral director and musician of over 30 years, I have a pretty good understanding of the physics of music as well as music theory. However, I came away learning a number of new things from this book AND with a more solid understanding of things I already knew.

While I agree that a British reader may have made the listen a little more fun, the narrator was fine for me. The author's recordings at the end of chapters were good in most cases, but his demonstration of vibrato and rubato were generally not that obvious, even to someone who knew exactly what he was doing and trying to communicate.

His explanation of the overtone series and how they contribute to an instrument's sound was VERY good, as was his explanation of how the pentatonic scales were mathematically derived (something that I didn't know).

The author also did a good job near the end of the book explaining the weird "names" for classical compositions. His appendix explaining the intervals and songs that used them was also very good.

Only other criticism (and it is a small one) is that the use of terms tone and semi-tone is less common than whole step and half step, which may confuse some readers a bit.

All in all a really nice read and the author has a GREAT sense of humor!
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- Tim

Book Details

  • Release Date: 12-20-2010
  • Publisher: Gildan Media, LLC