Read "How Music Works The Science and Psychology of Beautiful Sounds, from Beethoven to the Beatles and Beyond" by John Powell available from Rakuten. How Music Works: The Science and Psychology of Beautiful Sounds, from Beethoven to John Powell, a scientist and musician, answers questions about harmony, timbre, Get your Kindle here, or download a FREE Kindle Reading App. How Music Works. The Science and Psychology of Beautiful Sounds, from Beethoven to the Beatles and Beyond. by John Powell. Share. Trade Paperback.
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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. John Powell, a scientist and musician, answers these questions and many more in HOW MUSIC WORKS, an intriguing and original guide to acoustics. In a clear. Discover the answers in this ear-opening tour of how music works. John Powell, a classically-trained composer and a physics professor.
It was actually just exactly the same recording with the beginnings of the notes clipped off. POWELL: Yeah and the other thing is that we recognize what's called the envelope, which is how the loudness of the note changes in time.
For example a harp note, it's a twang and it starts suddenly and then it dies away. But an instrument like a violin the actual note starts more slowly and can last for a long time without dying away. And those are the other things that we recognize instruments by. And there's a lot of psychology in that we're actually trained to respond to certain combinations of instruments with different emotional responses.
For example, if we hear slow violins with piano on top, film music has trained us that that's a romantic feel. So, you know, it's actually a sociological-psychological effect. There's nothing physical about that. There's nothing particularly romantic about slow strings and piano, it's just that we've seen it so often when people are kissing, you know, when various stars kiss various women.
FLATOW: Right, you mention in your book this fact and this is interesting also that ten violins, when they play together, only sound twice as loud to us as one violin does. Why is that? Any instrument it's true of -flutes or whatever. If you got say ten violin players on a stage and one of them starts playing you'll hear that quite strongly and, as I say, the tiny trampolines in your ear will bounce in and out as the pressure waves arrive.
When the next violin player starts playing his waves won't arrive at exactly the same point as the other one. And so you've got one wave pushing your eardrum in and the other one might be pulling it out again at the same time.
Now your eardrum can only go one way or the other and so what happens is a lot of the noise from the different instruments cancels each other out. They're not all pushing at the same time basically. That's only half of the thing though. The other half is that all of our senses are designed to give us diminishing returns. That's why four smelly socks don't smell four times as smelly as one. Or if you're in a cave and it's dark and you light one candle it makes much - a really big difference to your light, whereas if you lit a ninth candle rather than having eight going that would make a much smaller difference.
POWELL: And so all of our senses are designed to notice very small changes when the stimulus is very low, but as the stimulus gets bigger we ignore it more and more.
Enjoying your show, real good. CHRIS Caller : I just wondering if you guys had input on - he's talking about the tendencies how we pick up real small details. Why they changed the tuning hertz from to A or, what was it, on the Solfeggio scale?
You heard his question, right? Yeah, so it's an odd thing. An A is an A all over the world. If you download a clarinet or a flute in Tokyo or New York or London, the A on it will always be the same, the same frequency. Now if you ask people about this they generally thing that the note was decided upon by Beethoven or someone centuries ago for musical reasons.
But in fact, the notes were chosen in London in by a committee, very unmusical. And the reason why they chose a particular note is because they had to use one note. It didn't really matter whether it was A or A or All those notes are equally musical. But somebody had to say this is a standard note, because before that point the people who made flutes and clarinets didn't know how long they should be.
Because the length of an instrument like that tells you what note it's going to give off, and all over the world at that point all the clarinets were different lengths. And so it wasn't actually a decision for musical reasons.
It was a technical one. Basically the engineers who made the instruments wanted to know how long should these instruments be? And they chose POWELL: vibrations per second, that's the rate at which the waves arrive at your eardrum and they just chose it because it's a nice round number near the middle of where everybody around the world was using for A.
But would have been equally musical.
It's just that somebody had to decide something and they decided on Flatow, thanks a lot. I have a collection of music that was given to me by a friend on an MP3 and I've realized that I've been deleting songs off it that I wasn't getting a strong enough happy vibe off of.
And I was wondering what is that always you to discern that music is making you happy and it's not like it's toe tapping, because there's a lot of stuff that's risen, but there's literally this emotional response I derive out of the notes, and it's like, wow, this is just not happy enough that I need a happier song.
You wouldn't be listening to music if it didn't drive an emotion. So what makes - good question. Thanks, Richard. What makes some music happy to us and others makes us feel sad?
Soundbite of laughter Dr. Western music uses a lot of harmony. It's the only music that uses harmony because, you know, we use chords to accompany our tunes, and we can make the chords anxious and because what you've got when you got a chord is three notes or more, all joining together to form a combined wave that's vibrating in and out.
And if the notes in the chord are all collaborating with each other and being, if you like, friendly to each other, then you get a nice warm effect off that chord. If you join some notes in there which don't agree with the other ones, as Hitchcock did in the "Psycho" film music you played earlier - I think that was "Psycho," wasn't it, you were playing?
But that ee-ee-ee sort of horrible jangly sound you get is from notes which actually are competing with each other for your attention, and that's how you get anxiety into your music. And lots of composers in films or in pop songs or whatever can build some anxiety in, and then they release it by coming back to a much more open, friendly chord, if you like.
There's no doubt about that. And also there's - various rhythms are more jolly than others, but the actual emotional effect it has on you can be a combination of these effects and your memories of various things.
FLATOW: We have a couple of clips here that illustrate what you were saying a little bit about the two notes being next to one another and notes being an octave apart. And I want to illustrate what you had to say. Let's play the two sounds. First, the two notes that are a whole octave apart, and the second are two notes that are very close together on the scale. POWELL: The wobble is - if you imagine walking down a street with a friend who's got a slightly different pace than you have, and let's say he's taking 13 steps to every 12 of yours, that means that for most of the time you'll be out of step with each other and then occasionally you'll come into step with each other - every 13th step in that case.
And so if you're, say, photographing that, you'd see the two people out of step all the time and occasionally they come into step. And what's happening with those two notes is that they are very closely matched. They're just out of step with other, and they come into step what sounded like every twice a second there.
It's going wa, wa, wa, wa, wa, wa. And the volume goes up - the sound you hear - as the notes fall into step with each other. It's a fairly horrible effect. I'm Ira Flatow. You know, Dave Brubeck made a whole career out of making music that's slightly out of step but, you know, still sounds very pleasing to the ear. Let's go to the phones.
And let's take a call from Rob ph in Nevada City, California. Hi, Rob. ROB Caller : Yeah, hi. I have a question that sort of relates to the last question a little bit. Neurotransmitter research has now shown that rather than the stable key lock theory, they think the keys vibrate in and out of the neurotransmitter locks at audio frequencies, singable tones, in a sense.
And I wondered if he had a comment on that, in the fact that there are probably tones going on the neurotransmitter level. And also, if you have a harmony, you have rhythm. And so rhythm would be involved.
In a sense, if something is out of tune, it's also out of step, out of rhythm. Let me get one question at a time because there's a lot of concepts. ROB: Okay.
What about the relationship between music and neurotransmitters? 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.
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