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On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind

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Winner of the Wallace Berry Award, Society for Music Theory Winner of the Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Award, ASCAP What is it about the music you love that makes you want to hear it again? Why do we crave a "hook" that returns, again and again, within the same piece? And how does a song end up getting stuck in your head? Whether it's a motif repeated throughout a composition, a Winner of the Wallace Berry Award, Society for Music Theory Winner of the Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Award, ASCAP What is it about the music you love that makes you want to hear it again? Why do we crave a "hook" that returns, again and again, within the same piece? And how does a song end up getting stuck in your head? Whether it's a motif repeated throughout a composition, a sample looped under an electronic dance beat, a passage replayed incessantly by a musician in a practice room-or an "earworm" burrowing through your mind like a broken record-repetition is nearly as integral to music as the notes themselves. Its centrality has been acknowledged by everyone from evolutionary biologist W. Tecumseh Fitch, who has called it a "design feature" of music, to the composer Arnold Schoenberg who admitted that "intelligibility in music seems to be impossible without repetition." And yet, stunningly little is actually understood about repetition and its role in music. On Repeat offers the first in-depth inquiry into music's repetitive nature, focusing not on a particular style, or body of work, but on repertoire from across time periods and cultures. Author Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis draws on a diverse array of fields including music theory, psycholinguistics, neuroscience, and cognitive psychology, to look head-on at the underlying perceptual mechanisms associated with repetition. Her work sheds light on a range of issues from repetition's use as a compositional tool to its role in characterizing our behavior as listeners, and then moves beyond music to consider related implications for repetition in language, learning, and communication. Written in engaging prose, and enlivening otherwise complex concepts for the specialist and non-specialist alike, On Repeat will captivate scholars and students across numerous disciplines from music theory and history, to psychology and neuroscience-and anyone fascinated by the puzzle of repetition in music.


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Winner of the Wallace Berry Award, Society for Music Theory Winner of the Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Award, ASCAP What is it about the music you love that makes you want to hear it again? Why do we crave a "hook" that returns, again and again, within the same piece? And how does a song end up getting stuck in your head? Whether it's a motif repeated throughout a composition, a Winner of the Wallace Berry Award, Society for Music Theory Winner of the Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Award, ASCAP What is it about the music you love that makes you want to hear it again? Why do we crave a "hook" that returns, again and again, within the same piece? And how does a song end up getting stuck in your head? Whether it's a motif repeated throughout a composition, a sample looped under an electronic dance beat, a passage replayed incessantly by a musician in a practice room-or an "earworm" burrowing through your mind like a broken record-repetition is nearly as integral to music as the notes themselves. Its centrality has been acknowledged by everyone from evolutionary biologist W. Tecumseh Fitch, who has called it a "design feature" of music, to the composer Arnold Schoenberg who admitted that "intelligibility in music seems to be impossible without repetition." And yet, stunningly little is actually understood about repetition and its role in music. On Repeat offers the first in-depth inquiry into music's repetitive nature, focusing not on a particular style, or body of work, but on repertoire from across time periods and cultures. Author Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis draws on a diverse array of fields including music theory, psycholinguistics, neuroscience, and cognitive psychology, to look head-on at the underlying perceptual mechanisms associated with repetition. Her work sheds light on a range of issues from repetition's use as a compositional tool to its role in characterizing our behavior as listeners, and then moves beyond music to consider related implications for repetition in language, learning, and communication. Written in engaging prose, and enlivening otherwise complex concepts for the specialist and non-specialist alike, On Repeat will captivate scholars and students across numerous disciplines from music theory and history, to psychology and neuroscience-and anyone fascinated by the puzzle of repetition in music.

30 review for On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind

  1. 5 out of 5

    Slim Khezri

    "What a great book! What a great book!" You really didn't need to see that sentence written more than once. But when it comes to music, repetition occurs at all levels and is necessary. This book showed me just how much, and why. Written in an engaging style, Dr. Margulis’ book offers surprising insights into repetition as a fundamental feature of music. Drawing on diverse examples from across musical genres, the book is at once a well-researched text at the forefront of its field and an accessi "What a great book! What a great book!" You really didn't need to see that sentence written more than once. But when it comes to music, repetition occurs at all levels and is necessary. This book showed me just how much, and why. Written in an engaging style, Dr. Margulis’ book offers surprising insights into repetition as a fundamental feature of music. Drawing on diverse examples from across musical genres, the book is at once a well-researched text at the forefront of its field and an accessible answer to some of the music world’s most intriguing questions. The text is artfully woven with examples of common musical experiences (melodies getting stuck in our heads, or why we get tired of a song after listening to it too many times) interspersed with descriptions of clever experiments designed to help explain why these occur. The book underpins a most basic human experience with a multidisciplinary scientific approach that is a joy to read. Rigorous and engaging, "On Repeat" draws from many disciplines (music cognition, music theory, neuro-science, linguistics, musicology) to shine a welcome light on hitherto elusive truths about how repetition in music works to "play the mind". After reading this (and as a Musician/ Singer of 25+ years), I'll never listen to a piece of music quite the same way again. In fact, as Margulis showed me, I never could have done anyway. If you are interested in understanding how music (all kinds) works, you need to read this book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Emma Sea

    sampled: not for me

  3. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Excellent content, but dense

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Very interesting subject. In parts a very interesting book. Margulis knows a lot about music and about scientific psychology and also a bunch of other stuff. My rating is a bit stingy, but I couldn't give it 4 stars. What I see as its defects are: 1. it aims for a semi-popular appeal - the title, and the fact that it is not original research but a review or collation of, primarily, the academic psychology literature on the subject of repetition in/and/as music - but it is too demanding and dry, Very interesting subject. In parts a very interesting book. Margulis knows a lot about music and about scientific psychology and also a bunch of other stuff. My rating is a bit stingy, but I couldn't give it 4 stars. What I see as its defects are: 1. it aims for a semi-popular appeal - the title, and the fact that it is not original research but a review or collation of, primarily, the academic psychology literature on the subject of repetition in/and/as music - but it is too demanding and dry, and frankly not well enough written, to work as popular science/musicology, even a high-end version thereof. For me. 2. She sometimes goes a bit speculative and personal (in the sense of expressing thoughts and suggestions that go beyond the findings the research she reports. Again, this is fine in principle, more than fine, but she doesn't quite engage the reader (meaning me, of course). 3. It's not very enjoyable as a read. It's not a pleasure to read. Carping done with, there is a lot of interesting material in here and I would say it's well worth returning to for the content. I was a bit disappointed because I was hoping for something that, like its subject, was artful and enjoyable; it's not that; but it is genuinely stimulating and informative, and - just about - manageable without much specialist knowledge.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kate Hanley

    I suspect it's only worth borrowing from a library (rather than purchase). Kindle's opening sample is not that special, and it invites a lot of skimming. Thesis: "My claim is that part of what makes us feel that we’re a musical subject rather than a musical object is that we are endlessly listening ahead, such that the sounds seem almost to execute our volition, after the fact. This sense of superexpressive voice (see Juslin, 2001) can be pleasurable in and of itself. It is the pleasure of expans I suspect it's only worth borrowing from a library (rather than purchase). Kindle's opening sample is not that special, and it invites a lot of skimming. Thesis: "My claim is that part of what makes us feel that we’re a musical subject rather than a musical object is that we are endlessly listening ahead, such that the sounds seem almost to execute our volition, after the fact. This sense of superexpressive voice (see Juslin, 2001) can be pleasurable in and of itself. It is the pleasure of expansion, of movement beyond limits, of increased power—all characteristic of strong experiences of music as chronicled by existing experimental work (Gabrielsson, 2011). Repetition, I would argue, encourages embodiment. And this embodiment contributes to musical pleasure."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Elaine Lin

    I do not recommend this book because the writing style is too technical, dense, and hard-to-read. It reads like an extended academic paper. I much preferred the books Why You Love Music and How Music Works because they explained the same concept in a more casual, understandable manner. I did like some parts of the book: 1. A study of musicians found that even great musicians didn't really identify as musicians. This is interesting to me because I play ukulele with a lot of beginner musicians, and I do not recommend this book because the writing style is too technical, dense, and hard-to-read. It reads like an extended academic paper. I much preferred the books Why You Love Music and How Music Works because they explained the same concept in a more casual, understandable manner. I did like some parts of the book: 1. A study of musicians found that even great musicians didn't really identify as musicians. This is interesting to me because I play ukulele with a lot of beginner musicians, and they all think they're terrible. They're not. 2. I like thinking about music as "auditory cheesecake."

  7. 5 out of 5

    Almudena

    Un libro muy completo (quizás, demasiado completo) sobre las implicaciones, estéticas y perceptivas, de la repetición en música. Es interesante pero muy académico, denso, difícil de leer... con demasiadas referencias de todo. Está bien para documentarse a conciencia, no para disfrutarlo.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Darlene

    not what I expected. Totally scholarly book. Outside of classical music little modern music is mentioned. I was looking for an analysis of song lyrics and the feelings they evoke. Oh well.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Repetition: a facet of music that is rarely explicitly acknowledged, yet is integral to the art in a way that is totally unique. Margulis's take on repetition delves pretty deep into some rather esoteric areas and points of study, but manages to resurface frequently enough to reorient itself on practical, relatable musical terms. (Even I, with a degree in music, found my head spinning a few times with the specialized vocabulary and descriptions of scientific studies.) I found that Margulis brough Repetition: a facet of music that is rarely explicitly acknowledged, yet is integral to the art in a way that is totally unique. Margulis's take on repetition delves pretty deep into some rather esoteric areas and points of study, but manages to resurface frequently enough to reorient itself on practical, relatable musical terms. (Even I, with a degree in music, found my head spinning a few times with the specialized vocabulary and descriptions of scientific studies.) I found that Margulis brought to my attention so many areas and styles of music that utilize repetition in ways I had never realized or acknowledged. For instance, she touches on the phenomenon of earworms in a way that seems just as relevant as a discussion on repetition as a part of jazz improvisation or large-scale repetitions of sections within an orchestral work. For such a small book, "On Repeat" is packed with intriguing, refreshing musical insights that expand into areas of linguistics, cognitive sciences, and even culture and religion. If you can soldier through the sometimes-too-academic prose, you'll find the book will help you mold a new perspective on the way you listen to music.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    This book was very interesting, although I wasn't expecting it to be quite so technical when I picked it up. The language is very dense and specific, so any non-scientifically trained layperson might have a lot of difficulty following some of the ideas and concepts in this book, but from what I could tell, it was really well put together. I had never thought of some of these things or the relevance of repetition for learning and enjoyment of both music and the basic building blocks of language. This book was very interesting, although I wasn't expecting it to be quite so technical when I picked it up. The language is very dense and specific, so any non-scientifically trained layperson might have a lot of difficulty following some of the ideas and concepts in this book, but from what I could tell, it was really well put together. I had never thought of some of these things or the relevance of repetition for learning and enjoyment of both music and the basic building blocks of language. Some of it was a little over my head, but I did enjoy it and it was worth muscling through. Great book, probably not interesting to most people, but anybody who is into music and/or neuroscience will probably get a kick out of it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dixie

    Good material, but far more technical than I was hoping for. I wanted a better understanding of why I so often have a repeating song in my head, and the answer might have been there, but if so, it was too technical for me to understand.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    781.11 M331 2014

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ted Laderas

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nils Gibson

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ana Rita Mateus

  17. 5 out of 5

    Oriol

  18. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

  19. 4 out of 5

    Paulio

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mark

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lorenzo Massa

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sasha Cameron

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly Quinn

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dana Devlieger

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ziv Elfman

  26. 5 out of 5

    Hamza Mogni

  27. 4 out of 5

    Meg

  28. 5 out of 5

    Andy Olson

  29. 4 out of 5

    Khalil

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cesar

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