• How Music Works

  • The Science and Psychology of Beautiful Sounds, from Beethoven to the Beatles and Beyond
  • By: John Powell
  • Narrated by: Walter Dixon
  • Length: 8 hrs and 6 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 20-12-10
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Gildan Media, LLC
  • 4 out of 5 stars 4.1 (77 ratings)


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.
©2010 John Powell (P)2010 Gildan Media Corp
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Critic reviews

"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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Regular price: £22.99

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By M. Russell on 24-03-11

Music is my business

So THAT is why melody works! And why loudness is so hard to measure... If you are just mildly interested in how music works and why it by-passes the brain to reach directly to the soul, then this is a work that will keep you glued to your earphones. Its is well read but, and this is the best part, well illustrated in music by the author with his end-of-chapter appearances. So its a treat, whatever music you enjoy. And even though I've been a broadcaster and closely involved with music for over fifty years there was plenty to learn and marvel at in this book by John Powell. I'd love to do an interview with him!

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10 of 10 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By Lindy on 25-04-11


An enjoyable book - well written and the technical information is explained very well so that anyone can understand it. Parts will be boring for those with musical training, but there is enough other substance to ensure that everyone learns something. The audio 'illustrations' at the end of some of the chapters are useful too. I think it is a brilliant book for people who are perhaps learning an instrument and are wanting to understand where all the technical intricacies originated.

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6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By C. Beaton on 25-01-11

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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25 of 25 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By Tim on 18-02-11

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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19 of 19 people found this review helpful

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