BookshelfJacob deGroot-Maggetti

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain – Oliver Sacks

Summary: Referring to psychological studies, case studies from the literature, and the experiences of his own correspondents and patients, Oliver Sacks explores how the human brain responds to, processes, and creates music. Many distinct neural processes are involved in making sense of music.

Thoughts: I found this book worthwhile but not earth-shattering. Even as Sacks writes about his “patients”, he makes a point emphasising their individuality and humanity rather than treating them as “subjects”. The chapters on synesthesia and Williams syndrome interested me most.

(The notes below are not a summary of the book, but rather raw notes - whatever I thought, at the time, might be worth remembering.)

Sacks, Oliver. 2007. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. Alfred A. Knopf.


Part I: Haunted by Music

1. A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia

2. A Strangely Familiar Feeling: Musical Seizures

3. Fear of Music: Musicogenic Epilepsy

4. Music on the Brain: Imagery and Imagination

5. Brainworms, Sticky Music, and Catchy Tunes

6. Musical Hallucinations

Part II: A Range of Musicality

7. Sense and Sensibility: A Range of Musicality

8. Things Fall Apart: Amusia and Dysharmonia

9. Papa Blows His Nose in G: Absolute Pitch

10. Pitch Imperfect: Cochlear Amusia

11. In Living Stereo: Why We Have Two Ears

12. Two Thousand Operas: Musical Savants

13. An Auditory World: Music and Blindness

14. The Key of Clear Green: Synesthesia and Music

Part III: Memory, Movement, and Music

15. In the Moment: Music and Amnesia

16. Speech and Song: Aphasia and Music Therapy

17. Accidental Davening: Dyskinesia and Cantillation

18. Come Together: Music and Tourette’s Syndrome

19. Keeping Time: Rhythm and Movement

20. Kinetic Melody: Parkinson’s Disease and Music Therapy

21. Phantom Fingers: The Case of the One-Armed Pianist

22. Athletes of the Small Muscles: Musician’s Dystonia

Part IV: Emotion, Identity, and Music

23. Awake and Asleep: Musical Dreams

24. Seduction and Indifference

25. Lamentations: Music and Depression

26. The Case of Harry S.: Music and Emotion

27. Irrepressible: MUsic and the Temporal Lobes

28. A Hypermusical Species: Williams Syndrome

Summary: Children with Williams syndrome tend to be “extraordinarily responsive to music” (319), have an “unusual command of language” (322), and are “friendly and loquatious (322)” - all traits that persist into adulthood.

29. Music and Identity: Dementia and Music Therapy

Posted: Jan 24, 2021. Last updated: Aug 31, 2023.