Why You Like It: The Science and Culture of Musical Taste (Paperback)
From the chief architect of the Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project comes a definitive and groundbreaking examination of why we respond to music the way we do.
Everyone loves music. But what is it that makes music so universally beloved and have such a powerful effect on us?
In this sweeping and authoritative book, Dr. Nolan Gasser—a composer, pianist, and musicologist, and the chief architect of the Music Genome Project, which powers Pandora Radio—breaks down what musical taste is, where it comes from, and what our favorite songs say about us.
Dr. Gasser delves into the science, psychology, and sociology that explains why humans love music so much; how our brains process music; and why you may love Queen but your best friend loves Kiss. He sheds light on why babies can clap along to rhythmic patterns and reveals the reason behind why different cultures around the globe identify the same kinds of music as happy, sad, or scary. Using easy-to-follow notated musical scores, Dr. Gasser teaches music fans how to become engaged listeners and provides them with the tools to enhance their musical preferences. He takes readers under the hood of their favorite genres—pop, rock, jazz, hip hop, electronica, world music, and classical—and covers songs from Taylor Swift to Led Zeppelin to Kendrick Lamar to Bill Evans to Beethoven, and through their work, Dr. Gasser introduces the musical concepts behind why you hum along, tap your foot, and feel deeply. Why You Like It will teach you how to follow the musical discourse happening within a song and thereby empower your musical taste, so you will never hear music the same way again.
About the Author
NOLAN GASSER is a critically acclaimed composer, pianist, and musicologist. Most notably, he is the architect of Pandora Radio’s Music Genome Project and the chief musicologist from its founding in 2000. Dr. Gasser lectures widely on the nature of musical taste and the intersections of music, science, and culture. He received his Ph.D. in musicology from Stanford. He lives with his wife in Petaluma, California. Why You Like It is his first book.
“Why You Like It resembles an earlier form of musical technology, the vinyl long-playing record, with the hits on Side One and the experimental stuff on Side Two. Erudite and educational...as well as an engaging overview of the development of Western music, with fascinating speculative “Interludes” about music and evolutionary psychology." —The Wall Street Journal
"One of those rare books that both geeks and casual listeners can enjoy, combining science, art and sheer enthusiasm to explain why you might love bluegrass while your significant other prefers the blues." —The Washington Post
"A work of staggering erudition and breadth. In taxonimizng the responses music elicits, Gasser identifies the peak high as 'frisson,' characterized by 'thrills and chills"...Why You Like It is a gateway to this exalted state." —The Economist
"A sprawling, packed-to-the-brim study of the art and science of music, as monumental and as busy as a Bach fugue... Gasser's enterprise has a pleasingly mad-scientist feel to it, one that will attract music theory geeks as much as neuroscientists, anthropologists, psychologists, and Skynyrd fans." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A marvelous overview of the science and sources behind why we're attracted to some pieces of music and not others, by a generous and thoughtful guide and a leading musical thinker of our day.” —Daniel J. Levitin, cognitive psychologist, musician, and author of This Is Your Brain on Music and The World in Six Songs
"It is obvious that music is the 'fastest' art form; two notes and something invisible and magical happens. How great then to have a book that helps us understand that mysterious, but fundamental alchemy." —Ken Burns, award-winning documentary filmmaker
"Why You Like It is a beautifully written, fresh, and articulate explanation of the science and art of music that will greatly expand your understanding, knowledge, and love of all music. It doesn't get any better than this." —Steve Miller, famed rock musician and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee
"A remarkable exploration of emotion, psychology, culture, and the musical working of the human brain. This is a must-read for anyone interested in the effects of music on the body and soul of the human experience." —Kurt Elling, Grammy Award-winning jazz vocalist
“This thought-provoking book is destined to become a classic. Gasser’s stimulating insights into music are required reading for anyone who not only likes music, but also desires to understand why its companionship to our species has such ancient origins.” —Donald Johanson, pioneering paleoanthropologist and author of the National Book Award winner Lucy's Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins
“Dr. Gasser clearly had a ball trying to figure out why you like it, meaning that his readers will too. Neither the science of musical preference nor the intricacies of music theory prevent him from telling the story of musical taste in plain, accessible, and infectiously enthusiastic language.” —Elizabeth Helmuth Margulis, musicologist, cognitive scientist, and author of On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind
“In Why You Like It, Dr. Gasser shares with the world the musicological insights and thinking that helps make Pandora so great. His command of the myriad musical components we all respond to, as well as his profound love for music, shines through on every page.” —Will Glaser, cofounder and initial CTO of Pandora Radio
"As much as I love music it has always mystified me. Nolan Gasser is brilliant at explaining the beautiful machinery behind your favorite songs without taking away any of the magic." —Conan O'Brien
"A fascinating exploration into our musical taste from Rachmaninov to Snoop Dogg. There is something for everyone here!" —Malcolm McDowell
“Dr. Gasser takes us by the hand, marches us gently through the universe of musical knowledge, and delivers to us a feast of ideas as to why we are drawn to our favorites. It is a tour de force!” —Michael S. Gazzaniga, "father" of cognitive neuroscience and author of The Consciousness Instinct