How Music Works

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How Music Works is David Byrne’s buoyant celebration of a subject he has spent a lifetime thinking about. Drawing on his work over the years with Talking Heads, Brian Eno, and myriad collaboratorsalong with journeys to Wagnerian opera houses, African villages, and anywhere music existsByrne shows how music emerges from cultural circumstance as much as individual creativity. It is his magnum opus, and an impassioned argument about music’s liberating, life-affirming power.

Product Details

  • Publisher: McSweeney’s; REV UPD edition (2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1938073533
  • ISBN-13: 978-1938073533
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds

Customer Reviews

Musical Musings: A Hodge-Podge

187 people found this helpful.
 on September 6, 2012
By Dr. Debra Jan Bibel
Byrne begins his wide-ranging historical, technological, psychological and sociological examination of music with a novel insight: architecture of musical venues shape composition and instrumental arrangements. Regarding huge gothic cathedrals, intimate nightclubs, and jungle camp sites, room reverberation, volume of space, and audience vocal ambience dictate modal versus scale works, instrument development, and performance dynamics. The great revolutionary divide was recording technology, and musicians discovered that what works live does not necesarily achieve the same result on vinyl, tape, CD, or .mp3, and vice versa. Expectations often lead to disappointment and the performance and performer suffers. With such an interesting introduction, the book offers much promise. It almost fulfills expectations with both personal and general tidbits and theses that reward the reader, though for myself his personal examples are somewhat weaker.

My Favorite Book of 2012

7 people found this helpful.
 on December 24, 2012
By Michael P. McCullough
It would be difficult to praise this book too much.

Insightful, entertaining & highly recommended for anyone making music

3 people found this helpful.
 on October 8, 2012
By Kat In The Hat
This is a masterwork – David Byrne has really outdone himself with this erudite, well-thought-out & insightful book that is part auto-biography, but is mostly him sharing the wisdom from his long eclectic music career.

Music & more!

2 people found this helpful.
 on October 22, 2012
By Acorn
David Byrne is best known for his work with Talking Heads, his collaborations with various other artists and the diversity of the musical styles that he embraces. He is an enthusiastic amateur in the original sense of that word: a man in love with music. In recent years he has also taken to writing and it is hard not to be impressed by the keen interest he takes in the world around him. This is the first book in which he turns his attention to music: what it is, why it moves us, how it has been shaped by technology and its physical surroundings, and the way that modern capitalism turned it into a lucrative business. Well, lucrative for some.

Don’t Fear the Music

 on September 11, 2017
By R. Eaton
Enjoying the book as both a fan of the Talking Heads and the subject matter. Well written, insightful and interesting. Great read on influence of music in our lives in both personal and cultural levels. Highly recommended.

Superb Mix of Anecdotes and Theory

One person found this helpful.
 on January 8, 2013
By Thomas J Weber
I highly recommend David Byrne’s chatty, but solidly researched, book on contemporary music. His chapters on career paths in music and the ingredients of a successful music scene are worth the price of admission. I was reminded a bit of Malcolm Gladwell in the way that Byrne borrows widely from other authors (Mark Katz’s book Capturing Sound is a prominent example) but is generous with attribution and suggested reading. The book is the perfect blend of anecdotes from a wide-ranging career in music along with theoretical observations about music and its role in our lives.

This book is changing my perspectives…

 on June 19, 2014
By Duncan Milne
David Byrne is fascinating, influential and has been involved in some of the best music that I’ve enjoyed. However, I find the voice in this book difficult. Fortunately this doesn’t really matter.


 on November 29, 2012
By C. Davis
I have been a Talking Heads listener for 30 years. For some reason that escapes me now I began to read How Music Works. To my delight I found it compelling.

Kindle version

4 people found this helpful.
 on December 10, 2012
By Em
The book is very good, and the graphics are great in the printed version, but are not so great in the Kindle as low resolution makes it hard to read some of the graphics. Even with reading it on the Kindle, I really enjoyed this book and felt I didn’t miss much. You can always visit a bookstore to check out the graphics in better detail 😉 His thoughts on performance really made me reconsider how I present my work as a dancer, and on pop music and amateur performance are really refreshing and encouraging in a world where classical music and ballet are considered gods.

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