Music: A Very Short Introduction, Paperback Book

Music: A Very Short Introduction Paperback

Part of the Very Short Introductions series

3.5 out of 5 (3 ratings)


This stimulating Very Short Introduction to music invites us to really think about music and the values and qualities we ascribe to it.

The world teems with different kinds of music-traditional, folk, classical, jazz, rock, pop-and each type of music tends to come with its own way of thinking.

Drawing on a wealth of accessible examples ranging from Beethoven to Chinese zither music, Nicholas Cook attempts to provide a framework for thinking about all music.

By examining the personal, social, and cultural values that music embodies, the book reveals the shortcomings of traditional conceptions of music, and sketches a more inclusive approach emphasizing the role of performers and listeners.

ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area.

These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly.

Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 160 pages, black and white halftones and line drawings
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Music
  • ISBN: 9780192853820

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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

Review by

Brevity demands focus or superficiality. Here, Nicholas Cook's essay is largely about a philosophy of music. Eschewing any more than passing consideration of the international history of music, he acknowledges the diversity of music but starts his intellectual journey with Beethoven and his more detailed examples are drawn more from 'Classical' music than Rock or Pop. Despite this, the main thrust of his argument is about our response to music and its creation; there is nothing here about musical structures or forms. As this idea of involvement and perception develops, the book becomes increasingly academic. This is a short sharp introduction for the intelligent articulate non-musicologist who might consider studying further. I imagine that someone seeking such a grounding would prefer this to be the opening of a larger book while those to whom brevity is critical would prefer a broader more superficial approach.

Review by

I quite enjoyed this little book – and in general find the idea of the Very Short Introduction series a good one. I’m trying to learn about music, a topic which I know almost nothing about, and this was probably a good place to start. It doesn’t review any formal topics, more esoteric ones – the concept of the composer/artist as primary source, authenticity and relative importance of one genre vs. another. I don’t feel well versed enough to analyze things any further at this point, but I plan to reread once I’ve got some more knowledge. But here are some quotes I found interesting:“Words do work because they do not simply reflect how things are. We do work with words by using them to change things, to <i>make</i> things the way they are. Or to put it more abstractly, language constructs reality rather than merely reflecting it. And this means that the languages we use of music, the stories that we tell about it, help to determine what music is – what we mean by it, and what it means to us. The values wrapped up in the idea of authenticity, for example, are not simply there in the music; they are there because the way we think about music puts them there, and of course the way we think about music also affects the way we make music, and so the process becomes circular. It is this kind of continuity in thinking about things that creates what we call ‘traditions’, whether in music or anything else.”“High art or ‘art’ music, meant the notation-based traditions of the leisured classes, … Low art meant everything else, that is to say the limitless variety of popular and mainly non-notated – and hence historically irretrievable – musical traditions. Some low art, according to this view, might have valuable qualities of its own, in particular the rural folksongs … such folksongs were seen as conveying something of the unspoilt national character of the countryside and its inhabitants. But that did not stop them being seen as low art, because they did not spring from the individual vision of an inspired composer. The voice of the people might be heard through them, but hardly the voice of Music.”“students are being inducted into the world of Western musicianship, in which music is made up of ‘things’ to hear, constructed out of notes in the same sense that houses are constructed out of bricks. And this has two results. The first is that music is transformed from being primarily something you <i>do</i> (but do not necessarily know how you do) to something you <i>know</i> (but may not necessarily do); … The second is that it becomes increasingly difficult to conceive that music might work in other ways, or to hear it properly if it does; the harder you listen, the more you hear it in terms of the notes and chords and formal types of the Western tradition, and the less you can understand music that works primarily in terms of timbre and texture, say.”

Review by

If you are expecting a book about different types of music, how to read music, or the lives of composers, this book is not for you; it is largely concerned with the philosophy of music. Nonetheless it is a very interesting read, particularly in the discussion of the role of a classical musician vs. that of a manufactured pop singer.