jump to navigation

Book Commentary/Review – Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker June 21, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Barry Parker, book review, books, Good Vibrations the Physics of Music, music.
Tags: , , , , ,

(This is the fifth of what will be a series of commentaries about a series of seven or so books about the nature of music. The first four commentaries of this series were about the books Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks, This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin, Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain and Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr. This series has been triggered as a result of  my rediscovery of the love of creating and performing music. There is definitely a spiritual connection to this rediscovery, evidenced by my recent release of “Issa Music” and my posts about mystical/spiritual aspects of the music of the progressive rock group Yes (The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans”  and The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes). This further relates to spiritual meditations with the theme of more than one path to God, and the possible coming together of both physics and metaphysics I and II).

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker is the next book I have read in my quest for understanding of how music affects humans the way it does, and if there is a physics/metaphysics connection provided by music. As the title indicates, this book takes us much more “down to earth,” out of the psychological and philosophical subjects I have been reading about in the previous books. Good Vibrations takes us methodically from the basics of sound to the nuances of music, with an emphasis on current music. Parker provides clear diagrams—of sound waves, of the precise components of our ears, our organs used to sense the sound waves, of graphs meticulously describing in physics terms what we sense as pitch, volume, and timbre. I suspect as I try to make sense of music, humans, and the physical and the spiritual, a precise understanding down to the most basic concepts of physics, to the molecular, even atomic and subatomic levels, will help us draw connections. Parker’s book gives us those basics in clear, understandable descriptions. 

Parker then goes on to discuss scales, chords and rhythms, mainly within a Twenty-First Century Western context. This includes examinations of various styles of popular music. He also goes through various musical instruments, detailing how they make sound. Again, the focus is all on the Western instruments. This part of the book includes a detailed examination of the human voice—how sound becomes singing. He also addresses electronic music including the concept of MIDI, and he discusses acoustics. 


This book will not by itself answer questions of music’s connection to metaphysics, and whether there is some connection that music may offer humans to what ever deity exists. But the clear descriptions of the physics of music make this book a good reference as I seek to discover whatever connection there may be. The closest Parker’s book comes to something beyond nuts and bolts is when he discusses “making music beautiful” in Chapter Four. He looks at waves and harmonics, looking at the numbers associated with them. As I have stated before, we know mathematics, numbers, have to be universal everywhere. Conscious intelligent creatures all over the universe can have many different ways of living, of perceiving reality, of culture and political organization. But two plus two will always be four, three squared will always be nine, and so forth on to the most complex mathematical ideas. Mathematics is the best bet for communication with another intelligent life form. Is music also universal? Is there something about the physics of sound that makes music universal? Parker does not answer those questions. But his clear, simple, easy-to-understand presentation of basic concepts will allow the analysis to help ferret out the answers to these questions, bringing us closer to an answer as to whether music has some universal qualities, maybe even offering a doorway, a passageway, from the physical to the metaphysical.


1. gregvan - June 21, 2012

Playing an acoustic guitar sends sound waves directly into the abdomen. I believe that there is healing power of those waves. By singing at the same time… a lot of sound waves are inside the body. Then there is the joy of the lyrics. For example: Singing “Yellow Submarine” in the Park surrounded by singing people in Chico… was bliss.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: