Musical Illusions and Phantom Words

How Music and Speech Unlock Mysteries of the Brain

Editorial description:

In this ground-breaking synthesis of art and science, Diana Deutsch, one of the world's leading experts on the psychology of music, shows how illusions of music and speech--many of which she herself discovered--have fundamentally altered thinking about the brain. These astonishing illusions show that people can differ strikingly in how they hear musical patterns--differences that reflect variations in brain organization as well as influences of language on music perception. Drawing on a wide variety of fields, including psychology, music theory, linguistics, and neuroscience, Deutsch examines questions such as: When an orchestra performs a symphony, what is the "real" music? Is it in the mind of the composer, or the conductor, or different members of the audience? Deutsch also explores extremes of musical ability, and other surprising responses to music and speech. Why is perfect pitch so rare? Why do some people hallucinate music or speech? Why do we hear phantom words and phrases? Why are we subject to stuck tunes, or "earworms"? Why do we hear a spoken phrase as sung just because it is presented repeatedly? In evaluating these questions, she also shows how music and speech are intertwined, and argues that they stem from an early form of communication that had elements of both. Many of the illusions described in the book are so striking and paradoxical that you need to hear them to believe them. The book enables you to listen to the sounds that are described while reading about them.

Praise for the book:

 "In Musical Illusions and Phantom Words, Deutsch (psychology, Univ. of California, San Diego) proves again why she is a legend in the field of music psychology. She takes readers on a fascinating journey of discovery, sharing her findings about how people perceive and comprehend music.”

-- CHOICE  Outstanding Academic Title, February 2021 

"Musical Illusions and Phantom Words is the culminating product of a brilliant and trailblazing figure who for decades has been at the forefront of music psychology.”

-- DANIEL SHANAHAN Associate Professor, School of Music, The Ohio State University. Review in the journal  Music Theory Spectrum

"Deutsch's book is an elegant and eloquent lesson that our perception of music, like all perception, is no passive conduit. It is an endless pas de deux between expectation and experience, and the brain actively creates the things it hears... This book, almost perfect in its way, rises to its great theme."

-- JASON WARREN, Professor of Neurology, UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, Review in Brain: A Journal of Neurology

"Musical Illusions and Phantom Words offers a fascinating retrospective on the history and science of auditory and musical illusions, written from the unique perspective of one of the field’s founding pioneers. Deutsch’s volume on music and auditory illusions ranks among the classics in music cognition and perception. We believe this seminal work will continue to enrich our understanding of music cognition and sound perception for decades to come."

-- PARKER TICHKO and PSYCHE LOUI, Review in Journal Perception

"This is a remarkable book by an unassailable grand master of sound perception and auditory illusions. The text is very clear and very lively. Finally a book on sound perception has the sounds right on the pages! Point your phone, hear the sounds, it's that easy. Not only the sounds, but explanations from the author in her own voice. I settled in and felt like I was having a conversation with her. Deutsch is a keen and careful scholar, yet manages to make the pages incredibly entertaining. When one reads this book, one realizes that Prof. Deutsch didn't "get lucky" when she discovered her well known illusions. There is a program, guided by deep knowledge and intuition. She shares both with us in this wonderful book." 

-- ERIC J. HELLER, Abbott and James Lawrence Professor of Chemistry, and Professor of Physics, Harvard University, author of Why You Hear What You Hear

"In this delightful volume Diana Deutsch, a living legend in the field of music psychology, invites us into her laboratory. There, with the help of web-based audio files, we can listen in as she tricks our hearing into revealing some of the inner workings of the human auditory system. Dozens of these musical illusions help us to understand the complexity and marvelous sophistication of how we uncover patterns and meanings in the sounds that we hear." 

-- ROBERT O. GJERDINGEN, Professor of Music, Northwestern University, author of Music in the Galant Style

"Diana Deutsch is a true pioneer. In this finely written and yet seriously scientific book, she tells the story of how she discovered phantasms that to our ears are as miraculous as a Fata Morgana is to our eyes. Read and wonder!"

-- STEFAN KLEIN, Professor of Critical Studies, University of the Arts, Berlin, author of The Science of Happiness

"Dr. Deutsch has been one of the world's leading researchers of the psychology of music for over four decades. This book is the culmination of her stellar career of intriguing observations gleaned from her innovative investigative techniques. Her contributions to the field are on par with Oliver Sacks, Roger Shepard, and Jean-Claude Risset. Dr. Deutsch's rigorous yet charming style makes Musical Illusions and Phantom Words equal parts illuminating and fun." 

-- MICHAEL A. LEVINE, composer for film, television, records, and games, as well as a concert music and musical theater composer. He has won eight ASCAP awards and was a Governor of the Television Academy (Emmys). He scored the CBS drama Cold Case, wrote the Spider Pig choir arrangement for The Simpsons Movie, produced Lorde's version of "Everybody Wants to Rule the World", composed the world's first pedal steel guitar concerto, and the Kit Kat "Gimme a Break" jingle. 

"It is a great pleasure to have Diana Deutsch's pioneering work on auditory illusions, and her landmark explorations of the influence of language on music perception brought together in the summation of a stellar career that has profoundly influenced the field of music psychology and cognition. The underlying thread throughout the book is the extraordinary complexity of the auditory system and the wide range of individual differences among listeners." 

-- JONATHAN BERGER, Denning Family Provostial Professor in Music, Stanford University

"Diana Deutsch's pioneering work on auditory illusions opened up a crack through which music and speech perception could be understood in new ways. This engaging volume, laced with anecdotes and firsthand accounts, should pique anyone's curiosity about how the mind hears." 

-- ELIZABETH HELMUTH MARGULIS, Professor, Princeton University

"The Yanny-Laurel meme and other audio illusions actually say quite a bit about the perception of music and speech and the organization of the human brain. Diana Deutsch, the world's foremost expert on these fascinating "perceptual anomalies," makes compelling arguments for a variety of issues, such as that music and speech originated from a protolanguage; that our past experience unconsciously affects what we hear; that music theory can now be put to experimental tests. She has shown that absolute pitch, once thought to be completely hereditary and extremely rare, is not at all unusual among musicians in China, where a tone language is spoken. Anyone who has been mesmerized by Necker cubes and Escher prints will find this book engrossing and entertaining-it is a mind-expanding, ear-opening tour de force." 

-- PHILIP YAM, Science Editor and former Online Managing Editor for Scientific American Magazine


"From her early pioneering work to the present day, Diana's fascinating work and observations on music have captured our imagination and inspired generations of researchers. In this remarkably accessible and deeply engaging book, she expounds upon some of her most intriguing work on the varieties of illusions that arise in music and language, and what they tell us about the mind. This is a world where distinct melodies are heard in the two ears, even though only one was presented, where musicians suddenly experience auditory hallucinations of their own music, and where speech is mysteriously transformed into song. Captivating and profound, Diana Deutsch's book will delight not only to researchers, but anyone who is curious about the human mind."


--WILLIAM FORDE THOMPSON, author of Music, Thought and Feeling:
                                    Understanding the Psychology of Music


"In this beautifully written and accessible book, Diana Deutsch invites us into the world of musical illusions to clarify how music and speech interact and mutually influence how we hear and understand them. Deutsch, a leading researcher in music psychology and cognition for over 50 years, has discovered a large number of vivid musical illusions and used them to shed light on how we hear and enjoy music. Her book also includes many web-based audio files at which you can point your phone to hear the sounds that she is discussing. I loved reading this book and highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in music of any kind and in how music and speech interact."

-- STEPHEN GROSSBERG, Boston University


                  © Diana Deutsch 2019

                  published by:
                  Oxford University Press, New York NY (2019)
                  Identifiers: LCCN 2018051786 | ISBN 978019026833




  List of Modules xi
  Acknowledgments xiii
  About the Author xvii
  Introduction 1
  1. Music, Speech, and Handedness: How Being Left-Handed or Right-Handed Can Make a Difference 10
  2. Some Musical Illusions Are Discovered 24
  3. The Perceptual Organization of Streams of Sound 46
  4. Strange Loops and Circular Tones 61
  5. The Tritone Paradox: An Influence of Speech on How Music Is Perceived 71
  6. The Mystery of Absolute Pitch: A Rare Ability that Involves Both Nature and Nurture 82
  7. Phantom Words: How Our Knowledge, Beliefs, and Expectations Create Illusions of Speech 103
  8. Catchy Music and Earworms 116
  9. Hallucinations of Music and Speech 128
  10. The Speech-to-Song Illusion: Crossing the Borderline Between Speech and Song 151
  11. Speech and Music Intertwined: Clues to their Origins 170
  12. Conclusion 187
  Appendix: Sequential Sound Patterns in Music and Speech 191
  Notes 199
  References 209
  Index 223


Available in hardcover and e-book formats from: Oxford University Press or Amazon

Many institutions have access to the e-book via Oxford Scholarship Online and from the chapter links above. Readers at the University of California, San Diego can, for example, access from on-campus or via the VPN.

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