The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music (1991)

The Listening Book is about rediscovering the power of listening as an instrument of self-discovery and personal transformation. By exploring our capacity for listening to sound and for making music, we can awaken and release our full creative powers. Mathieu offers suggestions and encouragement on many aspects of music-making, and provides playful exercises to help readers appreciate the connection between sound, music, and everyday life.

A true gift for music-makers of any stripe. It offers us not only the insights of a master teacher and the instincts of a great musician, but it radiates with that wonderful quality of a man who wears his soul on his sleeve.  —  Paul Winter, Composer and musician

From the introduction: Listening is receptive. You allow something outside your body to come inside, into your deep brain, into your private of privates. To listen is to be vulnerable. To be open and impressionable, to hear everything, is dangerous…. This book teaches you how to listen safely and openly to the world around you. It shows you how listening can be a way of life, and how life can become musical to the awakened ear. If you want it to, this book will guide you to your own music.

The Musical Life: Reflections on What It Is and How to Live It (1994)

From the preface: Being musical does not necessarily mean being a musician; it doesn’t mean playing the piano at parties or composing songs for lovers. It is a way of being awake, an angle of perception, a tilt of the ear. The musical ear knows it is innately in tune with the universe. A person can talk or move musically, or simply be harmonious without being a fine violinist. You do not need a musician’s craft to know that both you and music are made from the same design.

Everyone, according to W. A. Mathieu, is musical by nature  —  it goes right along with being human. And if you don’t believe it, this book is all you’ll need to be convinced. Mathieu takes us on a journey through everyday experiences to open our ears to the rich variety of music that surrounds us but that we are trained to ignore-such as the variety of pitches produced by different objects, like dishes, furniture, drums, dogs-anything you can tap; or sounds that hover on the borders of music, like laughter, the clinking of glasses in a toast, or the unintentional falsetto produced by yawning. Along the way he teaches aspects of music theory that nonmusicians might ordinarily shy away from. Mathieu reveals how sensitivity to the music that surrounds us can deepen our appreciation for all of life and become a profoundly spiritual path — one that is everyone’s birthright.

Harmonic Experience: Tonal Harmony From Its Natural Origins to Its Modern Expression (1997) (1991)

An exploration of musical harmony from its ancient fundamentals to its most complex modern progressions, addressing how and why it resonates emotionally and spiritually in the individual. W.A. Mathieu, an accomplished author and recording artist, presents a way of learning music that reconnects modern-day musicians with the source from which music was originally generated. As the author states, “The rules of music—including counterpoint and harmony — were not formed in our brains but in the resonance chambers of our bodies.” His theory of music reconciles the ancient harmonic system of just intonation with the modern system of twelve-tone temperament. Saying that the way we think music is far from the way we do music, Mathieu explains why certain combinations of sounds are experienced by the listener as harmonious. His prose often resembles the rhythms and cadences of music itself, and his many musical examples allow readers to discover their own musical responses.

Please try to buy a new copy of Harmonic Experience, for the reasons stated below.

If you’re looking for a used copy, please do not purchase any of the first four printings, which you can identify by looking at the printer’s number line (near the bottom of the copyright page); the lowest number in that line is the printing number of the book in your hand.

The first printing of Harmonic Experience contained quite a few errors, for which errata are available. The third and fourth printings, in particular, contain truly egregious errors.

Instead, please look for a copy that is at least the fifth printing. As of August 2019, the eighth printing is the most recent.

Bridge of Waves: What Music Is and How Listening to It Changes the World (2010)

From the introduction: Neither heaven nor earth, music is the middle way, a wave bridge between nameable and nameless, between relative and absolute, thinking and feeling, the grammar of language and the cadences of the sea. It weaves the world together in an energetic web. I describe how this bridge made of waves behaves, where it goes, and how to use it to get where you’re going.

Mathieu has found the words to tell the power of music.  —  Pete Seeger
Who coaches Minerva’s owl to hoot in tune? Why, it’s none other than W. A. Mathieu. Music is the heart of a culture, and the philosophy of music is where we see the deepest values exposed. The deepest philosopher of music working today is W. A. Mathieu. This work describes music not as an isolated, abstracted system, but as a way of looking at the whole of reality and of being conscious of reality.  —  Jaron Lanier, author of  ‘You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto’
Intrinsically Lyrical: The author  —  a composer, pianist, and teacher  —  says this book is “primarily about open, intentional listening, how to practice it and what to expect from it.” This is true and yet it barely taps the fecundity this book delivers. Bridge of Waves expresses an entire philosophy that perceives music as intrinsic to being human–and being human as intrinsic to listening.
Beginning with “music as body”  —  the musical effects of gravity on the muscles  —  Mathieu gives a lyrical stream of commentary about music as mind, heart, feelings, life, story, culture, cosmos, enlightenment, and even consciousness. Speaking primarily about wordless music he summarizes, “music is our creation story and we never stop telling it because we always have more to tell.”
Writing has its own rhythm and practiced writers know well the inner feeling that signals their words being in sync (or not). The words in this book compose a brilliant and elegant symphonic arrangement that is innately recognized as the pulse of being-ness itself. A joy to read, Bridge of Waves will transform not only the way you “listen” to music, but what you know and appreciate about being human. Highly recommended.  —  Julie Clayton, 5-star customer review on

Audio Books

Audio books by W. A. Mathieu

The Listening Book and The Musical Life

W. A. Mathieu reads excerpts from his books The Listening Book and The Musical Life, sometimes accompanying himself on piano as he reads. You can read more about both books above. You’ll find exercises to help you explore and expand your capacity for listening; appreciate the connection between sound, music, and everyday life; and discover the creative possibilities of music-making.