There are so many amazing books about music out there, and sadly, there’s not even a fraction of the time we would need to read them all.
So, while you’re prioritizing which music books to read this year, here’s a list of 9 to help you get started. They are some of my absolute favorites.
This is one of the best books I have ever read. At it’s core, it is an exposition of Beethoven’s “To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.” The author shows the importance of involving body and emotion (not just brain) in the execution of a piece and teaches really practical ways to avoid tension and let your body follow its natural flow without sacrificing mental alertness. The goal is this: if you’re going to play a wrong note, play it well.
This one is every bit as good as The Perfect Wrong Note, just in a very different way. I appreciate so much about the advice in this book. The author is an experienced, international pianist, and she gives extremely practical advice on practicing, musicianship, memorization, developing finger control, preparing for performances, listening, teaching, sight-reading technique, selecting repertoire, and more, and it’s wonderful. This is NOT a how-to-play-the-piano-in-5-easy-steps kind of book. It’s about learning how to handle your instrument like an artist.
READ MY FULL REVIEW HERE.
I have used this book so many times when studying composers. Each of the 42 chapters is devoted to a composer and includes a quote, mini-bio, recommended reading list for further study, and recommended listening list.
As a musician, I appreciate the scholarship, history, and education in this book. As a Christian, I appreciate the authors’ analysis of the composers’ lives, priorities, and standards. Using the recommended listening lists as a guide is a fantastic way to familiarize yourself with the great composers’ most known works. Definitely add it to your library!
If I had to pick one word to describe this book, it would be adorable. It’s a fantastic overview of Schumann’s life and musical career, and it gave me a greater appreciation for his work. It’s a kids’ book, true. But it’s great for adults and families, too.
READ MY FULL REVIEW HERE.
This is the most comprehensive book presentation of basic music theory that I’ve read to date. Most “Introduction to Theory” books confuse even the most basic concepts by using the most technical and musically scientific terms possible. This book was radically different – simple, concise, and in plain language that beginners can understand. Music theory is only confusing if you make it so, and this book doesn’t.
This book is intended to be a informal course for beginners, though it does venture into some relatively intense theory by the last third of the book – particularly advanced chord structures, harmonization, and composition. These more advanced concepts are taught extremely well, but if it is confusing for the time being, lay that part aside for a while and come back to it when you have worked your way to that point.
6 | The Joy of Music
Actually, I recommend that you read half of this book. Specifically, these chapters:
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony
The World of Jazz
Introduction to Modern Music
The Music of Johann Sebastian Bach
These are a collection of scripts from various radio/television interviews the famous conductor / composer Leonard Bernstein gave over the course of his life. So, while half of the scripts are hard to appreciate because they lack the musical context that would have been present in the radio programs, the four chapter listed above are amazing. It’s extremely educational (Bernstein often jumps into conversations on chord structures, compositional forms, and stylistic specifics, complete with musical scores), but the conversational style of the chapters keeps it easy to understand.
Note: There are a few issues with the other chapters in this book, namely language and morally questionable operatic scenes.
This book is a listener’s introduction to fundamental elements and forms of music, written by 20th-century composer Aaron Copland. First, he talks about what makes music: rhythm, melody, harmony, tone color, texture, and structure. Then he goes on to explain fundamental music forms: sectionals, variations, fugues, sonatas, free form, opera & drama, contemporary, and film scores.
It’s a great resource for music students and music enthusiasts. Although… if you’re an enthusiast, you’ll be a student by the end of the book. ;)
This is a unique biography because it is divided into three parts:
PART I is a great overview of Bach’s Life and Musical Career. It outlines the highlights of his career without getting bogged down on unnecessary details. And the best part? It’s interesting. It’s worth reading just this section if you’re short on time.
PART II is a close look at Bach’s Character. The author talks about his many strengths and a few of his weaknesses. This is the longest section and does feel lengthy if you’re trying to hurry through it. Still, if you take your time, it is interesting to get such a close look at the person of Bach.
PART III discusses Bach’s Legacy – the way his work affected classical music, history, and us. It really is incredible how great of an impact one person can have on so many other lives.
It’s a great book. I would NOT recommend trying to plow through this one, or it will feel dry. This book has a lot to offer, and it would be best to spread it over a month or two. Definitely a valuable book for Bach lovers.
9 | Classical Music
This one is similar to The Gift of Music, only it is twice as thick, covers more composers, goes into greater depth, has fun Q & A boxes, gives more thorough listening lists, and is written from a secular perspective.
Classical Music covers 50 composers, and each with a detailed mini-biography. The author also gives four listening lists for each composer:
The Starter Kit (5 pieces)
A Top Ten (10 pieces)
A Master Collection (25 pieces)
A Beethoven Library (A LOT)
The author is a good writer and has a touch of humor to boot. It’s really an enjoyable book. I have not read all of way through this one, so I’m not able to comment on any problems that may present themselves in the later part of the book. However, the scholarship is excellent, and it is definitely a fabulous resource for musicians.
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I hope you are able to enjoy some of these wonderful books this year. If you read any, I would love to hear your thoughts on them!
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