Books About Music

Get to know music by reading

Books About Composition

There are quite many books about composition, referring, of course, specifically to the composition of music. Many tend to underestimate the value of looking for inspiration and advice in books when it comes to creating music. The creative process is not to be associated with studying, and you always learn faster through your own experimenting.

This is not entirely true. Reading other composers’ or musicians’ writings on the process of creative music can be totally invaluable. It might be just a simple advice regarding, say, the alignment of brass voices – but it can transform your whole piece!

This section on composition books is divided into the following categories:

Composing in general | Orchestration | Writing songs | Computer composition | Music software guides

Books about composition in general

This category lists the books with mainly conceptual advice on the processes of composition. Here, I choose to primarily include composition for instrument ensembles and orchestras, well… anything related to symphonic music, rather than song writing. Hundreds of books of course fit into this category and I won’t review all of them. While there may be works of literature devoted entirely to the handling of a musical motif, others might be more concerned with the method of not allowing convention and history to stand to much in the way of the creative process. Lots of good stuff, though, and reading some of these books can help you become a better composer!


books about composition principles of orchestration rimsky korsakovOrchestration is, quite simply, the study of writing music for an orchestra. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about composing new music, but merely adapting music for orchestra (it might have been originally written for another medium). Orchestration deals with concepts such as range, timbre, voice doubling and chordal treatment.

Writing Songs

A section for, hopefully, a few more lightweight books. In this category, there are also numerous books that can be listed. Some may focus on melody, others on structure, and others on adapting your music to its proper medium using the right techniques. These books don’t necessarily have to be for beginners. If you’ve experimented with song writing for a while and are beginning to feel confident, the next step might be to pick up a book on writing good accompaniments, to polish your skills further.

Computer Composition

Most people who use the computer to compose music don’t spend a great deal of time reading about it. I mean, who’s got time for that? But you can learn more than you think from reading such publications. Remember that there are books out there written by musicians who have composed the soundtracks to major television shows, and some of the most well-known commercials. They can help you improve your output. The trick is to be a selective reader. Analyse  your piece. Where does it need improvement? Then look up that area in your newly-purchased book about computer composition!

Music Software Guides

When it comes to music software, something that I’ve learnt myself is that your own experimenting, no matter how enthusiastic, only takes you up to a certain point. If you get yourself a guide written specifically about your sequencer/DAW (and I don’t mean the manual), it might take you three minutes to find that function or effect, which could have spared you those hours of adjusting and polishing on that middle movement. Indeed, you can use practically any type of software for years, and still fail to find some of the best function and tricks it has to offer. My advice is therefore – if there is a guide to your program which is thicker and more thorough than the manual – get it as soon as you can.

“Books About Composition” was published on August 3, 2012.

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