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Thread: Books on Composition/Theory

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    Default Books on Composition/Theory

    Anyone have any recommendations on books they have read or heard about on music composition/theory, anything to do with either of those two, I've recently bought Fux's Study of Counterpoint and i'm looking at Schoenbergs Theory of Harmony, anyone any others or reviews?

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    Senior Member StevenOBrien's Avatar
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    I'm pulling the following from a blog comment I wrote a while ago on another site, so forgive me if it seems a little inconsistent or dumbed down at times. It contains a large list of both books and courses that are available online.

    ---

    Basic Theory
    Yale lecture series to start you off
    How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, by Robert Greenberg
    Understanding the fundamentals of music, by Robert Greenberg

    More advanced broad stuff
    More Robert Greenberg lectures - From these you will learn how to analyse and critically listen to music, you will become familiar with the major works of composers you choose to study, and you will learn a lot of important music history. Greenberg is a fantastic teacher. I'd highly recommend his "30 greatest orchestral works" to start out with.
    Leonard Bernstein's Young Peoples concerts - Old, but absolutely fantastic. Bernstein was a GREAT teacher.
    Leonard Bernstein's Omnibus series - Even OLDER, but even more fantastic. Definitely check out the one about Beethoven's fifth symphony, in which he takes Beethoven's discarded sketches for the work and suggests why he discarded them
    Leonard Bernstein's Harvard Lecture Series - More Leonard Bernstein. In this, he makes a very detailed comparison of music to linguistics and literature. It includes a MINDBLOWING explanation of harmony and includes very detailed analyses of certain aspects of Mozart's 40th symphony and Beethoven's 6th symphony.

    Harmony
    Harmony is the vertical in music.

    Aldwell and Schacter's "Harmony and Voice Leading" - This is the standard college book on harmony these days.
    Tchaikovsky's book on harmony - This one, while a little old (written in the 1880s) is VERY clear and to the point. I'd recommend this for starting out on.
    Arnold Schoenberg's books on harmony and composition in general - I've only linked to one, but the others aren't too difficult to find.

    Counterpoint
    Counterpoint uses the "rules" of harmony and puts them into the context of writing melodies. Counterpoint will teach you how to write two or more melodies at the same time convincingly. In my opinion, it's far more important than harmony. It's a very boring and monotonous subject, but it's SO worth the effort of studying it.

    Counterpoint in Composition, by Felix Salzer - An excellent book that not only teaches you the theory, but also shows you examples of how the masters interpreted and used it, which in my opinion, textbooks should do far more often.
    Johann Joseph Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum - This is VERY old (1720s), so the language in it will be very weird and contain many unnecessary references to God. Don't let that put you off though, in its day, this book was praised by Bach and Handel. A few years later, a man named Leopold Mozart taught counterpoint to his son from its pages. Joseph Haydn religiously studied from this book, followed by Beethoven, followed by Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Berlioz... need I go on?

    Form
    You may or may not find the subject of form relevant to you, but I ask you to seriously consider reading a book called Classical Form by William Caplin. It completely turned my understanding of music upside down and made me listen to everything in a whole new way. I cannot recommend it enough. Even if you end up never using the forms he talks about in such detail, it's worth knowing them.

    Orchestration
    If you plan to start writing for orchestra, this is a must.

    Samuel Adler's "Orchestration" - An excellent book that comes with a CD with MANY audio and video examples of what he's talking about. This is an invaluable resource.
    Thomas Goss' OrchestrationOnline Youtube channel - Tom is a professional orchestrator whom I have much respect for. He's done some fantastic videos discussing the subject of Orchestration.

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    Senior Member Ramako's Avatar
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    I have had an inconsistent experience with theory books. The only ones I have had whole-hearted success with are The Study of Counterpoint and its sequel The Study of Fugue from Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum, the former of which you already have.

    The only reason I am posting on this thread is to say I learned an awful lot from reading The Classical Style, more than anything else except perhaps Fux. This is because the music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven means a great deal to me, and it may not to you - I'm not trying to persuade you to get it, but rather saying that books theorizing about the techniques of the great composers tend to be a lot more advanced than pedagogical books, and can take you beyond that certain point where you wonder what else there is to learn (you know counterpoint, harmony some structures - what else is there?). That is my experience, and I know of others who have stopped at that point I just mentioned. So that is something to bear in mind about non-teaching theory books, perhaps for the future.

    Steven's list is very good and you should pay attention to it.

    I also pause to warn you that in my limited experience Schoenberg's teaching books are filled with Schoebergian dogma - not serial stuff - but are generally filled with his ideas. This is not to put you off, but just so that you are aware of it, and don't take everything he says as law, the way he puts it rather forcefully. However, his books are very good, just be aware of this when reading - his underlying assumptions are different from most of the other books you will read.

    The Tchaikovsky book is good, I also recommend it.

    One last thing is that I would warn is that harmony books sometimes talk about voice-leading rules - which is basically what Fux's book is about. Do not let this confuse you about counterpoint - their voice-leading rules are just a simplification of the counterpoint rules (mostly of Fux) which you need to know to get on with harmony. Fux is much more detailed.
    Last edited by Ramako; Oct-21-2012 at 19:52.

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    Quote Originally Posted by StevenOBrien View Post
    Counterpoint
    the language in it will be very weird and contain many unnecessary references to God.

    Form
    You may or may not find the subject of form relevant to you, but I ask you to seriously consider reading a book called Classical Form by William Caplin. It completely turned my understanding of music upside down and made me listen to everything in a whole new way. I cannot recommend it enough. Even if you end up never using the forms he talks about in such detail, it's worth knowing them.

    Orchestration
    If you plan to start writing for orchestra, this is a must.

    Samuel Adler's "Orchestration" - An excellent book that comes with a CD with MANY audio and video examples of what he's talking about. This is an invaluable resource.
    Thomas Goss' OrchestrationOnline Youtube channel - Tom is a professional orchestrator whom I have much respect for. He's done some fantastic videos discussing the subject of Orchestration.
    The books on 'Form' and 'Orchestration' sound interesting i'll probably take a look at those, and i couldn't agree more about the unnecessary references to God

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ramako View Post
    I have had an inconsistent experience with theory books. The only ones I have had whole-hearted success with are The Study of Counterpoint and its sequel The Study of Fugue from Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum, the former of which you already have.

    I also pause to warn you that in my limited experience Schoenberg's teaching books are filled with Schoebergian dogma - not serial stuff - but are generally filled with his ideas. This is not to put you off, but just so that you are aware of it, and don't take everything he says as law, the way he puts it rather forcefully. However, his books are very good, just be aware of this when reading - his underlying assumptions are different from most of the other books you will read.
    I never realised there was a sequel to the Study of Counterpoint, Fugue is next on my Chopin Liszt (I couldn't help myself )

    and i don't know whether i want the Schoenberg book more or less now after reading that, it'd be interesting to get other views on harmony and whatever is in it, but kind of useless if it's not all true

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jord View Post
    and i don't know whether i want the Schoenberg book more or less now after reading that, it'd be interesting to get other views on harmony and whatever is in it, but kind of useless if it's not all true
    The point to realise is that with most pedagogical books about common practice music they sort of describe rules but the reader has the general impression that the rules are not to be rigorously followed. Schoenberg does not give this impression (I think). His set of ideas and rules are different to common practice general ideas so although there are underlying assumptions in both they are different and it is good to be aware of that when reading him.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ramako View Post
    The point to realise is that with most pedagogical books about common practice music they sort of describe rules but the reader has the general impression that the rules are not to be rigorously followed. Schoenberg does not give this impression (I think). His set of ideas and rules are different to common practice general ideas so although there are underlying assumptions in both they are different and it is good to be aware of that when reading him.
    Personally with everything i do i stick to rules as a guideline and break them to how i think it would be better, and having someone elses 'rules/ideas' would maybe annoy me or feel like i'm composing which isn't my own so i don't think the Schoenberg book would be right for me, so thanks for the overview

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jord View Post
    Personally with everything i do i stick to rules as a guideline and break them to how i think it would be better, and having someone elses 'rules/ideas' would maybe annoy me or feel like i'm composing which isn't my own so i don't think the Schoenberg book would be right for me, so thanks for the overview
    The Tchaikovsky one sounds good for you in that case - but don't underestimate the Schoenberg. He will introduce you to more advanced principles than most others - even if he has his own slant on them. For example developing variation is his own theory he treats like law - but it is good to be aware of these ideas of melodic variation and his pedagogical method is not bad despite his dogma in my limited experience.

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    I'm definitely getting Study of Fugue, is that this one? http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0...pf_rd_i=468294 getting the study of orchestration by Samuel Adler, probably will get Classical Form by William E Caplin

    and too what extent does the Tchaikovsky book go to in Harmony? is it very in depth and complex

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    Senior Member Ramako's Avatar
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    That is the right book yes

    The Tchaikovsky book is all about harmony. I can't say how useful it is because I've never read a harmony book I've found useful; I read it more as a historical curiosity because of its author, and it was more readable than any other I've read. I would suggest that it would be quite good to learn from as it is pretty clear and very to the point - but listen to Steven not me as he knows more about this stuff than me.

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    I'm gonna leave the Tchaikovsky book for now then, i have plenty other material to read for the next few months anyway

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    What about Kotska's Total Harmony?

    There are a lot of exercises and it seems to cover a lot of material.

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    That looks like the sort of thing i want

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    I'm getting Samuel Adlers Orchestration but is the CD important aswell as the book or do i just need the book?
    Is there any differences between these for the 'Study of Fugue' by Alfred Mann
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Study-Fugue-...mm_hrd_title_0
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Study-Fugue-...mm_pap_title_0
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/STUDY-FUGUE-...523770&sr=1-20

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    As Steven says, Adlers' Orchestration book and CDs are fantastic. I think the CDs are essential but they function via a supplied control program. What you may not know is that the CDs (and hence the program) were produced in 2002 when Windows XP was the most advanced OS for computers. The company tell me that they have no intention of producing an updated version which will function on Windows 7. I run mine on an old laptop which has a windows XP OS. If you have the time and expertise, you can extract the files from the CDs, change the format and run them on Windows 7. This is not at all straightforward and I gave up. The text book and workbook are amazing value but there are hundreds of musical examples which need the CDs to really follow each point.

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