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Quote Originally Posted by StevenOBrien View Post
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 whole bunch of resources and courses that are available online, as well as links to some very helpful theory books.


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.

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 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 refrences 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?

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.

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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Updated Jan-27-2015 at 06:40 by science



  1. science's Avatar
  2. science's Avatar
    And this (edited):

    Reminds me of a lot of things we hear about people like Rutter, Whitacre, Lloyd Webber, Lauridsen, even Gorecki, Pärt, Glass.... I'm not saying these guys are going to have the stature of Rachmaninoff someday (I wouldn't overestimate Rachmaninoff even now, I think that Grove attitude to his music is still around), but the thing is we never can tell.

    If I were a clever enough cultural theorist, I would posit some version of a theory that for something (music, film, art, whatever) to be properly "classic" it has to (a) have some kind of virtues that can be analyzed or classified or enumerated or whatever by cultural critics, especially not being too naive about its own production; and (b) to hit a certain "sweet spot" of popularity, enough that it's known by a sufficient audience but unpopular with an overwhelming majority of people. The "classic person" wants to be able to say something like "I like X" or "X is good," among "ordinary" people, and the ordinary people will recognize the name of X but not know much about its content or its virtues. And if someone happens to ask why the "classic person" likes X, the classic person needs to be able to give answers impressive enough to satisfy reasonably intelligent listeners.

    The old musicals are starting to be treated as "classical music" - such as in EMI's release of a recording of Show Boat in their "Greatest Recordings of the Century" series, Jan Swafford arguing that West Side Story really is a legitimate opera, an opinion that seems to be getting more common. Now that most of the people alive in our cultures haven't actually heard Show Boat or West Side Story, they're safe for "classic people," and useful because everyone has still heard of them. The ragtime revival was in the 1970s, I believe... that's a 50 year lag there. The popular musics of the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s have become safe for us, and the 1950s are joining them as the Baby Boomers begin to die off. Ted Gioia (a sound jazz critic for aspiring elitists, IMO) has praised Nat King Cole. Craig Wright (a scholar rather than a critic but an unabashed promoter of the "western art music" tradition) has always been open-minded but I've heard him praise Elvis' "great baritone voice," and he won't be the last to do so, now that the teenagers of the 1950s are losing their own voices. The movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou has brought back bluegrass, the blues, white southern gospel - but all of it styles before about 1950. Ralph Stanley's exceptional in that he got to live to see his music revived, but he was late to the bluegrass party (many years later than Bill Monroe), then he was probably just about the only guy in America still playing "authentic" bluegrass (without a snare drum or a steel guitar, etc.) for a couple decades, and his fans certainly weren't living in Manhattan.

    If this is anything like correct, wait ten more years and see what people like [redacted!] ... have to say about Little Richard. I think they're coming around on Howard Hanson already.

    There must be some wrinkles to it, but the theory would go something like that. Now that the need to purchase music is gone, if that doesn't change as governments (and through them the music industry) get control of the internet, that's going to change some things too, when it works through the system. Probably live music will gain in status. I can't guess what else. But meanwhile...

    There's also a recursive aspect, because what is known to outsiders is different that what is known to insiders: the classic community at large needs things it can cite to its outsiders (Vivaldi, JS Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Bernstein, John Williams); then within the community the more serious devotees need things they can cite to the mainstream classical community (Biber, CPE Bach, Scriabin, Penderecki, Reich, Dutilleux); but the most serious ones need yet a deeper obscurity (WF Bach, Linley, Arriaga, Alfvén, Yun, Ustvolskaya, Weinberg), and so on. The same hierarchy applies to musician name-recognition: Pavarotti and Domingo for one level; Bostridge for the next; then Melchior, etc. You can't just casually drop names because you can't afford to get called on a bluff, and at each deeper stage we have to renounce some highlights of the previous stage, if only because we're so tired of hearing them!

    There are more particular strategies of course, so that we can try to bypass the hierarchy: advocating an arguably "neglected master" such as Haydn, Telemann, Palestrina, Rameau... increasingly even Stravinsky; advocating "early music" or ever stricter standards of "period performance;" advocating a particular aspect or tradition of music (Baroque opera; Scandinavian romanticism; wind band; virtuoso piano music like Alkan, Godowski, Busoni; the master musicians of the mono era), or, of course, contemporary music. But in most cases we still get that recursive structure (at least once a critical mass of advocates assemble in the same place): I advocate Josquin, so you advocate Binchois, so I advocate Pipelare....

    But in all of these cases, the conditions hold: (a) plausibly benefitting from impressive-ish intellectual-ish analysis; and, (b) "name recognition" without popularity.

    Some of the particularist strategies (bypassing the simple hierarchy) have their mirror-image counter-strategies: contra the HIPPIs, advocating the unapologetically romantic performance of Bach and Mozart; contra the modernists, defensively advocating the common practice period; these counter-strategies are distinguished by their defensiveness: "You're not better than me just because you like that kind of music!" I don't think people hold to them very long before switching to a less defensive strategy; i.e. from hating the 2nd Vienna School to advocating the fortepiano. The particularist strategies also suffer from being explicitly narrow, not a virtue in the era of globalization.

    There's a zero-sum aspect to it as well, as if Beethoven and Bach need to decrease so that Babbit and Boulez can increase, or vice-versa.... I know there really is a zero-sum aspect to it in some ways, i.e. we can only listen to one thing at a time, and funds that go to an early music festival won't go to reviving early 20th century American wind band music...


    Anyway, this kind of sociological analysis fascinates me, especially because it makes me wonder what is going on in my own head. Is it entirely a coincidence that this kind of theorizing matches my own tastes? I think I'm no "mere" snob, but I think I have to admit I'm a snob's snob. My tastes in fiction ("literature"), movies ("film), art/decoration, food ("cuisine"), clothing - it all points in the same direction.... I feel I come by it naturally, but that has to be part of the game, doesn't it?
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    Updated Mar-19-2014 at 18:51 by science
  3. StevenOBrien's Avatar
    Hey, I just came across this. I'm glad you found it useful!

    Slightly updated list here:
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  4. Musicforawhile's Avatar
    Thank you for the book list, I am really interested in understanding more about counterpoint, harmony, form etc.
  5. Figleaf's Avatar
    But Elvis DID have a great voice- has anyone really argued otherwise? Most of the haters make points like 'but he got really fat' or 'he died on the toilet' which don't really contribute much to our understanding of his artistry. Nat King Cole was a proper serious jazz musician before he became a crooner singing cheesy Christmas songs etc. You'd have to ask someone else about NKC and his jazz credentials, as I could write everything I know about jazz on the back of a matchbox and still have room to list my knowledge of Bach, Beethoven etc. Anyone who wants to know anything about Elvis though,feel free to ask
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