Skip to content

11. resources

There are a tremendous number of books and other resources about various musical topics that can be useful for writers. This is a partial list of resources arranged by general topic.

orchestration and scoring

Adler, Samuel. The Study of Orchestration (3rd edition). New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2002. The standard reference text on orchestration. Extensive examination of each instrument, instrumental choir, and uses of the instruments in the orchestral literature. This book is expensive, as is the CD-ROM set that can be purchased separately, but this required reading for the serious student of orchestration.

Berlioz, Hector and Richard Strauss. Treatise on Instrumentation. Melville, N.Y.: Belwin Mills Publishing Corp., 1948. An interesting reference text from two master composer/orchestrators. The book is somewhat light on text, but contains extensive musical examples from the composers’ works. Some of the information about specific instruments is outdated due to developments and standardization that have occurred in the manufacture of music instruments since the book was written. Berlioz began this text and then Strauss finished it around 1904.

Carse, Adam. The History of Orchestration. New York: Dover Publications, 1964. A fascinating but scholarly overview of the development of orchestration from the 16th century to the early 20th century. Perhaps a bit light on musical examples and heavy on text, it is nevertheless a useful guide for the serious student of orchestration.

Hansen, Brad. The Essentials of Instrumentation. London: May eld Publishing Co., 1991. A relatively short book that is organized as a textbook rather than a reference. Contains a great deal of highly distilled information about instrumentation, style, and practical applications, as well as score excerpts and exercises.

Rice, Joyce. Harp Spectrum. This is a great website with lots of valuable information on writing for harp.

Kennan, Kent. The Technique of Orchestration (6th edition). Englewood Cli s, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2002. Another excellent reference text on orchestration, slightly less expensive than Adler’s book. It also comes with a set of recordings.

Read, Gardner. Style and Orchestration. New York: Schirmer Books, 1979. A scholarly and somewhat dry – but valuable – overview of how orchestration has evolved and changed throughout the development of the literature of the symphony orchestra from the Baroque era to the 20th century.

Read, Gardner. Contemporary Instrumental Techniques. New York: Schirmer Books, 1976. A survey of extended instrumental techniques and how they are notated, obviously focused on 20th-century compositional styles.

Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolay. Principles of Orchestration. New York: Dover Publications, 1964. Somewhat dated now (the composer began the text in 1873 and finished the work in the first decade of the 20th century), this is a seminal text in the study and pedagogy of orchestration. Rimsky-Korsakov is widely acknowledged to be a master of orchestration, and this text provides a window into his craft. This work is also online at here.

jazz and contemporary arranging and composition

Dobbins, Bill. Jazz Composing and Arranging: A Linear Approach. Rottenburg, Germany: Advance Music, 1986. Dobbins is a fluent writer with a very contemporary approach to arranging. This book is a well-organized presentation of his ideas.

Goldstein, Gil. Jazz Composer’s Companion. Rottenburg, Germany: Advance Music, 1993. While mostly about jazz, this book contains a lot of information that writers of all styles will find useful. Includes brief essays by a number of jazz composers (Carla Bley, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and many others) about their own compositional processes.

Lowell, Dick and Ken Pullig. Arranging for Large Jazz Ensemble. Boston, MA: Berklee Press, 2003. An excellent textbook on arranging, organized pedagogically rather than as a reference book. Numerous musical examples with score excerpts and recordings.

Mancini, Henry. Sounds and Scores. Greenwich, CT: Northridge Music, Inc., 1973. Another useful reference from a master arranger, with score excerpts and recorded examples. Useful for Mancini’s insights into the various aspects of writing.

Nestico, Sammy. The Complete Arranger. Fenwood Music Co., 1993. Another interesting and useful reference work from a master arranger, with numerous score excerpts and recordings. More current than Mancini, Sebesky, or Riddle, but still somewhat dated.

Niles, Richard. The Invisible Artist: Arrangers in Popular Music (1950-2000). Niles Smiles Music, 2014. This is one of the only books I’ve read that provides an in-depth look at the arrangers of pop music, their technique, and their contributions to popular music over this fifty year period. Numerous musical examples and specific references make this especially useful for arrangers of any style and any level of experience.

Pease, Ted. Jazz Composition: Theory and Practice. Boston, MA: Berklee Press, 2003. An excellent approach to learning jazz composition. Organized pedagogically with numerous examples, score excerpts, and recordings.

Pease, Ted and Ken Pullig. Modern Jazz Voicings. Boston, MA: Berklee Press, 2001. An excellent presentation of chord scale voicing techniques, including an overview of mechanical voicings. Organized as a textbook rather than a musical reference. Numerous musical examples with score excerpts and recordings.

Riddle, Nelson. Arranged by Nelson Riddle. Secaucus, NJ: Warner Bros. Publications, 1985. A useful reference from a master arranger. Unfortunately, no recordings accompany the book.

Sebesky, Don. The Contemporary Arranger. Sherman Oaks, CA: Alfred Publishing Co., 1979. An excellent presentation of the art of arranging, full of insightful and interesting concepts. Like many arranging books, it is organized more as a reference than as a textbook. The book has one big problem: the recorded musical examples don’t match the score excerpts in the book and are not particularly useful.

Simos, Mark. Songwriting Strategies: A 360° Approach. Boston, MA: Berklee Press, 2014. Simos’s ideas about “song seeds” is very much like the germinal ideas I discuss in Chapters 2 and 3. While this book is about songwriting, it contains many higher-level ideas that apply to all writing, and the book is well organized and clearly formulated.

Sturm, Fred. Changes Over Time: The Evolution of Jazz Arranging. Rottenburg, Germany: Advance Music, 1995. A somewhat scholarly overview of how the treatment of melody, harmony, voicings, orchestration, and form developed in jazz arranging. Numerous musical examples with score excerpts and recordings. It’s unfortunate that, due to music licensing costs, original recordings of historically important pieces weren’t used.

Wright, Rayburn. Inside the Score. Delevan, NY: Kendor Music, Inc., 1982. Provides a detailed analysis with reduced scores in concert pitch for eight big band jazz charts by Sammy Nestico, Thad Jones, and Bob Brookmeyer This is an excellent resource: the score reductions make things very clear and the analyses provide a useful insight into the writing. Recordings are not included but not hard to find.

Latin music

Adolfo, Antonio. Brazilian Music Workshop. Rottenburg, Germany: Advance Music, 1993. This book, written by a highly skilled Brazilian arranger and composer, provides a great deal of information about a wide variety of Brazilian styles. Arrangers will find it useful for its in-depth presentation of an instrument’s function within the ensemble in the various styles. Its only flaw is the use of music created by the author for the text as examples – rather than source recordings – to demonstrate the various styles and concepts.

Da Fonseca, Duduka and Bob Weiner. Brazilian Rhythms for Drumset. Miami, FL: Manhattan Music, Inc., 1991. An excellent book about Brazilian styles mainly concerned with percussion and drumset, but writers will find the information extremely useful. There are extensive recorded examples, including recordings of the folkloric styles from which the contemporary forms of Brazilian music are derived.

Faria, Nelson. The Brazilian Guitar Book. Petaluma, CA: Sher Music Inc., 1995. Writing for guitar is something many writers find difficult. Since the guitar is essential to many Brazilian styles, it’s important to understand the guitarist’s function in the rhythm section. This book contains extensive transcriptions from important and well-known (to Brazilians) popular songs, but little explanation of how the parts work or are derived from the harmony and rhythm. There is an accompanying CD of the author playing the transcriptions.

Gerard, Charley and Marty Sheller. Salsa: the Rhythm of Latin Music. Tempe, AZ: White Cli s Media Co., 1989. A short but valuable introduction to the organizing features of Afro-Cuban music, including an extensive discussion of the clave and its impact on arranging Latin music. The book also includes transcribed excerpts of individual instrumental parts and demonstrates how they are combined in arrangements of popular Latin songs.

McGowan, Chris and Ricardo Pessenha. The Brazilian Sound (2nd edition). Temple University Press, 1998. An excellent overview of the body of Brazilian popular music, with extensive bibliography, discography, glossary, and index. Essential reading for anyone interested in Brazilian music.

Mauleón, Rebeca. Salsa Guidebook for Piano and Ensemble. Petaluma, CA: Sher Music Co, 1993. An excellent resource for players and writers on Afro-Cuban music. Numerous examples of parts for all the instruments in the ensemble and extensive information useful for writing in Salsa styles.

Roberts, John Storm. The Latin Tinge: The Impact of Latin American Music on the United States (2nd edition). New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. A comprehensive history of the influence of Latin music on American popular music. This book offers a valuable perspective to anyone working in the contemporary music scene in the U.S.

Stagnaro, Oscar and Chuck Sher. The Latin Bass Book. Petaluma, CA: Sher Music Co, 2005. As the title implies, this book is mostly about the role of the bass in a variety of Latin styles. A useful resource for writers working in these styles.

Uribe, Ed. The Essence of Brazilian Percussion & Drum Set. Miami: CPP Belwin Inc., 1993. While aimed at drummers, writers can a great deal from this book. Understanding how the drums and percussion function in the various Brazilian styles is crucial to writing in those styles. Numerous recorded examples and transcriptions.

composition and higher level thinking

Austin, Larry and Thomas Clark. Learning to Compose. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1989. A complex and intellectual approach to composing music in the contemporary “classical” style. There are many ideas and insights here, but the book requires a commitment to serious study to be of use.

Berry, Wallace. Structural Functions in Music. New York: Dover Publications, 1987. An excellent, though scholarly, survey of how tonality, texture, and rhythm and meter interact in music to create structure.

Cooper, Grosvener and Leonard Meyer. The Rhythmic Structure of Music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960. A somewhat scholarly approach to understanding rhythmic organization in music, from the micro level (short rhythmic patterns) to the macro level (form and structure) through the application of Gestalt perception to pattern recognition in music.

Cormier, Stephen. Modal Music Composition, Expanded Edition. Inman and Artz Publishers, 2006. A useful resource for writers seeking to expand their harmonic vocabulary.

Fripp, Robert. Diaries from the DMG website. Fripp is an engaging and often humorous writer with the interesting perspective of a rocker, deeply embittered by his experiences in the music industry, who is also a deep thinker. His diaries are a fascinating look inside his professional world, simultaneously deeply personal and aloof.

Hindemith, Paul. The Craft of Musical Composition, Books 1 and 2. Schott, 1984. An interesting and well-articulated guide to the composer’s thoughts about the organization of musical elements in composition.

Mathieu, W.A. Harmonic Experience: Tonal Harmony from its Natural Origins to its Modern Expression. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions Inc., 1997. The premise of this book is that just intonation presents an important though neglected resource for contemporary music. The book contains a comprehensive overview of intonation, both in its historical development and practical applications, and offers numerous musical exercise to hear various tuning relationships. This book is an invaluable resource both for its presentation of intonation and the application of tuning in contemporary music.

Mathieu, W.A. Bridge of Waves: What Music Is and How Listening to It Changes the World. Shambhala, 2010. An extremely interesting metaphysical treatise examining the nature of the musical experience, for listeners, performers, and composers. Very deep.

Persichetti, Vincent. Twentieth Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2002. One of the best and most practical books about “contemporary” harmony available. Full of useful ideas and materials. Every writer of music in any style should have this book.

Rolla, Gregory. Your Inner Music: Creative Analysis and Music Memory. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publications, 1993. An interesting book that can guide readers to understand their interior musical landscape. More about psychology than music, but writers could find it a useful tool to renew their self-awareness on a musical level.

Russo, Willliam. Composing Music: A New Approach. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983. An early attempt to create a textbook that could be used in colleges and music schools for teaching composition from a “classical” viewpoint. Writers seeking to expand their harmonic palette might find the book useful. Numerous examples and exercises.

Salzer, Felix. Structural Hearing. New York: Dover Publications, 1962. A comprehensive, well-organized presentation of Schenkerian analysis. All writers should examine these theories at some point in their studies.

Strauss, Joseph. Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory (4th edition). New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 2016. Not for the faint of heart, this complex book offers a comprehensive overview of set theory and twelve-tone composition. Organized like a textbook, it has clear explanation, lots of examples from the contemporary literature, and numerous exercises. This is useful for writers looking to write outside of standard tonal and modal systems.

Toch, Ernst. The Shaping Forces in Music. New York: Dover Pub- lications, 1977. From a more classical viewpoint, Toch presents how melody, harmony, rhythm, and form operate in musical composition.

Ulehla, Ludmila. Contemporary Harmony: Romanticism through the Twelve-Tone Row. Rottenburg, Germany: Advance Music, 1994. A scholarly survey of compositional practice in early 20th-century music. Numerous musical examples with analyses. This well-written book is an important resource for writers seeking to expand the harmonic language of their writing.

composers writing about music

Corea, Chick. A Work In Progress… On Being a Musician, Vol I. Chick Corea Productions, Inc., 2002. A series of short essays from one of the most prolific and articulate pianists/composers working in jazz and contemporary music. Mostly about playing piano and being a musician, but full of interesting insights into practicing the craft of music.

Messiaen, Oliver. Technique of My Musical Language. Leduc, Editions Musicales, 1956. From one of the great composers of the 20th century, a survey of his thoughts, devices, and techniques of composition and orchestration.

Fisk, Josiah and Je Nichols, editors. Composers on Music: Eight Centuries of Writings, 2nd edition., Northeastern, 1997. An extensive series of essays from a wide array of composers on various musical topic, culled from the literature and edited by Fisk and Nichols. The texts are arranged chronologically, beginning during the Renaissance and continuing through the early 20th century.

Stravinsky, Igor. Poetics of Music. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970. Transcribed from a series of lectures the composer gave at Harvard, this short book presents his ideas about music, composition, and the composer’s life.

music notation

Gould, Elaine. Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide to Music Notation. London, England: Faber Music, Ltd, 2011. This is a massive book with lots of detail and depth, probably beyond the needs of most writers, but essential reading for anyone serious about preparing scores and parts. While it deals with almost every aspect of music notation in the “classical” tradition, it is unfortunately light on information for music in any tradition (like jazz, Latin, pop, rock, etc.) that deals with notation for rhythm section, grooving percussion instruments, and improvisation.

McGrain, Mark. Music Notation: Theory and Technique for Music Notation. Boston, MA: Berklee Press, 1986. Covers basic music notation, mostly focusing on writing by hand.

Nicholl, Matthew and Richard Grudzinski. Music Notation: Pre- paring Scores and Parts. Boston, MA: Berklee Press, 2007. Covers score and part preparation and layout. Useful both for music notated by hand or using computer software. Covers music of all styles, including rhythm section-based ensembles.

Read, Gardner. Modern Rhythmic Notation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978. Deals mostly with contemporary “classical” music, but also has wider application in music with highly developed rhythmic qualities. Perhaps a bit dated now, but a useful resource about the accepted notation practices of complex rhythmic ideas.

Roemer, Clinton. The Art of Music Copying. Sherman Oaks, CA: Roerick Music Co., 1973. Now out of print, in the ‘70s and ‘80s this book was the acknowledged “bible” in the music industry on music preparation. Still useful for its perspective and many of the details of music preparation.

Stone, Kurt. Music Notation in the Twentieth Century: A Practical Handbook. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1980. Like Read’s book, this book is mostly applicable to contemporary “classical” music, but presents solutions to a wide variety of notational issues arising in non-traditional musical situations.


Bregman, Albert. Auditory Scene Analysis. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990. In this work of exhaustive scope and depth, Bregman provides an overview of what was currently known and understood about the perception of musical sound at the time of publication. Not for the faint of heart, but an excellent resource for writers seeking to better understand how perceptions and sound interact in their listeners.

Hall, Donald. Musical Acoustics, 2nd edition. Paci c Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Co., 1991. A relatively inexpensive, comprehensive textbook on musical acoustics. Easy to read, with lots of examples and applications.

Handel, Stephen. Listening: An Introduction to the Perception of Auditory Events. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993. Somewhat pricey, but an excellent reference for all aspects of acoustics, psychoacoustics, and musical perception.

Truax, Barry, editor. Handbook for Acoustic Ecology. Vancouver, CA: A.R.C. Publications, 1978. A highly distilled presentation of essential concepts in musical acoustics with an emphasis on the acoustic landscape of contemporary life. This is an excellent resource for research on concepts of musical sound.