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The essential book list for composers

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This is the thread to recommend books / websites / any other media that you feel is a great resource for those composing music.


I'd like to start by reproducing Geoff Grace's excellent Film Scoring resources list:




I've created a suggested list of books below, and I've ordered them in a way that alternates focus between technique and business, while progressing from introductory to more advanced levels.


This is an opportunity to approach the "Expert Forums" concept this MusicPlayer site espouses from a new perspective: we choose the experts and read and discuss what they have to say.


So who's interested? Examine the list below and tell me what you think. Your comments and feedback are encouraged.


My top picks:

"The Reel World: Scoring for Pictures" by Jeff Rona

Jeff Rona is a working composer and a contributing editor for Keyboard magazine.


"From Score To Screen: Sequencers, Scores, And Second Thoughts: The New Film Scoring Process" by Sonny Kompanek

This is the most recently released of the overview books. According to the back cover, author Sonny Kompanek has "scored over 60 major films."


"Film and Television Composer\'s Resource Guide: The Complete Guide to Organizing and Building Your Business" by Mark Northam and Lisa Anne Miller

Perhaps the best book available on the business side of composing for film and television.


"The Guide To MIDI Orchestration" by Paul Gilreath

Paul Gilreath actually posted in a Keyboard Corner thread about his book. Sound On Sound magazine gave it a good review in the current issue. This new edition is much more thorough and up to date than the original edition.


"On the Track: A Guide to Contemporary Film Scoring" by Fred Karlin and Rayburn Wright

Perhaps the most respected guide to scoring for film and television, this textbook contains both technical exercises and quotes from many film experts.


Additional material:

"Complete Guide to Film Scoring" by Richard Davis

Richard Davis is a composer and faculty member at Berklee.


"How to Make Money Scoring Soundtracks and Jingles" by Jeffrey P. Fisher

Helpful ideas for self-promotion and other business tips.











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Vincent Persichetti's Twentieth-Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice should give you ideas from now till about five minutes after they lay you in the ground.


Contemporary Harmony: Romanticism Through the Twelve-Tone Row by Ludmila Ulehla was a pretty good read too. Persichetti trumps Ulehla in the amount of techniques he covers, but Ulehla trumps Persichetti in the real-world examples provided for those techniques she does cover.


I have not read Materials and Techniques of Twentieth-Century Music by Stefan Kostka, but it comes highly recommended.

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Here's a few of Berklee's finest, covering less classical aspects:


Melody in Songwriting : Tools and Techniques for Writing Hit Songs

by Jack Perricone; ISBN: 063400638X


The Songwriting Sourcebook: How to Turn Chords Into Great Songs

by Rikky Rooksby; ISBN: 0879307498


Jazz Composition : Theory and Practice

by Ted Pease; ISBN: 0876390017


and I'll add another vote for Rimsky-Korsakov.

Kawai GS-40 grand & other keys
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In the vein of Fulcrum's latest addition, I'd like to mention Inside the Score by Rayburn Wright. It might be a little hard to find (Amazon doesn't have it in stock), but it's a great book. It analyzes big band charts (scores and reductions provided) by Sammy Nestico, Thad Jones and Bob Brookmeyer, and comes with an accompanying CD.



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I've heard of a good number of these great books, but there is a little known reference book that I use all the time. It's "Music Notation" by Gardner Read. It's a great book if you're writing for other instruments. It has all the transpositions, ranges, and other useful info for every instrument you can imagine. It helps a great deal with that tricky technical aspect of composing we musicians like to avoid.

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It's good remember that the book(excellent, without doubt) of George Russell is entitled

"Lydian Chromatic Concept of TONAL Organization".

It's not a book about "modal" music. It's explanes the concept about chords scales, having the lydian mode as a primary basis, not the major scale.. However, it influenced the early modal jazz compositions of Miles(Kind of Blue), as all the jazz players since 1953, year of the first edition. All improvisation/ arranging books after this have used the concepts of chord scale as Russell wrote,eg., the Lydian mode played over a "I Maj7" instead the Major scale.


Most of jazz players uses the concepts of Russell without a knowledgement about his book, since his Concept is presented in a "diluted form" in a thousand of improvisation books, that show the Russell conclusions about chord scales without the original thinking that originated this conclusions.


For an good understanding of modalism in jazz composition, the best book written till now is the 2 books of Ron Miller

"Modal Jazz Composition& Harmony".


By the way, I have both Russell and Miller books..



Luciano Fleming

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gee i was going to recommend the sravinsky / rim-korsa /piston (all3 pistons for that matter) the stravinski in particular is an interesting read though not really concerned with technique...

one of his major points for instance is composition as an exercize in elimination...

"style is determined not by what you can play but what you cant...." dave brubeck
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I'd like to add an interesting find: The Muse That Sings by Ann McCutchan. Interviews of 25 contemporary composers, from Steve Reich and John Adams to William Bolcom and John Zorn. A very interesting look at various creative processes and compositional views.



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