My Top 5 music composition books

music composition books
Here are 5 music composition books that I own, all of which I’ve found extremely useful:
1. Fundamentals of Musical Composition, by Arnold Schoenberg

This was one of the very first music composition books I bought, and it’s still one of my  favourites. It builds step by step in a very fundamental way, and is just as much as an introduction to musical analysis as it is to composition. Schoenberg moves steadily through motives, phrases, sections and forms, and there is a wealth of musical examples to study. The book is quite focused on a particular period of Western classical music (most of the examples are from Beethoven), but the skills it teaches I think are applicable to all manner of styles. If you are making music which deals with melodies, this book will definitely be useful.



2. Musical Composition, by Reginald Smith Brindle

This book is broad-reaching in it’s scope, and is an excellent introduction for students.  It begins with chapters on melody, harmony, counterpoint, and rhythm, before moving onto more advanced territory. Later chapters include material on free diatonicism, bitonality and polytonality, atonality and twelve-note mic, and serialism and indeterminancy – it’s a great introduction to a practical application of these twentieth century techniques, particularly serialism.  Each chapter ends with exercises, so it’s also a great textbook for self-study.



3. Creative Music Composition, by Margaret Lucy Wilkins

The aim of this book is to help young composers find their own creative voice. To write in their own style rather than emulating composers of the past. There are sections on stimulus to the musical imagination; discussion of a variety of current musical languages; analysis of many examples from contemporary scores; technical exercises; suggestions as to how to start a composition; structures; and examinations of works from particular genres. It’s a book I still dip into for ideas from time to time, and I’ve definitely found it useful in teaching slightly older students. This book focuses more on the creative side, and less on the analytical, so another book might suit better if there’s a particular style or idea you want to know more about.


4. Techniques of the Contemporary Composer, by David Cope

As the title suggests, this book is about composition techniques, with a focus on late twentieth century. It includes sections on interval exploration, serialism, pitch-class sets, twelve-tone music, electronic music, algorithmic composition, and indeterminacy. It is not exhaustive on each topic, but rather provides a useful overview and there are exercises to whet your appetite. Sections on computer music are probably now a little outdated, but if you’re dealing with dots on paper then there’s lots to go on here.



5. Twentieth Century Harmony, by Vincent Persichetti

Although strictly speaking a book about harmony rather than composition, I love this book and constantly find myself coming back to it for ideas. The author examines the nature of intervals in various contexts, discusses the modes and other scales employed in modern music, describes the formation and uses of chords by thirds, by fourths, and by seconds, of added-note chords and polychords; he deals with different types of harmonic motion, with harmonic rhythm and dynamic sand ornamentation, with harmonic behavior in tonality, polytonality, atonality and serial composition. There are a crazy number of exercises at the end of each chapter, and a wealth of musical examples.


Are there any music composition books I’ve missed?  Let me know in a comment below!






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