A bookshelf full of books

12 Great Music-Related Books

There are so many fantastic books about music, both fiction and nonfiction. I love reading music-related books because they always inspire me to do more with my own music, and remind me why music-making is worthwhile in the first place.

Below I’ve made a list of music-related books I highly recommend, sorted into three categories: Composers, Music and Musicianship, and Fiction.

At the end of each category I also have a few books that are “on my list”, meaning I haven’t read them yet but think they look interesting enough to be included here.

Note: This article may contain affiliate links. That means that if you make a purchase through one of these links I may receive monetary compensation. However, I only ever include links to products I truly believe in and recommend!

Composers

1. Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

Daily Rituals is a collection of daily habits by notable creatives throughout history, including Mozart, Voltaire, Andy Warhol, and 158 others. It particularly discusses their work routines, but has other interesting anecdotes as well.

I love this book! I’ve actually written an entire post about it already, called Inspiration from Daily Rituals. If you don’t feel like reading that though, suffice it to say this is a great book for anyone who creates, be it music, art, writing, etc.

2. The Muse That Sings by Ann McCutchan

Another collection, this time of 25 twentieth-century composers discussing their creative processes in their own words.

I originally got this book at the library due to the expense, but I loved it so much I ended up buying one for myself and another as a gift! Unfortunately since then the price has gone up (I believe it’s because it’s out of print?) But if you can afford it and are interested in the compositional process, I highly recommend it! As a composer myself, I find it fascinating to read about how other composers go about the task of creating music, especially more modern composers like the ones featured in this book.

3. Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen Quartets by Wendy Lesser

This is a very interesting and detailed book on the life of Shostakovich in the context of his string quartets. The author discusses the inspiration and meaning of each string quartet in chronological order, as well as what was going on in Shostakovich’s life at the time.

I found it fascinating, but this book might be a little intense for someone who’s not as much of a music nerd, and specifically composition nerd, as I am!

4. Hallelujah Junction by John Adams

This is an autobiography by John Adams (the 20th-century composer, not the founding father!). He has a very readable writing style as he discusses the life circumstances that led him to be the composer he became. I found it highly entertaining throughout!

Once again, this book is perhaps more interesting for those who already have a specific interest in composers and composition, though I think it has plenty of wisdom to share for anyone interested in harnessing their creativity.

On My List:

5. The Joy of Music by Leonard Bernstein

The back of the book says Bernstein answers questions about music such as: How did Beethoven write his symphonies? And what makes opera grand? I’d probably read anything he wrote, but I’m especially interested to see what he has to say about these subjects.

6. Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons by Igor Stravinsky

I’m a huge fan of Stravinsky, and in this book he appears to discuss his opinions on music and on his own works. I can’t wait to read what he has to say!

Music and Musicianship

7. The Power of Sound by Joshua Leeds

Practically an encyclopedia on the mental and physical effects of music, this book has a lot to it! The organization could be better, but for anyone interested in this relatively new field of study, this is a gold mine of information!

Some of the information in this book is somewhat controversial, primarily because in such a new field there hasn’t been enough research to have definitive evidence of many of the claims, some of which may turn out to be pseudoscience. Still, I found it very fun to imagine “what if” and think about where such research could take us in the future!

8. Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch

This is a book about the deeper meaning and psychology behind the action of creation. Where does inspiration come from, and how does it work? What does it mean to “play” vs. “work” (or practice)? These are the types of questions discussed here. That might sound heavy, but the author does a great job of keeping things light, which made the book quite a fast read.

I found myself taking pictures of page after page with my phone and sending it to all my musician friends because it was so packed with awesome ways of thinking about what we do! It’s another one I’m happy to own because I’ll keep coming back to it year after year and find new insights.

On My List:

9. Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner

I’ve had this book recommended to me by several different people. The author is a pianist and it seems he explores both technical and spiritual aspects of creativity. Sounds cool!

Fiction

10. Body & Soul by Frank Conroy

This is the story of Claude, who as a young boy discovers a passion for music almost by accident. The pursuit of that passion leads him through an exceptional life of music-making, but with plenty of ups and downs.

I loved reading this story, and although it was fiction, it still made very interesting and thought-provoking points on the art and nature of making music.

11. The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhart

Almost a love story to the piano, The Piano Shop on the Left Bank follows the experience of a man and a mysterious piano shop. It’s full of musings and insights on music, practice, pianos, and composers.

Based around pianos in Paris, this book is a particularly good match for me personally, as I love pianos and French culture. However, I think it can be an enjoyable read for anyone who’s interested in even just one of those subjects.

On My List:

12. The Music of the Temperalists by André Pogoriloffsky

My understanding is this book is part science-fiction, and part study of music theory…? It has mixed reviews but the concept intrigues me enough to add it to this list.

I hope you’ve found some good ideas to add to your reading list here! If you’ve read any of these books or have other books to recommend, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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Heidi has been involved in music in one way or another for most of her life. She studied music composition in college, has taught piano, voice, composition, ear training, and guitar, and has worked as a piano tuner and technician. She plays frequent concerts, especially for local retirement communities.

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