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Books on Music Theory

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by DWCJR, Jun 19, 2014.

  1. DWCJR


    Jun 3, 2014
    What would be considered standard textbooks for Basic Music Theory, Harmony and 16c/18c Counterpoint? Does anyone have recommendations? My theory is already pretty strong, and I am not adverse to big doorstop books. Thanks.
  2. GastonD


    Nov 18, 2013
    Belgrade, Serbia
    Hm, I am not sure just how important is that "earlier period" counterpoint in your quest, but I'd say that Mark Levine's "Jazz Theory" book is considered somewhat of a benchmark in this field, and for good reasons. If you did not read it, I would strongly recommend that you do.
    DiabolusInMusic likes this.
  3. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    What are you looking for? Have you already studied common practice period harmony? If not, Kostka & Payne's Tonal Harmony is a fairly standard textbook. As far as presentation goes, I have found the earlier editions of Walter Piston's Harmony to be more direct. Arnold Schoenberg's Structural Functions of Harmony is a good read on endgame Romantic harmony, though I prefer to look at it as an opinion piece. For counterpoint, I like Kent Kennan's book.

    I'm not a fan of Mark Levine's book. My beef with it is its questionable organization and shoddy editing, Levine's obsession with chord-scale concept, and ignorance on the topics of functional harmony and voice leading. It is an extremely vertical book as well, by which I mean that the focus on harmony (individual chords, specifically) is to the detriment of melody, so I question how this is useful to an improviser. I could continue ranting, but somebody has already done that for me: http://www.mtosmt.org/issues/mto.00.6.1/mto.00.6.1.rawlins.html

    A far better choice for jazz is Bert Ligon's Connecting Chords with Linear Harmony, though that volume would benefit greatly from a new edition to address some of the notation errors and ambiguities. I am also a fan of William Russo's Composing for the Jazz Orchestra. Russo's discussion on harmony, voice leading, and orchestration are succinct yet instructive. Every now and then, there is a dogmatic statement, but nowhere near as often as in Mark Levine's Jazz Theory (not to mention that one must endure Levine's presumptions for 522 pages, compared fo Russo's 90), and some of the material is dated (mostly orchestration stuff, which reflects the 'commercial music' movement of the 1970's), but the harmony and voicing information is essential stuff and is organized well.

    Another good book is Rayburn Wright's Inside The Score, which is a collection of analyses of reasonable depth on eight big band scores, along with interviews with the composers so you can hear it straight from the horse's mouth.
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2014
    BassChuck likes this.
  4. DWCJR


    Jun 3, 2014
    What am I looking for...
    I am looking to fill in the gaps in my knowledge of theory. I was not accepted into the Jazz Guitar Performance program at my college. There may be several reasons for this, but I will just say that I guess I wasn't good enough. I am still interested in studying and playing music so I take private lessons on guitar and upright bass. I am also playing bass guitar with a group that does not mind excessive Phil Lesh style bass noodling. I want to be a more tasteful player, and I think an understanding of harmony and counterpoint will help. So I am looking for a book or books to help me understand these subjects so I can create tighter, more thoughtful and less ambling bass lines.
  5. lfmn16

    lfmn16 SUSPENDED Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Bainbridge had a good reply, but I would suggest using the search engine since this topic is brought up regularly.
  6. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    I should add something, given your motivations: you need a solid foundation of music theory as a prerequisite, but you will reap the benefits through analyzing music. Transcription is often recommended, but there is a chance that you could screw up or not understand the conventions behind a piece of music, so I highly recommend getting your hands on some professional scores and parts. Know when to use a double bar line, when ledger lines are preferable against a clef change (clef changes should be rare), the reasoning behind courtesy accidentals, all the little innumerable details. This is something you can't get by winging it, and too many self-taughts hurt themselves by missing this stuff. I do my own transcriptions, and I like to think that they look beautiful and are accurate, but I've done far more copying of existing scores. Beethoven is public domain, well-edited (unless you go to some stupid website; stick with IMSLP), has more compositional goodies than the endless pool of I IV V repertoire, and it will be notated in such a way that it is unambiguous and precise. Pencil, paper, (or Finale/Sibelius and a printer) and the Waldstein sonata will do far more for your compositional/improvisational and theoretical understandings than bookwork will.

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