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Harmony Theory books - or just Levine's book?

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Kurisu, Mar 8, 2004.

  1. Kurisu


    Nov 19, 2003
    Saskatoon SK
    I'm trying to figure out the rules of chord progressions, how to build them, why some sound better than others, etc. and I was looking at getting Mark Levine's Jazz Theory Book to help me out.

    I want to have a good grounding in the theory to speed up composition - I'm tired of just banging out chords until something sounds "neat". I'd rather like to pick a key centre and narrow down my choices, and understand why some changes would work better than others. Then I can try breaking the rules after I understand the basics, right? Of course building lines over these changes is something I have to learn as welll.

    Then I saw at the store books by Mark Sarnecki called Harmony Book 1 and 2, and a book by Grace Vandendool called Basics of Harmony. They look to be over my head, as far as my theory sophistication goes at this point. But would I find more use from one of these Harmony books than Mark's book?

    Or should I just work through my favorite songs and try to discover it all on my own? This seems a little counterintuitive to me - why struggle slowly through a process that many others (much more talented than I) have gone through and codified?
  2. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Mark Levine's book is a very good introduction to what you are talking about - i.e chords and keys - circle of fifths etc.

    You can work your way through the book and examples in your own time and even if you don't intend to play Jazz it is very good on general theory of chords and scales! :)
  3. oliebrice


    Apr 7, 2003
    Hastings, UK
    I'm finding Levine's book really, really useful. I've worked through the first few sections (up to the chapters on reharmonisation) and have found the concepts have really sunk in after reading it 3 times and working it all out on the bass. For basic jazz harmony and chord/scale relationship its the best book I've found by a long way, and I've tried a few.
    Levine's book will give you the basis to work on more advanced harmonic stuff later, as well.
    People on these pages have spoken before about having both classical and jazz teachers, and each improving the other - I reckonthe same applies to theory - why not try both routes?
  4. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    I cut my teeth on Stefan Kostka's harmony text and also on Heinrich Schenker's harmony analysis text. I still refer to both of them to this day.
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    You're talking about completely different animals here. The Levine book is a Jazz Harmony book. Sarnecki's books are more along the lines of more traditional "classical" or "legit" approach to harmony. There is a great deal of crossover from one approach to the other, but the "legit" approach will spend far more time on the details of voice-leading in mainly tertian harmony, while the Levine starts with the idea of extensions and is far more "big picture". Both approaches are valid - you just need to figure out if you want to take the time to become grounded in both. If so, I'd second DON ZIOVANNI'S recommendation of the Kostka/Payne text, which can be ordered with a workbook and CDs of all the musical examples contained in the text (well, most, anyway). It's the theory text I use in my theory classes here at the University, and I find it to be excellent. With all due respect to Mr. ZIOVANNI, I think the Schenker can wait at this point. :)

    Ultimately, the smart thing is to do both. Don't be mislead into thinking that you will be learning THE RULES OF HOW TO WRITE MUSIC, however, as there is no such thing. All any theory book is is a set of observations about what has been done in the past by other people. That's not anywhere close to being "rules", although it often gets portrayed that way.

    Good luck.
  6. Don Higdon

    Don Higdon In Memoriam

    Dec 11, 1999
    Princeton Junction, NJ
    To say the same thing another way, the value of theory books is not that you'll learn how to write, but that you'll learn how to hear. Then, when you have a musical thought, knowing what you're 'hearing,' you'll know how to express it.

    And, The Chris, the best learning is what comes out of struggle. This is contrary to the culture of the last few decades wherein instant gratification is highly prized. One sustains you, and the other dissipates as quickly as it came.
  7. Any opinions here on All about Chords by Elvo S. D'Amante ?

    I recently worked my way though (most of) it, and found it really illuminating in several respects. Really dry, formalistic presentation, though.
  8. bass_means_LOW


    Apr 12, 2004
    Las Vegas
    Mr Levine has had no instant gratification. After Cal Tjader died, he freelanced and taught under many different circumstances. I'm happy that Mark has a 'steady income' from the sale of this book. He's is certainly dedicated to his art uncompromisingly and surely will get more exposure as the fine pianist he is. Many moons ago, we had a regular in a club in San Francisco along with Eddie Henderson and Richie Goldberg on drums. I finally learned the Trane changes to the bridge of Body and Soul after much patience on Mark's part.
  9. How about Bill Russo's two books published by University of Chicago press - I use them but can't remember the exact titles at this moment - either Jazz Composition and Orchestration or Jazz Composition and Orchestration. My teacher who also teaches and arranges and composes as a lecturer (proffessor in your lingo) rates them very highly and they are used as texts by the universtiy down the road.
  10. bass_means_LOW


    Apr 12, 2004
    Las Vegas
    Wow, that's the real deal when it comes to writing out charts! It's about 600 pages of must read info for anyone who wants to compose or orchestrate!
  11. oliebrice


    Apr 7, 2003
    Hastings, UK
    sorry if this is off topic, but do you mean steve berry?
  12. No - Stuart Riley - I've never met Steve Berry - can't think how I've managed to avoid him over all the years.
  13. oliebrice


    Apr 7, 2003
    Hastings, UK
    I'd be interested to know what some of the anti-chord/scale relationship posters on this think of Levine's book - it focuses quite strongly on this. I'm not trying to be contreversial, genuinly curious. Ed?
  14. bass_means_LOW


    Apr 12, 2004
    Las Vegas
    That's it, Mike; "Jazz Composition and Orchestration" by William Russo. University of Chicago Press, all 820 pages. I have the 1968 copyright version, but I'm sure it's been revised?
  15. Bills first book was a slim but dense thing that got straight to the point called Composing for Jazz Orchestra. This has been updated and I've got the latest version. Jazz Composition and Orchestration was meant to replace the slim book, but Composing for Jazz Orch continued to be popular and he updated it. My version of Jazz Comp was leant out, and tragicly (and this is no reflection on an excellent book) the lendee committed suicide. This post is encouraging me to pop up to Waterstones and put an order in again. The copy in the local library is nearly always out.

    One of the many great things about this book is its treatment of rythm and various ways you can create rythm (by introducing skips in stepwise motion although all the notes are of equal value say) and tensions and release and by being aware of the harmonic rythm, counterpoint and so on. This doesn't get covered so much elsewhere - everyone gets hung up on harmony and loses the big picture resulting in a mess. It might be 825 pages but its got no waffle. And a quick look at Amazon reveals 1997 edition with a cd. It's not cheap at $49, but it is great. Reviewers on mostly Amazon do not agree with me though.

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