Our Favorite Books about Music: Staff Picks


As the days grow shorter and a chill sets into the air for months to come, many of us turn to books to capture our attention and entertain, inform, and inspire us. We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite books about music spanning biographies to theory, workbooks to music history. Whether you’re looking for a gift or something for yourself, there’s something here for everyone!


Celebrated soprano Renée Fleming shares what she has learned from her experience as an inspiration for those contemplating a career in the arts.

It’s the story of the renowned diva Renée Fleming about her journey and adventure in her career, personal life, as well as numerous people she has worked with. Renee Fleming wrote most of the contents, the sharing is sincere and honest, and it brings us a closer look at what a singing career is actually like. We all are curious about how a singer works, and this book provides a good picture of it! - Tracy Cheung

Critically acclaimed, gripping saga of an artist’s struggle to “make it” without compromising his musical vision. It is a story that, like its subject, reflects the tidal ebbs and flows of American history in the twentieth century.

Well-written and personal story of a truly fascinating person and incredibly influential musician. - Ian Sadock

Compelling biography of a musical genius that portrays the real man behind the music - a difficult and complex character, struggling to continue his profession as musician despite increasing deafness, alienating friends with unprovoked outbursts of anger one moment, overwhelming them with excessive kindness and generosity the next, living in a city in almost constant disarray because of war with France.

It’s a more lighthearted biography with lots of fun facts, rather than just a dry biography. I enjoyed this book! - Lily Eckman

Brown presents Pressler's approach to performance and teaching, including technical exercises, principles of relaxation and total body involvement, and images to guide the pianist's creativity toward expressive interpretation. Insights from the author's own lessons, interviews with Pressler, and recollections of more than 100 Pressler students from the past 50 years are gathered in this text.

KB Pressler was my college teacher's teacher way back in the day, and Pressler is still a leading concert pianist at 94 years old. There's a lot of wit and humor for piano pedagogues and lots of tips and strategies for the pianist and teacher alike. - Kira Boros


An accessible and complete introduction to writing and scoring music for each instrument of the orchestra. Clear explanations, vivid descriptions of various instruments, expert advice, and numerous musical examples to maximize the student's understanding of concepts being presented.

Immensely helpful when writing for instruments you can’t play yourself. - Ian Sadock


Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory is Designed for students of any age, whether listeners or performers, who want to have better understanding of the language of music. In this all-in-one theory course you will learn the essentials of music through concise lessons, practice your music reading and writing skills in the exercises, improve listening skills with Ear Training CDs, and test your knowledge with a review that completes each unit.

These workbooks, used in some school music classes, are great for reinforcing music theory with written exercise. - Terri Weaver

Thorough analysis of eight classic charts from the pens of Thad Jones, Sammy Nestico and Bob Brookmeyer. The complete full score for each part is presented and voicings, orchestration, textures, melodic construction, climaxes, chords are isolated and discussed.

In-depth analyses of several big band charts by Sammy Nestico, Thad Jones, etc. Really investigates all elements of their writing: orchestration, harmony, emotion, density, not just traditional concepts. - Ian Sadock

A comprehensive collection of composers, theory and definitions.

Most of the common music terms are listed plus the bonus of this pocket dictionary is a brief bio on composers. - Terri Weaver

This comprehensive reference guide provides: 1,300+ chords in treble and bass clef notation; 42 chord qualities with multiple voicings for most chords; keyboard diagrams for each chord; and music theory info to aid in chord construction. 

As chords and inversions are taught for the keyboard it helps students with major, minor, augmented and diminished chords. Pictures of a sample keyboard and the staff to help visually play the chords. - Terri Weaver

A comprehensive grounding in notational principles.

DEFINITIVE guide to all elements of music notation; a technical manual. - Ian Sadock

A three volume series that includes the scales, chords and modes necessary to play bebop music and a survey of the development of jazz piano from 1950 to the present, with many illustrations of left-hand chord voicings, right-hand modes, turnarounds, harmonic distortions, blues and modal fragments.

Authentic sources of jazz vocabulary to supplement transcription. - Ian Sadock


The philosophy and principles of Suzuki's teaching methods; through the examples from his own life and teaching, Suzuki establishes his case for early childhood education and the high potential of every human being---not just those seemingly gifted.

Such an enlightening and inspiring read. Helps parents and teachers alike bring the best out of children through music lessons. - John Kline


A voyage into the labyrinth of modern music, The Rest Is Noise shows why twentieth-century composers felt compelled to create a famously bewildering variety of sounds, from the purest beauty to the purest noise. It tells of a remarkable array of maverick personalities who resisted the cult of the classical past, struggled against the indifference of a wide public, and defied the will of dictators.

This book is a great introduction into the music of the 20th and 21st century (a messy and diverse world, for sure). It covers music from Schoenberg to Duke Ellington and is very informative. - John Kline

An invigorating, richly detailed portrait of the artists and events that have shaped the music of our time and a compelling argument for the resiliency of the art form and a rejoinder to any claims about its calcification or demise.

Haven’t had the chance to read this one yet, but it has gotten a lot of great press recently and fills the gap in documenting the history and progression of modern jazz music. - Ian Sadock

Clawing at the Limits of Cool is the first book to focus on Davis and Coltrane’s musical interaction and its historical context, on the ways they influenced each other and the tremendous impact they’ve had on culture since then.

Enjoyed it for many reasons. Primarily, due to author, Farah Jasmine Griffin's take on why the original MDQ is the "best jazz band of all time." Citing the chemistry, talent and drive of these two troubled geniuses. Plus, the fierceness they used to push one another to new heights, challenging each other to play their absolute best, even during tough times. Inspiring. - Tom Wang


Ernst Levy presents the essentials of a comprehensive, consistent theory of harmony developed from tone structure. A Theory of Harmony is a highly original explanation of the harmonic language of the last few centuries, showing the way toward an understanding of diverse styles of music.

A lost treasure rising in popularity, the source of Herbie and Jacob Collier’s concepts of negative harmony/Steve Coleman’s “polarity”. - Ian Sadock

A series of short essays accompanied by short scores on topics such as: Modes of limited transposition, retrograde rhythms, and bird songs. Numerous ideas in clear prose.

Inspiring journey into the mind of a truly individual and self-discovered composer. - Ian Sadock

We’re lucky to have our own resident jazz theory guru at Greensleeves in teacher Ian Sadock. Click here to read his recent publication about transcending the constraints of conventional processes —



A book for any musician who finds themselves having reached a plateau in their development. Werner, a masterful jazz pianist in his own right, uses his own life story and experiences to explore the barriers to creativity and mastery of music, and in the process reveals that "Mastery is available to everyone," providing practical, detailed ways to move towards greater confidence and proficiency in any endeavor.

It inspired me to take things ultra slow when learning new music and not feel pressured to play things at tempo right away! - Jonathan Colman

Designed to teach syncopation within 4/4 time, the exercises also develop speed and accuracy in sight-reading with uncommon rhythmic figures.

Plus, an in-depth study that takes the fear out of playing in time signatures other than 4/4.

SO much rhythm training could be gained from clapping along with the metronome, applicable to all instruments. - Ian Sadock

The Inner Game of Tennis is a revolutionary program for overcoming the self-doubt, nervousness, and lapses of concentration that can keep a player from winning. 

This book was recommended to me by a teacher when I was graduating college and beginning to perform regularly. Although it’s about tennis, the author speaks about how to be confident and visualize yourself succeeding. All of those techniques are applicable to performance as well. It’s a must read for anyone with performance jitters or interested in the psychology behind performing. - Ben Green


Part biography, part music history, and part literary mystery, The Cello Suites weaves together three dramatic stories: The first features Johann Sebastian Bach and the missing manuscript of his suites from the eighteenth century; the second is that of Pablo Casals and his incredible discovery of the manuscript in Spain in the early twentieth century; and the third is Eric Siblin's own infatuation with the suites in the twenty-first century.

Enjoyable and informational! The chapters are formatted by each cello suite, but it still focuses heavily on Bach's life. - Lily Eckman

This is the first comprehensive guide to the saxophone, its history, technical development and repertoire written by some of the finest performers and experts on the instrument. Includes detailed historical developments in the classical, jazz and rock fields, provides practical performance guides, and has a chapter on teaching the instrument.

Lots of small articles involving the history, heritage and anthology of the saxophone! - Crystal Brulato

Sacks explores the place music occupies in the brain and how it affects the human condition. In Musicophilia, he shows us a variety of what he calls “musical misalignments.” Among them: a man struck by lightning who suddenly desires to become a pianist at the age of forty-two; an entire group of children with Williams syndrome, who are hypermusical from birth; people with “amusia,” to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans; and a man whose memory spans only seven seconds-for everything but music.

Captivating text for musician and non-musician alike; beautiful insight into the psychology and broader applications of music. - Ian Sadock

As we head into the holiday season, we hope these staff picks provide with you literary inspiration for gift-giving and cozy nights spent reading the time away. A big thank you to our gracious contributors!


*Book summaries adapted from Goodreads.com.