Harmony, Rhythm, Orchestration: Books for Film Composers, Pt.2


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Cover Photo by Anna Zakharova

Recently, we published an article titled ‘Recommended Books for Film Composers.” In that article, our primary focus was on introducing books that are very specific to film music. The books we featured provided analyses of film scores, explained essential film scoring terminologies, or explored into orchestration for film music.

This post serves as part 2 of the series, where we place a greater emphasis on introducing books that delve deeper into music theory—whether it’s harmony, rhythm, orchestration, or a combination of these elements.

Tonal Harmony: With an Introduction to Twentieth-Century Music by Stefan Kostka and Dorothy Payne

  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education

This book is a comprehensive and practical guide to the theory and practice of harmony in Western music. It covers both the basics of tonality, modes, scales, chords, and chord progressions, as well as the advanced topics of atonality, serialism, extended chords, voice leading, and harmonic analysis. It is essential for grasping fundamental tonal/functional harmony. Widely used as a textbook at Berklee for classical music classes, it is well-written, albeit a bit pricey. You can find second-hand copies on eBay or in local bookstores, especially if you’re near a music college.

The Real Easy Ear Training Book by Roberta Radley

  • Publisher: Sher Music Co.

Music composition thrives on spontaneity, and the more you can hear in your mind, the more expressive a composer you become. This book offers a beginner-friendly introduction to ear training for musicians across all instruments. It guides you on hearing the bass line, which forms the foundation of harmony, in major keys. Additionally, it teaches the gradual incorporation of major and minor diatonic triads (three-note chords) and the subsequent addition of seventh chords in both major and minor key harmony. The book also includes numerous dictation and transcription exercises based on contemporary songs from various genres. Its purpose is to assist musicians in developing their musical ear and enhancing their overall musical expression.

Inside the Score: Big Band Jazz for the Modern Media Composer by Rayburn Wright

  • Publisher: Kendor Music

If you’re a modern media music composer, you may eventually encounter the need to compose jazz music, possibly big band jazz. This relatively unknown book, authored by Rayburn Wright, a co-writer of the famous film music bible ‘On the Track,’ explores into brilliant big band pieces, offering thorough analysis and full scores for studying ensemble jazz. The book contains eight classic jazz ensemble charts by Thad Jones, Sammy Nestico, and Bob Brookmeyer and reveals the writing secrets of these influential composers and arrangers.

Scheherazade Full Score, Dover Publication

  • Publisher: Dover Publications

We admit that this book might come as an unexpected surprise on the list. It is an unabridged and unaltered republication of the score originally published by M. P. Belaieff in Leipzig in 1885. The book presents every note of the original composition in large, clear notation, along with a new English translation of the ‘Program’ explaining Scheherazade’s story. In a nutshell, this book is simply the full score of Scheherazade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. However, given that this piece stands as the best resource for studying orchestral music, we have decided to include it on our list!

Theory of Harmony by Arnold Schoenberg

  • Publisher: University of California Press

A must-read for those serious about delving into serialism and 20th-century harmony. Alongside Persichetti’s ’20th Century Harmony,’ this book is a classic work on harmonic theory written by one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. It ranges over diverse subjects such as nature, artistic creativity, culture, and aesthetic theories of the past. The author writes of his fascination with sound; on the idea that musical order may be manifested in many inconceivable ways; and questions the need of order in music. He also develops his own system of atonal harmony, which rejects tonality and its associated concepts such as key, scale, mode, and chord. He argues that atonality creates more freedom, complexity, and expression than tonality. He illustrates his ideas with examples from his own works, as well as from other composers such as Wagner, Bach, Beethoven, and Debussy. 

Twentieth-Century Harmony by Vincent Persichetti

It is a valuable resource for composers, theorists, and performers who wish to understand and apply the harmonic innovations of the 20th century.

  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

This book is an authoritative survey of harmonic procedures in the music of the 20th century. It explores the vast terrain of harmonic possibilities opened up by post-tonal theory and practice, including the use of non-traditional scales, modes, and harmonic structures. The book also provides numerous musical examples from the works of modern masters such as Stravinsky, Bartok, and Copland. It is a valuable resource for composers, theorists, and performers who wish to understand and apply the harmonic innovations of the 20th century.

Solkattu Manual by David P. Nelson

  • Publisher: Wesleyan University Press

Previously featured in our ‘Exploring Rhythm in John Williams Music‘ article, this book emphasizes the often-overlooked impact of strong rhythmic abilities on musical creativity. This book is a comprehensive guide to solkattu, the rhythmic language of South Indian classical music and dance. It provides a systematic method for learning and teaching solkattu, with detailed explanations of the rhythmic structures, exercises for developing precision and flexibility, and compositions that can be used for performance and teaching.

The Drummer’s Bible by Mick Berry and Jason Gianni

  • Publisher: Sharp Press

As the subtitle of the book suggests, “How to play every drum style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco,” the book presents various rhythm styles along with notation and audio examples. While this book may not be well-written from an artistic standpoint, it is a highly useful resource to keep near your work station.

The book covers a wide range of styles including rock, funk, jazz, reggae, country, blues, hip-hop, metal, and more. It also includes a comprehensive discography of recommended recordings for each style. The book is accompanied by a CD that contains audio examples of the drumming styles and techniques discussed in the book.

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This post was brought to you in collaboration with our partner site Behind the Score. Discover the Harmony Secrets of Modern Film and Video Games.