Recommended Books for film composers

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Please note that the selection of books provided solely focuses on the theoretical aspects of music composition. Books specifically addressing the technical aspects of film scoring, such as spotting, synchronization, and other related topics, have not been included in this list.

Introduction

In an era flooded with information on the internet, books may appear to be an old-fashioned method of studying. However, books remain our favorite means of acquiring knowledge, particularly when it comes to subjects that require in-depth exploration and dedicated time and effort. Despite the prevalence of video content, books possess unique strengths that make them invaluable in the pursuit of knowledge.


Book vs Video

One significant strength of books is their status as proven sources of information, unlike random YouTube tutorials or online videos. The books that we are about to introduce have stood the test of time and have been validated by numerous individuals. They have undergone scrutiny, editing, and review processes that ensure their reliability and accuracy.

Moreover, books offer a distinct advantage by allowing you to stay focused on a single topic without the distractions inherent in videos. Unlike YouTube videos with enticing thumbnails and the constant temptation to click on related or interesting content, books enable you to sit in one place and immerse yourself in a subject without diverting your attention elsewhere.

In summary, despite the rise of video content, books retain their appeal and value in an era of information overload. Their proven reliability, validated by countless individuals, and their ability to keep you focused on a single topic make books an enduring and essential resource for deepening your knowledge.

In the forthcoming article, we have compiled a selection of highly recommended books tailored specifically for composers, with a special emphasis on those working in media music and film composition.


Books for film composers

On the Track: a Guide to Contemporary Film scoring

Author: Fred Karlin, Rayburn Wright
Publisher: Routledge; 2nd edition (January 8, 2004)
Paperback: 560 Pages
Language: English
Publication Year: 1995

On the Track: A Guide to Film Scoring by Fred Karlin and Rayburn Wright

This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about the craft of film scoring, from the basics of music theory and composition to the more technical aspects of working with film crews and recording studios.

If you’re interested in a career in film scoring, then we have no doubt that you’ve probably heard of this book (or maybe it’s already on your bookshelf). This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about the craft of film scoring, from the basics of music theory and composition to the more technical aspects of working with film crews and recording studios.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part covers the basics of film scoring, including the history of film music, the different types of film music, and the role of the film composer. The second part of the book is more technical and covers topics such as spotting, synchronization, and orchestration.

One of the strengths of On the Track is that it is written by two experienced film composers. Karlin and Wright have both worked on a wide range of films, and they bring their wealth of experience to the book. They offer clear and concise explanations of the technical aspects of film scoring, and they provide helpful advice on how to get started in the industry.

(Sidenote: Inside the Score by Rayburn Wright (published by Kendor Music Publishing) is an extraordinary resource and a definitive guide for those passionate about delving into the study of big band jazz.)

The only downside to On the Track is that it was published in 1990. As a result, some of the information in the book is now outdated. However, the vast majority of the information in the book is still relevant, and it is still a valuable resource for anyone interested in film scoring. Also, the book does not come with any audio tracks, but you can find many of the examples discussed in the book on other sources such as YouTube.

The Art of Film Music by George D.Burt

Author: George D. Burt
Publisher: Northeastern University Press
Paperback: 288 Pages
Language: English
Publication Year: 1995

Books on Film Scoring
The Art of Film Music by George D.Burt

“The pages are enriched with detailed discussions of iconic scores from memorable scenes in films like The Best Years of Our Lives, Laura, and East of Eden.”

This book delves into the significant role and profound impact of music in film by analyzing various scenes from classic movies spanning the 1930s to the 1980s. The author thoroughly examines both the practical and aesthetic aspects of film scoring, drawing on the insights of esteemed composers such as Hugo Friedhofer, Alex North, David Raksin, and Leonard Rosenman. The pages are enriched with detailed discussions of iconic scores from memorable scenes in films like The Best Years of Our Lives, Laura, and East of Eden. Additionally, the book serves as a technical guide for composing film music, covering topics such as the spotting process, timing, synchronization, and general compositional approaches. It’s worth noting that the book does not include any audio tracks, most likely due to copyright considerations.

Principles of Orchestration by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Author: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Published: June 1, 1964 by Dover Publications.
Language ‏ : ‎ English
Paperback ‏ : ‎ 512 pages
*First Published July 15, 1822

Principles of Orchestration by Rimsky-Korsakov

“This book provides valuable insights into topics such as tonal resonance, voice combination, effective utilization of tutti effects, and more.”

“The Principles of Orchestration,” authored by Rimsky-Korsakov, a renowned master of Late Romantic orchestration, serves as a comprehensive guide to arranging parts for either a string or full orchestra. This book provides valuable insights into topics such as tonal resonance, voice combination, effective utilization of tutti effects, and more. Many of the musical examples featured in the book are drawn from the author’s own compositions, including notable works like Scheherazade and Capriccio espagnol.

However, it is important to consider that while we highly recommend this book and acknowledge its immense value, it may not be the most suitable initial resource for novice orchestrators. “The Principles of Orchestration” assumes that readers possess a solid understanding of music notation, orchestral instruments, and notation conventions. It is also worth noting that the book does not include any audio materials.


Modulation by Max Reger

Author: Max Reger
Publisher ‏ : ‎ Dover Publications; Illustrated edition (June 5, 2007)
Language ‏ : ‎ English
Paperback ‏ : ‎ 80 pages

Modulation by Max Reger

“Consider it an essential companion for your writing desk, providing quick and accessible references whenever needed.”

Let’s diverge for a moment. While this book may not be exclusively focused on film scoring, it proves to be an exceptional resource for music theory in general. Have you ever encountered challenges when transitioning between different keys? Aptly named, this book is dedicated to the art of modulation and transposing from one key to another. With a focus on 100+ modulations using a 4-part voicing, this concise guide offers valuable insights into navigating key changes effortlessly.


Music Notation by Mark McGrain

Author: Mark McGrain
Publisher‏ : ‎ Berklee Press (July 1, 1990)
Language‏ : ‎ English
Paperback‏ : ‎ 216 pages

Music Notation by Mark McGrain

“This comprehensive book is a treasure trove of answers to the majority, if not all, of the notation questions you may encounter as a composer. “

Pausing your creative flow while composing due to confusion over technical aspects of notation methods can be quite frustrating. Fortunately, this book is specifically designed to alleviate such situations.

This comprehensive book is a treasure trove of answers to the majority, if not all, of the notation questions you may encounter as a composer. It covers a wide range of subjects, including Chord Notation, Dynamics (Location of Dynamic Information), Articulations (Placement of Accent, Staccato), and various other crucial aspects essential for maintaining a professional and polished appearance in your musical scores. Whether you’re seeking guidance on proper notation techniques or aiming to enhance the overall professionalism of your compositions, this book is an indispensable resource that every composer should have in their collection. With its extensive coverage and expert insights, it serves as a reliable and invaluable companion throughout your creative journey.

The Study of Orchestration by Samuel Adler

Author: Samuel Adler
Publisher‏ : ‎  W. W. Norton & Company; Fourth edition (June 1, 2016)
Language‏ : ‎ English
Paperback‏ : ‎ 1024 pages

“This book goes beyond being a mere reference and is often regarded as a bible for composers across various genres, not limited to film music. “

Samuel Adler’s “The Study of Orchestration” holds a prominent place on our list. Deliberately positioned as the final item, we assume that many readers of this article are already familiar with this renowned book. However, for those who are just starting their orchestration journey, it is an absolute must-have resource. Consider it a comprehensive guide that imparts essential knowledge, whether you are exploring the ranges and characteristics of different instruments, delving into specific notation methods, understanding timbre, or learning effective techniques for orchestrating your compositions, including considerations for doublings. This book goes beyond being a mere reference and is often regarded as a bible for composers across various genres, not limited to film music. Its invaluable insights make it an indispensable companion for anyone seeking to enhance their orchestration skills and craft remarkable musical works. And yes, this book comes with audio examples.


… and the list goes on and on. While we couldn’t include all our recommendations here, we’ve compiled a concise list of additional books that we highly recommend. In our future posts, we will gladly share even more book suggestions. Thank you for your reading!

  • Film Music: A Very Short Introduction” by Kathryn Kalinak: This book provides an overview of the history and evolution of film music, exploring different styles and approaches used in film scoring.
  • Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen” by Michel Chion: While not specifically focused on composition, this book explores the intricate relationship between sound and image in film, which can help composers better understand the role of music in enhancing the cinematic experience.

  • Music Composition for Film and Television” by Lalo Schifrin: This book, written by the acclaimed composer Lalo Schifrin, provides insights into the creative process of composing music for visual media. Schifrin shares his experiences and techniques, covering topics like melody, harmony, rhythm, and orchestration.
  • Complete Guide to Film Scoring” by Richard Davis: This comprehensive guide offers practical advice and techniques for composing music for film. It covers various aspects, including working with directors, understanding the business side of film scoring, and creating effective scores that enhance the storytelling.
  • Scoring the Screen: The Secret Language of Film Music” by Andy Hill: In this book, Andy Hill explores the art and language of film music, providing a deeper understanding of how music can shape the emotional impact of a film. It covers topics such as orchestration, thematic development, and the collaboration process between composers and filmmakers.
  • Creative Orchestration: A Project Method For Classes In Orchestration And Instrumentation by George Frederick McKay: McKay, a composer with experience teaching music theory for 40 years, emphasizes an “experiential” method where students learn by doing . The book is known for its clear and direct approach, drawing on McKay’s extensive background. It is designed to teach orchestration and instrumentation through a hands-on, project-based approach. We’d like to thank Randall Oelerich, who was kind enough to recommend this book to us.

You can find additional learning resources on film composition right here.

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