73 books directly related to music 📚

All 73 music books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

There Was a Time: James Brown, the Chitlin' Circuit, and Me

By Alan Leeds,

Book cover of There Was a Time: James Brown, the Chitlin' Circuit, and Me

Why this book?

Alan Leeds does a wonderful job presenting his eyewitness experiences as part of the James Brown entourage in the 1960s and beyond. The reader can’t wait to find out what happens next in the riveting story he presents of Soul Brother No. 1, the “hardest working man in show business.” It’s a fascinating tale, which presents Brown as an innovative musical force, determined artist, forceful businessman, and unpredictable personality. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the Chitlin’ Circuit when soul music was taking off as a dynamic new genre—as recalled by a young, Jewish kid from Queens who joined James Brown’s team and learned the music business at the hand of the performer who mastered it.

Blues People

By Leroi Jones,

Book cover of Blues People

Why this book?

I have gone back to Blues People for all three of my books. His insight into the blues, jazz, and the relationship of white people and Black music still resonates, and the book is now 60 years old. Things would get much weirder in his life personally and between the races socially in the years after, but this book is no-bullshit truth.

Fortune's Fool: Edgar Bronfman, Jr., Warner Music, and an Industry in Crisis

By Fred Goodman,

Book cover of Fortune's Fool: Edgar Bronfman, Jr., Warner Music, and an Industry in Crisis

Why this book?

The story of how Warner Bros Records, perhaps the best, most profitable yet artist-friendly record label in the 1970s and 1980s became heavily damaged when it was bought out in the 1990s and put under corporate auspices and expectations. Goodman communicates the financial details in a clear and accessible way, as well as the music executives’ singular personalities. Also offers a close-up view of how the corporate execs, especially with their short-term focus on quarterly results, failed to deal with the challenges of Napster and downloads at the turn of the century. An insightful view of the changing components of the music business in our time.

Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music

By Barry Mazor,

Book cover of Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music

Why this book?

You’ve probably never heard of him, but as much as any one person, Ralph Peer created American popular music. 

A student of early musical genres, Peer traveled the country with a couple of new-fangled gadgets called a microphone and a recording machine. He sought out and discovered music that had been considered low-brow, and he carved it into the grooves of records for the wider public to enjoy: country, blues, jazz, polka, folk music of all kinds. 

For two weeks in the summer of 1927, he engineered perhaps the most famous recording sessions of them all, the Bristol Sessions, the “big bang” of country music.

The Infinite Harmony: Musical Structures in Science and Theology

By Michael Hayes,

Book cover of The Infinite Harmony: Musical Structures in Science and Theology

Why this book?

The innovative thinking in this book inspired me to put my original ideas into writing. Here was someone else who was looking into the profound origins of humanity and how the world is made up. It reassured me I was on the right track in associating the Major Arcana of the Tarot with the I-Ching. Michael Hayes goes further in detecting a numerical and musical synthesis between ancient doctrines and current scientific discoveries. It is not a quick read, but a real eye-opener. Whilst not agreeing with all of it, there was so much fascinating information; I had to read it through twice straight off.

Zen Guitar

By Philip Toshio Sudo,

Book cover of Zen Guitar

Why this book?

This book hit me hard and fast. It validated what I previously thought were my private ideas. I’d never met the author, but it seemed to be written about me… for me… or was it written for and about the other 100k plus readers who must have felt the same? I don’t know. Maybe you’re next.

The Music of the Spheres; Music, Science, and the Natural Order of the Universe

By Jamie James,

Book cover of The Music of the Spheres; Music, Science, and the Natural Order of the Universe

Why this book?

This book is a nonfiction history of the concept of Spherics – the idea that music and astronomy are intimately connected. It starts by talking about Pathagorous and works our way chronologically up to Einstein. There are a lot of books on the topic of Music of the Spheres (and a Coldplay album), but this is the best book I’ve found to fully understand the concept. 

Musical Excellence: Strategies and Techniques to Enhance Performance

By Aaron Williamon (editor),

Book cover of Musical Excellence: Strategies and Techniques to Enhance Performance

Why this book?

For anyone who is performing at any level really, this book will help them enhance their performance and manage the stress that sometimes seems to appear in the performance situation. The book looks at ways to approach the music that we have decided to perform a variety of practice strategies and some particularly interesting techniques for all-around improvement taking in both the physical side of playing and the musical side. It’s a serious and quite academic book but well worth the effort.

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

By Kazuo Ishiguro,

Book cover of Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

Why this book?

In these five stories music is the catalyst that shapes the narrators’ encounters with regret, failure, and loss. Through seemingly straightforward but complex dialogue, surprising plot twists, and individual revelations, Ishiguro mixes whimsy and melancholy with moments of connection and revelation—a cocktail that is oddly comforting.   

Silence: Lectures and Writings

By John Cage,

Book cover of Silence: Lectures and Writings

Why this book?

From the 1960s but still one of the greatest books on how being creative means trying everything, trusting no one, and listening to everybody and everything. After you read this you will know that you can be an artist, that is, if you are meant to be one.

Rythm Oil: A Journey Through The Music Of The American South

By Stanley Booth,

Book cover of Rythm Oil: A Journey Through The Music Of The American South

Why this book?

Yes, the title is spelled correctly. I’ve known Stanley Booth from our days in Memphis. He has written about The Rolling Stones, B. B. King, Al Green, and Keith Richards. Keith wrote that “The interesting thing about music to me is that music has always seemed streaks ahead of any other Art form or any other form of social expression.” It has never been said any better.

Stanley Booth’s Rythm Oil contains studies of numerous, forgotten musicians and singers. It is a study of remote history. Stanley Booth doesn’t write with ink. He writes with grit.

Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music

By Phil Ramone,

Book cover of Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music

Why this book?

Phil Ramone has been involved in producing records for some of the biggest acts in music, including Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and Paul Simon. Ostensibly, his book is about record production, but really it’s about people. Yes, Ramone worked with some big names over the course of his long career, but at the end of the day (as he emphasizes throughout the book), they’re all human beings, and while some degree of technical expertise is necessary when it comes to making music, what really matters is knowing how to talk to people. At the end of the day, making music is all about making human connections. 

Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector

By Mick Brown,

Book cover of Tearing Down the Wall of Sound: The Rise and Fall of Phil Spector

Why this book?

I knew that Phil Spector had a reputation for being mercurial (and that he was in prison for murder), but I never realized how off the rails he really was. I also never realized how many people he’d worked with—both as a producer and just as a guy who was trying to network his way into the business. I knew about his “girl groups,” about his work with the Beatles and some of their solo projects, and about his work with the Ramones, but I didn’t realize that he was very good friends with Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records and that he saw Berry Gordy of Motown as one of his biggest competitors. Overall, a bizarre, tragic life, but an interesting read with a lot of information about some of the big names in rock history that Spector encountered. 

Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties

By Ian MacDonald,

Book cover of Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties

Why this book?

Revolution in the Head should come with a warning. This one is only for the most serious of Beatle fanatics. It’s an encyclopedic tome listing every song they ever recorded, who played on it, and even what days it was recorded (Strawberry Fields was recorded over five different sessions through November 1966). There are also many longer sections dealing with the particular cultural moments surrounding the writing of the songs and a whole lot of controversial opinion-making about just which ones are good songs and which are not.

Songs in Black and Lavender: Race, Sexual Politics, and Women's Music

By Eileen M. Hayes,

Book cover of Songs in Black and Lavender: Race, Sexual Politics, and Women's Music

Why this book?

Featuring an Introduction by artist Linda Tillery, the book offers a timely critique of white-centered women’s music events and the possibility of Black women’s music festivals. The author looks at the different experiences of Black audiences in primarily white feminist festival spaces and the role of Black lesbian artists across several generations.

Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within, Book & Online Audio

By Kenny Werner,

Book cover of Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within, Book & Online Audio

Why this book?

When I read Werner's Effortless Mastery, the first thing that happened was that my style of piano playing and composing transformed. What was once very methodical became free-flowing. Secondly, whatever I learned at the piano, then seemed to transfer to my writing and other projects. An absolute unsung hero of both mastery and productivity, Werner does a fantastic job of describing the work of getting your mind into that state of play where learning and creating happen best. 

The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music

By Victor Wooten,

Book cover of The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music

Why this book?

The music lesson is a must-read for not only every musician but an inspiration to non-musicians as well. The book captures the real reason for playing music. The book straddles between a fictional novel and an indispensable true story of why we play music. It is clear in every word, page, and chapter that we play music to share feelings and communicate inspirational messages that can change your life, make you happy, fulfilled, inspired, and thirst for more. 

I love this book not only for the content and inspirational message, but for the style of writing. It’s so engaging to read because he makes you feel like you are in the same room, on the same stage, and with the same band as Victor. Love it!

The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music

By W.A. Mathieu,

Book cover of The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music

Why this book?

The Listening Book is about rediscovering the power of listening as an instrument of self-discovery and personal transformation. By exploring our capacity for listening to sounds of music, nature, and one’s own breathing, we can awaken and release our full creative powers. Mathieu guides the reader to hearing the connections between all sounds of music and everyday life. It is insightful and surprising to notice what is around us at any moment of the day and apply this heightened awareness to understanding and connecting with music listening or performance. This awareness can be neglected but applicable to connecting our inner soul with the outside world and to life. Brilliant illuminations from a genius composer, musician and teacher W.A. Mathieu. 

Never a Dull Moment: 1971 the Year That Rock Exploded

By David Hepworth,

Book cover of Never a Dull Moment: 1971 the Year That Rock Exploded

Why this book?

I love the idea of taking a very specific time period, in this case one year, and parsing out what happened within an art form. The evolution of pop music in 1971 was changing both the industry and the world. Throughout 12 months, we see the same characters weaving in and out — Carol King, Van Morrison, Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Mick Jagger — and the way they came together and pushed apart is its own year-long miniseries. To get at how art and industry cohabitate, and how we got to the pop culture machine we know today, there is no better crash course than 1971.

Becoming Belafonte: Black Artist, Public Radical

By Judith E. Smith,

Book cover of Becoming Belafonte: Black Artist, Public Radical

Why this book?

As I was writing my book, I delved more into the professional singing career of Harry Belafonte. I knew him as the singer of familiar, toe-tapping, globally-inspired hits (i.e. “The Banana Boat Song,” “Jump In the Line,” “Matilda”). I didn’t know about the depth and breadth of his commitment to racial justice. Nor did I realize, more importantly, how his Civil Rights activism informed and shaped his artistic career as an actor and a musician. An eye-opening read about a cultural icon.

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: Mysticism in Music from Antiquity to the Avant-Garde

By Joscelyn Godwin,

Book cover of Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: Mysticism in Music from Antiquity to the Avant-Garde

Why this book?

I remember reading this book over the summer when I was on the road with a recording company. It is filled with anecdotes about the metaphysical, transcendental, spiritual, and mystic properties of music. The thing I find so fascinating about these stories is not if they are true or not, but the belief systems of these ancient people, and the power and faith they put into music.

The Music Shop

By Rachel Joyce,

Book cover of The Music Shop

Why this book?

I remember 1988, the arrival of the CD and old-fashioned record shops. But what I loved most about this book was the portrayal of Frank, the record shop owner with the gift of being able to pick the right music for his customers but unable to help himself. For me, the mystery of Ilse was a background tune to the real story of how these two unlikely characters overcome their various emotional burdens to finally reach out to each other. Sorry about the spoiler!

The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature

By Daniel J. Levitin,

Book cover of The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature

Why this book?

It’s not really six songs, but six human needs that songs fulfill: friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, love—needs that largely define “human nature.” This book combines the perspective of a neuroscientist and musician (Dan Levitin is both), describing why songs may have arisen, and how they impact emotion, memory, and the place of an individual in a society. A song combines music with lyrics—the near relative of a poem. For me (a non-musician), the book was especially useful in clarifying the ways in which song lyrics and poems are both similar and different. Songs derive their power by combining the creative potential of language and music.

A Visit from the Goon Squad

By Jennifer Egan,

Book cover of A Visit from the Goon Squad

Why this book?

Jennifer Egan’s 2011 novel (and its 2022 sibling novel, The Candy House) take readers back and forth through the recent past and near future as we drop in on the lives of characters at different turning points in their lives. Each chapter takes readers in a new direction that deepens, complicates, or thoroughly upends our sense of characters. It makes for breathtaking reading.

The Music of Black Americans: A History

By Eileen Southern,

Book cover of The Music of Black Americans: A History

Why this book?

One day Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln presented me with a thick, intense book saying: ”Here Lil, it’s one of the most important books ever written on our music. You might say it’s our bible! You’re going to love it!” They were right, I opened the heavy book, set it on my lap, and was smoothly led away into a magic world of slave ships, English colonies; then music, artists, and composers, all the way to the black liberation movement. As Dr. Southern makes clear: Despite the burden of social injustice, to the people, music has always played a central role in the life of the nation. And today the music of Black Americans is definitely universal.

My First Classical Music Book: Book & CD

By Genevieve Helsby,

Book cover of My First Classical Music Book: Book & CD

Why this book?

This is a great little book for introducing younger readers to their first pieces of classical music. Although it is meant for a younger audience, there are many anecdotes that slightly older readers will also enjoy. The accompanying music is available in both a CD and an online version. The recordings are from Naxos which has an excellent music library of top-notch performances. A great value!

Teaching Music to Children: A Curriculum Guide for Teachers Without Music Training

By Blair Bielawski,

Book cover of Teaching Music to Children: A Curriculum Guide for Teachers Without Music Training

Why this book?

This is a nice resource for teachers to have at their disposal. The book encompasses various grade levels. It was nice of the author to give permission to teachers to make copies for their classrooms. I love that besides the lessons, games, worksheets, and puzzles, it also includes a listening CD and PowerPoint presentation.

Perfect Sound Whatever

By James Acaster,

Book cover of Perfect Sound Whatever

Why this book?

A beautiful book by one of my favourite comics about one man’s mental breakdown and how music and the people who made it saved him from the worst year of his life. It’s funny and tender and all the music he references was made by people going through their own shit and about how they used their music to save themselves. It’s a book about how we fall apart and how we put ourselves back together and you don’t have to know about music to be moved by it.

Music of the Common Tongue: Survival and Celebration in African American Music

By Christopher Small,

Book cover of Music of the Common Tongue: Survival and Celebration in African American Music

Why this book?

In this utterly unique book, Small contends that music does not consist of “works” but is rather an activity called “musicking” that enacts relationships – between sounds but also among the participants, including the audience. Through musicking we learn about ourselves in relationship to others, and that relationship can be one of submission (sitting quietly listening to an orchestra) or equality (jazz musicians improvising in response to each other while the audience shouts encouragement). In Small’s view, African American music enacts democratic relationships, in which all participate as equals, and individuality is enhanced rather than hindered by group solidarity.  

The Commitments

By Roddy Doyle,

Book cover of The Commitments

Why this book?

In my opinion, few writers have expressed in words the sensation of what it's like to make and listen to music quite like Roddy Doyle has in The Commitments. The book abounds with youthful energy and humor. His nearly complete reliance on dialogue rather than description creates an immediacy that I've rarely experienced elsewhere. He eschews tired cliches in favor of presenting music-making as a craft that requires prodigious amounts of labor and a high tolerance for BS. This also happens to be the source material for one of the best band movies ever made.

How to Make It in the New Music Business: Practical Tips on Building a Loyal Following and Making a Living as a Musician

By Ari Herstand,

Book cover of How to Make It in the New Music Business: Practical Tips on Building a Loyal Following and Making a Living as a Musician

Why this book?

You've read it all before. The standard trope of a rockstar genius turned slow-motion trainwreck through drug-fueled self-indulgence has become all too common in music fiction. The truth is a successful career in the music business requires lots of hard work and smart decision-making. This is especially so in today's world of rapidly shifting technological and social dynamics. Herstand, in plain language, tells it like it is, offering both a sobering assessment of the many challenges you'll face, but also practical real-world advice on how to overcome them. Even if you have no intention of becoming a musician, it's an eye-opener into how the modern business works.

Change Sings: A Children's Anthem

By Amanda Gorman, Loren Long (illustrator),

Book cover of Change Sings: A Children's Anthem

Why this book?

Written by Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, the text of Change Sings is particularly dense with poetic devices such as assonance and rhyme. The story is in the illustrations, and it’s a powerful one. A girl with a guitar meets a boy with a tuba, and gradually they are joined by others, who are given instruments as well. As the band grows, the characters do all sorts of community-building tasks, such as picking up garbage, building a wheelchair ramp, and painting a mural. The illustrations are rich and deep. Many books with the theme of inclusion are meant for younger readers, but I think Change Sings would be an especially good choice for sharing this theme with older readers.

The Secret Life of Plants

By Peter Tompkins, Christopher Bird,

Book cover of The Secret Life of Plants

Why this book?

For those that need proof that plants are sentient beings and have intelligent spirits, this book contains many different scientific experiments with plants that will leave you in no doubt. 

Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles

By Geoff Emerick, Howard Massey,

Book cover of Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles

Why this book?

The author is the thing here. Geoff Emerick was the sound engineer at Abbey Road Studios during the recording of the later Beatle albums – Sgt. Pepper, the White Album, and, yes, Abbey Road. Of course, every Beatle fan knows that George Martin was the Beatle’s producer but it was Emerick who set up the microphones and the tape loops. It was Emerick who captured Ringo’s drumming the best (pillow in the bass drum) and to a large degree, it was he who helped the Beatles shape their legendary sound.

The Voice of Egypt, 1997: Umm Kulthum, Arabic Song, and Egyptian Society in the Twentieth Century

By Virginia Danielson,

Book cover of The Voice of Egypt, 1997: Umm Kulthum, Arabic Song, and Egyptian Society in the Twentieth Century

Why this book?

The essential biography of Umm Kulthum for the English reader. Danielson tells the story of the Arab world’s most famous singer, one of the greatest performers of the 20th century. This book charts her life from the small village in the Nile Delta where she grew up to the heights of global superstardom. It also paints a picture of the world that she moved through, which intersected with the world depicted in Midnight in Cairo. This is a necessary read for anyone interested in Arabic music.

Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation

By Jeff Chang,

Book cover of Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation

Why this book?

One of the many things I appreciate about this book, and why I often assign it to students, is that for long stretches, Chang completely ignores the music, concentrating on the essential and disturbing conditions and history that birthed hip-hop. Its initial development in the South Bronx was no accident, just like the rise of much of jazz in New Orleans. The international dimensions of this genre are studied, as well as its multi-faceted contributions to fashion, art, dance, and more.

Hip-hop also eventually brought innovation and more diversity to the music business and was very affected by national radio ignoring it for years during the 1980s, as well as the 1996 Communications Act that deregulated American radio. Chang wraps up these strands brilliantly. And the music.  

What Does This Button Do?: An Autobiography

By Bruce Dickinson,

Book cover of What Does This Button Do?: An Autobiography

Why this book?

I am a huge Iron Maiden fan, like a devoted acolyte fan. Over the years, I’ve seen them multiple times, bought a closet full of concert shirts, and collected their beers/Funko Pops/album deluxe versions. Bruce Dickinson is the band’s second vocalist, and here he gives us the tales of his early days in Samson before joining Steve Harris and the Maiden crew. We get stories of his childhood and family in typical autobiography fashion, but it takes off once he gets into the meat of his time with Iron Maiden.

The book is captivating because he reflects on leaving Maiden to follow a solo career. The struggles he dealt with personally and professionally paint a picture of a man who had it all but wanted to try something new. The book’s final portion deals with his return to Iron Maiden and how he went through cancer. Cancer could’ve ended his career as a vocalist, but he battled it and came back stronger than ever. Overall, it is an insightful look at the life of the man singing for one of the world’s biggest metal bands.

This Magical, Musical Night

By Rhonda Gowler Greene, James Rey Sanchez (illustrator),

Book cover of This Magical, Musical Night

Why this book?

This book not only introduces readers to the sections and instruments in an orchestra, it does so in lyrical, rhythmic, rhyming verse. Readers will love saying – and hearing – sounds like “pling…plung,” “lootle-oots,” and “bumble, boom…crash!” As a bonus, readers learn musical terms like “arpeggio,” “glissando,” and “diminuendo.” The illustrations are colorful and dynamic and remind me of a movie I loved as a child – Fantasia!

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin

By Lloyd Moss, Marjorie Priceman (illustrator),

Book cover of Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin

Why this book?

This book starts with one trombone, all alone, and adds another instrument on each page until there’s a chamber group of ten. The text swirls and twirls in happy harmony with the illustrations. It’s quite a feat to describe instruments and their sounds in rhyming verse, but this flows along seamlessly. Listen to this oboe description: “Gleeful, bleating, sobbing, pleading, through its throbbing double-reeding.” In addition to introducing orchestra instruments, this book teaches counting (1-10) and terms like “duo,” “trio,” and “quartet,” so it works well for a wide age range of picture book readers. My favorite illustration is the silliest one, where the musicians have become so enthused by the music that the violinist is playing the violin on his head, and the clarinet has attached itself to the clarinetist’s nose.

Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music

By Kyle Devine,

Book cover of Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music

Why this book?

Just as important as thinking about how music sounds and what it means is thinking about where technology comes from and crucially, where it goes after we’re done with it. This book lets no one off the hook and insists that anyone who cares about music should be cognizant of its economies of waste and decomposition. 

The Sonic Color Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening

By Jennifer Lynn Stoever,

Book cover of The Sonic Color Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening

Why this book?

The author points to the ways American media designated sound as “black” or “white” even as “colorblindness” became the dominant paradigm for liberal attitudes towards race. While Americans claimed that they didn’t “see race”, they were exposed to an increasingly segregated soundscape and media environment. Stoever opens up new ways for us to listen to familiar voices, such as those of WEB du Bois, Lena Horne, Lead Belly, Richard Wright, and many more.

The Mysticism of Sound and Music: The Sufi Teaching of Hazrat Inayat Khan

By Hazrat Inayat Khan,

Book cover of The Mysticism of Sound and Music: The Sufi Teaching of Hazrat Inayat Khan

Why this book?

The first time I came across this book was in the late '90s in the National Gallery bookshop in London. I worked part-time at the gallery while studying for my art degree and had watched Bill Viola set up work for an exhibition there. The bookshop had dedicated a table with Viola's book recommendations, and Hazrat Inayat Khan's The Mysticism of Sound and Music was one of the titles put on display. My memory of the book is tied to the excitement of being an art student watching an inspiring artist at work. Yet, it is probably one of the most important books I have read that beautifully interweaves creativity, the web of life, music, and the spiritual, which are all themes close to my heart.  

Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening

By Christopher Small,

Book cover of Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening

Why this book?

This book explores music in a delightfully refreshing way where the author considers music essentially an activity and develops his concept of ‘musicking’ or ‘doing music’ in all its various ways. He gives much confidence to those who may think ‘they are not very good at music’ to take part in a much more enthusiastic and practical way. It’s a lovely way in to the exploration of this wonderful art.

Erotic Triangles: Sundanese Dance and Masculinity in West Java

By Henry Spiller,

Book cover of Erotic Triangles: Sundanese Dance and Masculinity in West Java

Why this book?

Erotic Triangles returns to a part of the world I know well, though the topic is alien to my own natural resource emphasis. Yet I found it fascinating for its symbolic analyses of West Java’s musical and art worlds – intertwined intimately with the relations between men and women and among men. Its emphasis on triangles was the inspiration for me to structure my own analyses as a harp (another ‘triangle’), within which the strings signify traits that men value in a given culture. Spiller’s analysis inspired my own analogy between the creation of harp music and the clusters of values that influence men’s identities, their personal and cultural ‘songs.’

Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar

By Jess Wells,

Book cover of Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar

Why this book?

I love Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar for its magic realism. For me, the story reads as real, even when it travels into the fantastic. Jess Wells’ writing is like music: it goes on singing in the back of my mind long after I’ve closed the book.

Jaguar Paloma is a larger than life woman in a setting that is more intense than everyday reality. Strong and vulnerable, audacious and cunning, Jaguar’s compassion inspires a splendid collection of men and women.

Harnessing Harmony: Music, Power, and Politics in the United States, 1788–1865

By Billy Coleman,

Book cover of Harnessing Harmony: Music, Power, and Politics in the United States, 1788–1865

Why this book?

The connection between music and contemporary politics is obvious, but it is easy to forget that before Woody Guthrie, the protest songs of the 1960s, Green Day, and Keke Palmer, music was an integral part of national politics. Coleman unsurprisingly contends that political music in the early U.S. was collective and participatory, but he goes on to argue that elites used it to enforce conformity, an interesting twist on how we traditionally think of political music as challenging the status quo. 

Shostakovich: A Life Remembered

By Elizabeth Wilson,

Book cover of Shostakovich: A Life Remembered

Why this book?

Having studied cello in Soviet Russia in the 1960s, Elizabeth Wilson used her extensive musical contacts to produce this unique study of Dmitri Shostakovich, one of the most innovative composers of the 20th century. Prompted by Wilson’s queries, family members, friends, fellow musicians, and other artists offered their recollections that might have otherwise been lost. Gathered together these testimonies offer a gripping picture of Shostakovich as an artist and a man. They describe his extraordinary successes and his struggles for survival and dignity during the brutal Stalinist purges and horrors of World War II. One of the most moving testimonies sheds light on the creation and the first performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No.7 which, in the world of music, became a symbol of resistance to fascism and all forms of totalitarianism anywhere.

Themes and Conclusions

By Igor Stravinsky,

Book cover of Themes and Conclusions

Why this book?

Igor Stravinsky was one of the most influential and innovative music composers of the 20th century. He was also remarkably intelligent, humorous, and insightful. This book is a collection of interviews, letters, and notes made by and about Stravinsky. Some of these writings would interest only classical music enthusiasts, but much of the book comprises witty observations of human nature, art, and what it really means to praise or critique someone.

The Free Brontosaurus

By David Berkeley,

Book cover of The Free Brontosaurus

Why this book?

David Berkeley, a singer/songwriter, wrote this book of short stories, each one connected because the minor characters in one story are the major characters in another. David wrote a song for each story from the character’s point of view. The music album is called Cardboard Boat and you can find it on his homepage.

The Free Brontosaurus made this list because Berkeley's creative genius knows no bounds. He has been prolific in words and music for decades while raising a family and traveling the world. This particular work, with its interconnected set of characters, explores beauty and gratitude in unlikely circumstances.

Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound

By Daphne A. Brooks,

Book cover of Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound

Why this book?

Black feminist scholar and cultural critic Daphne A. Brooks has a solution to the vexing conundrum of the simultaneous centrality of African American women to the development of 20th and 21st-century music and the persistent devaluation of their contributions: she listens closely to their work in its historical, social, and aesthetic context. In her dazzling discussions of the cultural productions of an expansive array of musicians, artists, and critics—Pauline Hopkins, Zora Neale Hurston, Lorraine Hansberry, Abbey Lincoln, Valerie June, Janelle Monáe, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Beyoncé, Carrie Mae Weems, and Wangechi Mutu make appearances—Brooks offers incisive and provocative readings that highlight the transformative intellectual and creative labor of African American women. This luminous book reveals and exemplifies the radical possibilities of Black women’s sound.

Alice and Greta: A Tale of Two Witches

By Steven J. Simmons, Cyd Moore (illustrator),

Book cover of Alice and Greta: A Tale of Two Witches

Why this book?

A favorite in our home for years- Cyd Moore’s illustrations are perfectly suited to this tale of two very different witches. The pictures are full of details that can be discovered over multiple readings and the color palate keeps things light and fun. A great moral about Karma makes this a fun witchy read year round.

Night Shifts Black

By Alyson Santos,

Book cover of Night Shifts Black

Why this book?

The writing is lyrical and lovely. This is a different kind of rockstar romance. It’s haunting and super emotional. This is another book that I feel would benefit someone having a hard time and another one that reinforces that music can be powerful and healing. Alyson is a musician herself and wrote all the music in the series. I think that makes it extra special. This is also a tamer type of romance so a wider audience can enjoy it.

I love that it clearly shows you can have everything at your fingertips but still be unhappy and unfulfilled. It’s a great story that normalizes anxiety and depression, even for those who seem to be on top of the world. I also adore how open and accepting the heroine is. Not that she’s a pushover, she’s just very understanding of the hero's struggles.

As a romance writer and reader, I really think the biggest value in this story is taking a common theme in the genre, normal girl meets super famous rockstar, and turning it into something more. There are a lot of beloved tropes in romance across the board, and just because there are a lot of stories with those tropes, doesn’t mean they aren’t done well or that they won’t be impactful and full of emotion and deeper meaning. This book is a good reminder to always look below the surface.

The Doom Stone

By Paul Zindel,

Book cover of The Doom Stone

Why this book?

While short book aimed at younger readers, there’s so much to learn for anyone regardless of age that wishes to exercise their terror-inducing writing muscles. I read this book so long ago that I would guess it was back in 2005. While the time frame is hazy, the details and lessons in the book are anything but. The way Zindel handles the horror parts is what gets this book on this list. The antagonist monster is horrendous of course, but it’s the mystery behind it that is what’s more chilling because it is vaguely hinted at but never outright explained.

Even on the final page, when you learn that this creature isn’t anything new nor anything going away, there are still so many mysteries that will not (and maybe should not) be solved. That is why this book is recommended. When things are over-explained, they tend to lose their magic. A key component to writing in general, and especially if your goal is to unnerve your reader into thinking about your book long after they close the book.

Asturias: 55 Classical Masterpieces from 5 Centuries Guitar

By Martin Hegel (editor),

Book cover of Asturias: 55 Classical Masterpieces from 5 Centuries Guitar

Why this book?

Classical music is often seen as being unapproachable, demanding, and difficult, the domain of geniuses and prodigies not for ordinary mortals. This delightful book makes available some of the greatest guitar music ever written in a form that is accessible yet recognisable. It enables the intermediate-level guitarist to advance their abilities while playing pieces that will transfix any audience, impress friends and family and render great satisfaction to the performer. 

How Music Works

By David Byrne,

Book cover of How Music Works

Why this book?

More than anything, what comes across in How Music Works is how much David Byrne loves music. He’s not offering a technical or theoretical explanation in this tome so much as exploring the value of music in society—what music gives us, how it shapes us, and how it emerges from various scenes and other social settings. Above all, Byrne argues, music is rooted in time and space. Music blossoms when it has a place in which to gestate, and the peculiarities of that place inevitably inform the shape the music takes. It’s impossible to read this book and not want to start making music immediately.  

The Bear and the Piano

By David Litchfield,

Book cover of The Bear and the Piano

Why this book?

We often fear change and it’s for this reason that we don’t dare try something new. We’re afraid we won’t be able to go back to the way things were before in case we don’t succeed. It’s important to realize that the people who truly appreciate and love us will always support our endeavors and welcome us back regardless of whether we succeeded or failed. The Bear and the Piano relates this message in a gentle and inspiring way for me.


By Maud Hart Lovelace, Lois Lenski (illustrator),

Book cover of Betsy-Tacy

Why this book?

They’re the fictionalized account of the author’s childhood growing up in Deep Valley, Minnesota, and my mom introduced me to these books when I was about nine or so. She’d read them growing up and I reread them constantly into my teens and then every few years as an adult whenever I needed the literary equivalent of hot chocolate and fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. I realize these books are not in the genres I write, but inspiration doesn’t always come from obvious places. 

Stomping the Blues

By Albert Murray,

Book cover of Stomping the Blues

Why this book?

I came across this book when I decided to focus my graduate study on the history of jazz and was reading everything I could find. It’s a short book, full of incredible vintage photographs, and it taught me so much about what swing is, how music and dance are joined at the hip. How it’s all rooted in the blues. And about the link between the “Saturday Night Function” of celebrating life with music and dance, followed a few hours later by the “Sunday Morning Function,” singing and celebrating God and community in church. The two are not all that far apart. Along with Ralph Ellison, Albert Murray was probably the first author to write about jazz with a real sense of lyricism and poetry. In this book, the writing itself carries the energy and exuberance of jazz.

The Music of Life

By Louisa Thomas,

Book cover of The Music of Life

Why this book?

As a musician, I hear everyday sounds as music: the tritone intervals of an ambulance, the rhythm of coffee dripping, bird calls, the fluctuation of laughter, etc. This picture book follows Lenny, a composer, who stops and listens to sounds of daily life which gives him inspiration for his own compositions. This picture book reveals how music is truly the sound of life.

Dancing on My Grave

By Gelsey Kirkland,

Book cover of Dancing on My Grave

Why this book?

I found that this sometimes funny but always emotional and moving account of Ms. Kirkland's life as a ballerina in New York City to be a real triumph. She brings to the pages an honesty that is rarely seen, even in autobiographies. From the illegal drug scene that nearly killed her to the everyday trials of an immensely talented dancer caught between two worlds, this is the stuff that nightmares are made of.

Frank and Bean

By Jamie Michalak, Bob Kolar (illustrator),

Book cover of Frank and Bean

Why this book?

Frank and Bean opens with Frank, who visits the great outdoors to find peace and quiet. Then, Bean shows up. He is literally a one bean band, with a drum, trumpet, triangle and more. Needless to say, they don’t initially hit it off. But then it gets dark, and fears bring them together. Before you know it, they are making beautiful music together. The text is full of wry humor presented with a wink for adults, while the illustrations are pitched perfectly to make five- to eight-year-old readers giggle along. I love this friendship story because it’s so much fun to read out loud. 

A Song for a New Day

By Sarah Pinsker,

Book cover of A Song for a New Day

Why this book?

So, this is a novel about a world in which a global pandemic means that large gatherings are illegal and everyone has adapted to life at home in isolation. It was published in 2019, and I read it summer of 2020. I'm not sure I've ever read anything that was this spookily, horrifyingly prophetic. That said, it's also really punk and ultimately uplifting. One of the characters is the lead singer of the band who it turns out inadvertently gave the last public concert ever, and she's trying to revive live music with underground concerts. Another character is the virtual talent scout who joins her cause. The story is about how you peel yourself out of trauma and disaster to find community again. Be warned, at this historical moment this one's a bit of a kick in the teeth.

The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley

By Colin Thompson, Amy Lissiat (illustrator),

Book cover of The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley

Why this book?

The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley is a book that, well, the first time I read it my mind was blown. This is a self-help book for all humans in a picture book. It takes our thirst to live forever, to always want more, be more, see more, do more, look better, and compares that with the wonderful Riley, who is happy with some fruit and maybe a couple of slugs on Tuesday or Friday.

He likes a little stick that can scratch his back.
He looks like Riley. Why would he want to look like anything else?

This is a beautifully written and illustrated book on being grateful for what we have.

Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi,

Book cover of Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention

Why this book?

This amazing book draws on nearly one hundred interviews with creative people in every field and thirty years of research on the subject of creativity. There are multiple stories from musicians and composers while Csikszentmihalyi abstracts the common characteristics of the creative process that transcends the arts, science, architecture, and technology. He studies personalities, family backgrounds, and the environments that inspire the creative process. We learn to accept that many uniquely creative people have channeled their contributions by focusing their energy through unique structures that include conflicts, disease, handicap, stress, poverty, and emotional instability. The 426 pages of research and interviews are captivating, informative, and insightful and can inspire creative expression from new sources of understanding. 


By Kennedy Ryan,

Book cover of Grip

Why this book?

This book is on the list because I read it, then I immediately read it again, then I immediately messaged Kennedy and told her my mind was blown. It’s also on the list because the Warped tour always had a pretty diverse lineup when I attended when I was younger. There were as many people there for Cypress Hill as there were for Bad Religion back in my day. The hero in this book is a rapper and into hip hop instead of the other scenes I’m more familiar with. But Kenndy brought him, and the music to life in this series.

I just loved the whole vibe of it. It feels current and timely. It feels important. It’s the type of book to open your eyes and prompt important conversations, but still has all the sexy and sentimental romance goodness. Give me an opposites attracting romance any day of the week and I will love every word of it.

This is a romance novel that can teach you something as you’re reading it. And as an author while reading it, it becomes very apparent you can tell a romance story that doesn’t shy away from real-world issues and conflicts if you do it right. Romance can be more than feel-good fluff in the right hands. Not that there's anything wrong with feel-good fluff! There’s room for a bit of everything in romance, just like there was a stage for just a little bit of everything at the Warped Tour. :)

It Came from Memphis

By Robert Gordon,

Book cover of It Came from Memphis

Why this book?

In Memphis during the 1950s, there was Black and there was White, but the two rarely met. One of the few places where they did was in clubs and recording studios, and the sparks they struck started a fire that came to be called rock ’n’ roll. 

In this wonderfully rich stew of a book, author and filmmaker Robert Gordon walks the streets of Memphis, exploring the sights and sounds and smells of a unique, endlessly fascinating world. 

As Gordon’s publisher says, “This is a book about the weirdos, winos, and midget wrestlers who forged the rock ’n’ roll spirit.” As Rolling Stone says, “If you haven’t read this book, do it now.”

Memphis 68: The Tragedy of Southern Soul

By Stuart Cosgrove,

Book cover of Memphis 68: The Tragedy of Southern Soul

Why this book?

Scottish author Cosgrove wrote probably the ultimate trilogy of books covering the 1967-69 period of soul music, of which the ‘68’ tome dealing with the Memphis sound and southern soul is one. Cosgrove is another author that looks at all the cultural and social aspects of music with an easy and understandable writing style that keeps you turning the pages with ease.

The Air You Breathe

By Frances De Pontes Peebles,

Book cover of The Air You Breathe

Why this book?

Friendship, romance, betrayal, drama, music, adventures, beauty, and tragedy, this book has it all. It is a magnificent work of history and Latin culture that immediately took me back from my home country, Brazil, and to another time, pre and post WWII. It is the story of two girls with opposite backgrounds, who grew up together and embraced their artistic careers and dreams of becoming music stars. Graca, the samba singer, the main one on the front stage, with her beauty, charisma, and unique voice; and Dores the songwriter, behind the scenes, with her poetry, the lyrics, the rhythm, the passion, and the determination to be a music group leader. She has the stamina to never give up.

This particular book made me fall in love with historical fiction. Rich in details, well researched, and carefully woven, it was hard to separate what was fiction, what was real. As the plot develops and the artists finally reach Hollywood, one can only ask if this is a fictional account of the famous singer and actress Carmen Miranda. But interestingly, it is her almost unknown friend, Dores, who called my attention the most. Her name literally means pains and sufferings, in Portuguese, but she seems so strong, so resilient. Who is this woman who contributed so much to the birth of the Samba, but yet, might not have received the proper recognition in time and history?

Music Psychology in Education

By Susan Hallam,

Book cover of Music Psychology in Education

Why this book?

Whether you’re a learner or a teacher, developing an interest in what goes on behind the scenes will naturally reap many benefits. This fascinating book deals with many issues that need to be considered whether music is a hobby or a profession. Susan considers how music is processed in the brain, what musical ability actually is, the psychological side of learning to play an instrument and sing, what feeds into our motivation, and generally the extraordinary impact that music has on our lives.

A Southern Music: The Karnatik Story

By T.M. Krishna,

Book cover of A Southern Music: The Karnatik Story

Why this book?

T.N. Krishnan’s book discusses Carnatic (south Indian) music in depth, sure. But more importantly, he discusses why music matters, what it’s for, emotion, and human existence. It’s a primer in art, philosophy, and intention. Read it along with Ramani Maharshi’s writings, and one is pretty much ready to be fully human. 


By Rachel Hartman,

Book cover of Seraphina

Why this book?

I’ve always had a thing for dragons and consider them a go-to for a good fantasy read. But Seraphina is one of the most inventive takes on the dragon trope I’ve ever seen, and it works so well! (Not to mention, the dragons in this book are incredible musicians, and being a musician myself, I found that very cool.)  I think I blasted through this entire book in a day or two, so be prepared to put life on hold when you pick this one up!

Anna Pavlova: Twentieth Century Ballerina

By Jane Pritchard, Caroline Hamilton,

Book cover of Anna Pavlova: Twentieth Century Ballerina

Why this book?

As a celebrity in her own time, Pavlova was groundbreaking. I enjoyed reading this book and learning more about the life of an extraordinary pioneer. She lived at a time when changes in the world were many, as the film of her performing the Dying Swan certainly proves. She toured the world in order to share her art with others and has name recognition that has lasted to this very day. If you're curious about her incredible life, don't miss this lovely book.   


By Kyo Maclear, Byron Eggenschwiler (illustrator),

Book cover of Operatic

Why this book?

A wonderful graphic novel for and about teens, Operatic follows Charlie, a teen girl who must find "her song" for a school project, and embarks on an emotional journey about the meaning of music, friendship, love, and opera. The book, gutting and uplifting all at once, is also an homage to the great Maria Callas, while peppered with pop and rock references. A perfect book for readers 12 and up, by which I mean: up to 30, up to 45, up to 99 years old, as music ties us powerfully with our life story, no matter our age.