… but I believe that music can change a life, because it changed mine.Charlotte Eriksson
When there’s music in your soul, there’s soul in your music.Criss Jami
A handful of books on music theory, harmony, counterpoint and notation. Talking about music can quickly get technical and depending on your background and training so far some of these will be more useful to you than others. As always, pick and choose what you think will suit you best.
Tunesmith is another songwriting classic, by one of the USA’s most admired songwriters. It covers, in plenty of detail, the process of creating successful songs, including writing lyrics and music and what it’s like psychologically creating new songs. At times it can be a dense read, but absolutely worth reading if you’re serious about taking your understanding of songwriting to the next level.
Mark Harrison: Contemporary Music Theory – A Complete Harmony and Theory Method for the Pop and Jazz Musician
(Hal Leonard, 1999)
I know: the idea of music theory puts a lot of people off. But this book, a guide to music theory in popular music, covers all the important parts without getting too dry and academic. While it’s true there are tons of successful songwriters who don’t read music or have many traditional music theory skills, my view is it’s always worth having good grounding in these skills as they’ll always help you out in the long run. (That goes for lyrics-only writers too.)
Mark Levine’s The Jazz Piano Book does a great job of discussing harmony in popular music to a more advanced level. On the surface, it’s an instruction book about playing jazz piano, but it’s also a great look at some more advanced techniques you can use as a popular musician. You’ll want to be able to score read and have a decent understanding of music theory to make the most of this book.
While original melodies can come only from the depths of a composer’s imagination, there’s no getting round the fact that there are principles on which well-balanced and well-structured melodies are based. Jack Perricone’s book explores comprehensively how these principles apply to melodic writing in popular songwriting. Some score-reading ability is helpful, but he covers enough theory and background that an extensive understanding of music theory isn’t necessary. His topics include melodic structure, melodic motifs, rhythm and how melody and harmony work together.
(W. W. Norton, 1965)
About as old-school as they come, Johann Joseph Fux (yes, that’s his real name) wrote the Gradus Ad Parnassum, a historic treatise on the art of counterpoint, in 1725. Counterpoint is all about how melodic lines fit together and an essential skill in all styles of songwriting. If you’re interested in diving deep into the theory of how to write effective melodic lines over your song’s bass line, Alfred Mann’s modern translation of the original text is really worthwhile.