Reading List

Here are a collection of books that I most frequently recommend to both musicians and listeners of music. It’s a list in progress; I will add more items as I discover or recall them. Order them through the links below to help support the site.

Guitar Instruction

The Complete Guide to Playing Blues Guitar Compilation, by Joseph Alexander

I often talk about the importance of learning to speak naturally through one’s instrument. For guitarists, having a solid foundation in the blues can get you there. This is the best guide to playing in the blues style that I have encountered to date.

 

Music Instruction, All Instruments

First, Learn to Practice, by Tom Heany

Learning to play an instrument is only a product of knowing how to practice. In this book, Tom Heany offers advice for making the most of your time spent practicing. After whatever method book I require of a student, it’s always the next book I recommend; and I use its ideas to guide my own practice sessions.

How To Play Jazz and Improvise, by Jamey Aebersold

This is a go-to text for countless students and teachers of jazz. It’s the first in a huge series of play-alongs by the great mentor Aebersold, containing more prose than music, detailing the process of improvisation and how to practice. The long journey of learning to improvise in any style begins here.

 

Music History, Listening, and Appreciation

The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, by Alex Ross

In the 90’s, I was dismayed by my fellow undergraduates’ aversion to the music of the current century. What makes 20th century music less attractive than that of previous eras? And why the perception that some of this music, already 70 or more years old, is modern? In The Rest is Noise, Ross delivers an engaging narrative of the unfolding of new, highly individualistic styles during the most exciting century of classical music. Read it while listening to the audio examples provided on his site, and the resulting trip through time is exhilarating.

 

Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, by Ian Christe

One of the best surveys of heavy metal, focusing less on radio-friendly MTV metal and more on the artists that represent the core of the genre and its subgenera. Each chapter closes with a list of representative recordings, to which I owe the presence of several albums in my own collection.

 

Silence, by John Cage

Cage led the avant-garde in music during much of the 20th century. Silence is a collection of essay, anecdotes, and lecture transcripts that gives the reader a look into his zen-inspired philosophy and creative process.

 

The Real Frank Zappa Book, by Frank Zappa and Peter Occhiogrosso

Whether you are a fan of Zappa or not, this witty collection of stories from one of the most prolific figures of popular music is an entertaining insider look at the business of making music during rock’s growth into maturity.

 

Personal Development

59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute, by Richard Wiseman

I abhor pseudoscience, and most time management and self-help books are rife with it. If 59 Seconds is the only book on self-improvement you ever buy, you aren’t missing much else. Wiseman, a scientific skeptic of some note, gives advice for attaining happiness, completing projects, boosting creativity, and enhancing relationships based on real science and psychology. I keep this near me for reference.