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  1. #1

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    Does anyone know a good composition book?

    I am looking for a book that covers the composition process of different styles and not just general music theory. I would also like to find something that teaches you how to analyse jazz and other styles.

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    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    I don't know if it is what you are looking for, but when the subject is arranging, Sammy Nesticos book is a classic.

    The Complete Arranger Revised Edition: Sammy Nestico,Pam Homan: 9781424331215: Amazon.com: Books

  4. #3

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    I think the Nestico book is mostly about arranging horns?

    I am not aware of any books on composition, I try to learn by analyzing melody and harmony of the pieces I play/transcribe/teach.

    I did have a few good insights from doing counterpoint for a year in school.

    Jens

  5. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by JensL
    I think the Nestico book is mostly about arranging horns?
    Yes, big band style - and also commercial arranging for the studio (from the days before computers took over - think of old Frank Sinatra records etc.). But "composing" usually involves not only the melody line but also some arranging as well, so one might get some hints from Nesticos book.

    BTW, interestingly, there not much about the guitars role in Nesticos book - mostly a warning to arrangers not to get into too much detail with the guitar parts as the guitarists usually know what to do better than arrangers do. Maybe that's a polite way of avoiding the saying that some guitarists are poor readers, so writing anything out for them other than the chord symbols would be wasted work? However, that certainly wouldn't apply to Roberts, Kessel, Tedesco and other top session men from back then who were very sharp sight readers.

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by oldane
    Yes, big band style - and also commercial arranging for the studio (from the days before computers took over - think of old Frank Sinatra records etc.). But "composing" usually involves not only the melody line but also some arranging as well, so one might get some hints from Nesticos book.
    Of course it does. My point was more that arranging for horns in big-band style or similar large ensembles is a very narrow part of arranging and composing in general.

    Having had lessons in arranging for such groups I don't consider it very relevant, but that is of course my opinion.

    Jens

  7. #6

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    A couple of suggestions ...

    Composing Music: A New Approach: William Russo,Jeffrey Ainis,David Stevenson: 9780226732169: Amazon.com: Books

    and The Jazz Composer's Companion by Gil Goldstein.

    I have these books but have only dipped into them so far.

  8. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by JensL
    Of course it does. My point was more that arranging for horns in big-band style or similar large ensembles is a very narrow part of arranging and composing in general.

    Having had lessons in arranging for such groups I don't consider it very relevant, but that is of course my opinion.

    Jens
    Studying Arranging and Composition for band teaches all aspect of Jazz theory and can be applied to performance as well as writing.

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by docbop
    Studying Arranging and Composition for band teaches all aspect of Jazz theory and can be applied to performance as well as writing.
    I take it you mean big band since you quoted me?
    It does not teach all aspects of arranging and theory by far, and my point is that I do know how to write a sax-special and how to voice for brass, but I can only use it in big band arrangements. You can just as easily learn theory in another (and IMO more relevant) way. Personally I have learned much more by harmonizing standards at the piano and checking out different sounds and options in terms of voicings and harmonies.

    Jens

  10. #9

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    Jon Damian's "The Guitarist's Guide to Composing and Improvising" has some good ideas in it.

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by JensL
    I take it you mean big band since you quoted me?
    It does not teach all aspects of arranging and theory by far, and my point is that I do know how to write a sax-special and how to voice for brass, but I can only use it in big band arrangements. You can just as easily learn theory in another (and IMO more relevant) way. Personally I have learned much more by harmonizing standards at the piano and checking out different sounds and options in terms of voicings and harmonies.

    Jens
    I was basing my answer on the Jazz school I worked at our arranging and composition program was the top program that turned out many top arranges and performers over the years and all considered it a complete program in Jazz theory. The process of learning how to take tunes, modify melody for band or vocalist, reharmonize, arrange for anything from 4 horns to 40 piece orchestra, then conduct, lays a solid foundation for any musical endeavor.
    So I'll stand by my statement studying arranging and composition lays a solid foundation in jazz theory.

  12. #11

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    For us old-timers, something that has really changed the face of composition is the instant feedback you get from using notation software, midi, and home studio DAW's.

    Instead of trying to take an idea from a text book and write it down on paper, now you just can play around with your own ideas, get instant feedback, and see what works, and then revise/try other stuff. It's so much more organic than taking ideas from a text book. It's like a being a child building stuff in a sand box, not relying on rules, just using your imagination.

    In the past you'd write something and have to wait to get an ensemble together to hear your ideas... Like, does that line sound good with the sax and guitar doubling it?... does that line and harmony work well against that bass line?... is that part too busy?... etc. Then you'd do your rewrite, get the band back together, etc.

    Of course the books are valuable, but not as important as they use to be. Now-a-days you can learn so much from experimentation.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nero
    I would also like to find something that teaches you how to analyse jazz...
    Hearing the Changes by Jerry Coker et al.

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bryan T
    Jon Damian's "The Guitarist's Guide to Composing and Improvising" has some good ideas in it.
    I did not read this but I have heard many good things about it, and the little I know of Jon Damian's music is always worthwhile.

    Jens

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nero
    Does anyone know a good composition book?

    I am looking for a book that covers the composition process of different styles and not just general music theory.
    William Russo wrote a couple of good books on jazz writing (one very long, one very short), but - despite the titles - they're more about arranging than composition (and arranging in a functional harmony, big band context).
    This is the big one (with stuff on counterpoint too):
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jazz-Composi...8065901&sr=8-7
    This is the small, concise one:
    Composing for the Jazz Orchestra: Amazon.co.uk: Russo: Books
    (Ignore title - this really is about arranging, NOT composing: technical stuff like instrument ranges and notation, chord types and voicings, types of resolution, etc. Very handy info, but nothing about melodic invention or stylistic factors.)

    I don't know this one, but it could be worth a look:
    Composing Music: A New Approach: Amazon.co.uk: Russo: Books
    Quote Originally Posted by Nero
    I would also like to find something that teaches you how to analyse jazz and other styles.
    "Jazzology" is not bad with functional harmony and analysis:
    Jazzology: The Encyclopedia of Jazz Theory for All Musicians: Amazon.co.uk: Robert Rawlins, Nor Eddine Bahha: Books

    But for proper harmonic analysis (of functional harmony in any kind of music), you need something on classical harmony (CPP), probably one of the standard texts such as Piston:
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Harmony-W-Pi...8066212&sr=1-1
    Last edited by JonR; 09-19-2012 at 10:55 AM.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by fep
    For us old-timers, something that has really changed the face of composition is the instant feedback you get from using notation software, midi, and home studio DAW's.

    Instead of trying to take an idea from a text book and write it down on paper, now you just can play around with your own ideas, get instant feedback, and see what works, and then revise/try other stuff. It's so much more organic than taking ideas from a text book. It's like a being a child building stuff in a sand box, not relying on rules, just using your imagination.

    In the past you'd write something and have to wait to get an ensemble together to hear your ideas... Like, does that line sound good with the sax and guitar doubling it?... does that line and harmony work well against that bass line?... is that part too busy?... etc. Then you'd do your rewrite, get the band back together, etc.

    Of course the books are valuable, but not as important as they use to be. Now-a-days you can learn so much from experimentation.
    +1 Frank!

    wiz

  17. #16

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    This one seems to be fairly well regarded. Have to say I have not really spent too much time on this book so I can't comment too much on it, but it covers a lot of information, and no-one else has mentioned this book.
    Jazz Composition: Theory and Practice: Ted Pease: 9780876390016: Amazon.com: Books
    Hope this helps.

  18. #17

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    Thanks a lot for all those replies!

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by JensL
    I take it you mean big band since you quoted me?
    It does not teach all aspects of arranging and theory by far, and my point is that I do know how to write a sax-special and how to voice for brass, but I can only use it in big band arrangements. You can just as easily learn theory in another (and IMO more relevant) way. Personally I have learned much more by harmonizing standards at the piano and checking out different sounds and options in terms of voicings and harmonies.

    Jens
    I have to disagree. The level of harmonic savvy required to harmonize in four voices in a jazz language is pretty advanced. And what do you mean by "voice for brass"? could you not use the exact same voicing with a group of singers? Or a rock band? or anything else really?

    I feel like some students miss the point of arranging class (not talking about you). It's not as if these things only sound good or are useable with a big band. I mean, are you not doing the exact same thing when you sit down at the piano and harmonize a standard? And does good big band arranging not require a high level of creativity and experimentation on the part of the arranger?

    your last sentence is exactly what arrangers do, and particularly what students in a theory or arranging class are expected to do.


    Anyway, I have a pretty strong opinion on teaching composition. Personally, I don't think it can be done, and I think books marketed at teaching it are really just glorified theory books with misleading titles. I know that sounds harsh... but to me, the ability to compose compelling music comes from experience with compelling music. It is a result of personal study of the music itself, listening, transcribing, taking note of commonalities, remembering sounds, theory, etc... Another big part of composition is the ability to somehow capture the stuff in real time. Fep's post is a great example of this, however, I kind of disagree about the validity of books in composition. I think the information in books is extremely valuable when it comes to composition as well as thoughtful analysis of music. It allows you to categorize sounds, notate quickly, learn instruments quicker, etc...

    My advice to the OP would be to check out all of the books mentioned with the mind set of "this is the stuff that will make composing easier" but keeping in mind that the actual composition process is what teaches you to compose, you have to keep learning and keep writing at the same time. It almost doesn't matter what you write, the more you do it, the better you will get at it.

    good luck
    Last edited by timscarey; 09-22-2012 at 10:42 PM. Reason: unclear

  20. #19

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    Maybe just to make my point of view clear: If somebodys wants to learn how to grow vegetables why would he need to read all the cookbooks on Irish food?

    That is how I see the statement of you want to compose (in any style) then you have to read books on big-band arranging.

    Quote Originally Posted by timscarey
    And what do you mean by "voice for brass"? could you not use the exact same voicing with a group of singers? Or a rock band? or anything else really?
    You have no idea what a big-band arrangement is, do you?
    Most choirs are not 8-9 voices, and the sounds used in a big-band brass voicing probably does not sound great in a rock-band (or anything else really) except a piano?

    Quote Originally Posted by timscarey
    I feel like some students miss the point of arranging class (not talking about you). It's not as if these things only sound good or are useable with a big band. I mean, are you not doing the exact same thing when you sit down at the piano and harmonize a standard? And does good big band arranging not require a high level of creativity and experimentation on the part of the arranger?
    Again, I don't think you realize how specific big band arranging is, and that you are taught the skills to handle that in an arranging class not so much how to be creative and experiment. (I think that is the case with most higher level education is it not? It is very hard to grade it on creativity, but it is easy to test if you've learned the skills). Good arranging is what happens when you are free to use that skill-set creatively.

    Quote Originally Posted by timscarey
    your last sentence is exactly what arrangers do, and particularly what students in a theory or arranging class are expected to do.
    Not in my experience anyway. If you are in an arranging class you are learning to voice and harmonize melodies for the different sections in the band. It is an essential technique to the subject so there's nothing wrong with that. You are not really concerned with harmonizing the tune, you are orchestrating the harmony that is already there.

    Quote Originally Posted by timscarey
    Anyway, I have a pretty strong opinion on teaching composition. Personally, I don't think it can be done, and I think books marketed at teaching it are really just glorified theory books with misleading titles. I know that sounds harsh... but to me, the ability to compose compelling music comes from experience with compelling music. It is a result of personal study of the music itself, listening, transcribing, taking note of commonalities, remembering sounds, theory, etc... Another big part of composition is the ability to somehow capture the stuff in real time. Fep's post is a great example of this, however, I kind of disagree about the validity of books in composition. I think the information in books is extremely valuable when it comes to composition as well as thoughtful analysis of music. It allows you to categorize sounds, notate quickly, learn instruments quicker, etc...
    Do you know that composition is something you can study at a conservatory? I have friends who are trained composers and they are pretty good at what they do. They probably all think you can learn it (otherwise they think they've wasted 4-6 years in school, and I don't have the impression that they do.)

    Essentially composing is writing a melody. Harmonizing and arranging it is secondary to that. Irving Berlin did not harmonize his melodies himself (Think about that next time you play How Deep is The Ocean....). I don't know about the books, but learning to analyze melodies and forms might be handy? There are books on that for sure, but they are not about big band.

    Jens

  21. #20

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    Arranging/Comp books are good because they do cover the theory behind creating melodies, harmonizing them, re-arranging songs etc. So they lay the foundation you can use in any music. Now because these are big band books they also cover orchestration which in traditional composition is taught separately. So no you don't have to learn to write for horns to learn comp' but the better books for jazz comp' tend to also be band arranging books.

    It's a tough area because there aren't a lot of books available. Most the books are either geared toward Pop songwriting or traditional composition, for Jazz you use what's available. Even if not what you want to do, learning to write for horns is good knowledge on voicing chords and inner voice movement.

  22. #21

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    So I guess there's no way of avoiding this discussion

    Quote Originally Posted by docbop
    Arranging/Comp books are good because they do cover the theory behind creating melodies, harmonizing them, re-arranging songs etc. So they lay the foundation you can use in any music. Now because these are big band books they also cover orchestration which in traditional composition is taught separately. So no you don't have to learn to write for horns to learn comp' but the better books for jazz comp' tend to also be band arranging books.
    In my experience the books about bigband arranging that I have come across (that's two books.. ) Are mostly about block harmonizing and orchestration and much less about creating melodies, textures etc. Which makes sense since those are skills you need as an arranger. I just don't think that it is what I need as a composer.

    Quote Originally Posted by docbop
    It's a tough area because there aren't a lot of books available. Most the books are either geared toward Pop songwriting or traditional composition, for Jazz you use what's available. Even if not what you want to do, learning to write for horns is good knowledge on voicing chords and inner voice movement.
    Again I don't think those are really skills you absolutely need to write a strong melody (they are more likely what you need to disquise that your melody is not that strong). In essence compostition of melodies is much more general than style specific. All the standards we play (and arrange for big band..) Are not jazz compositions, we just arrange them with funny chords and screw up the rhythm to make them jazz. Reading big-band books because there is nothing else cannot be an optimal solution...

    Jens

  23. #22

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    Since we are anyway having this off topic discussion, how about approaching it from another point of view:

    1. How many of the composers you admire actually know big band arranging?

    F.ex: Joe Henderson wrote for big band, and Scofield admits in an interview that he is clueless about how writing for horns work. Dave Holland writes for big band, but Kurt Rosenwinkel does not. Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, John Coltrane?

    2. Did you ever learn to write for bigband? Do you have any idea what is in a big-band arrangement and what might be in the books?

    I did do two years of arranging at school, that is a separate subject from theory where I studied btw. I have written two big band arrangements (I had to..) But I am in no way a big band arranger. I do however compose and arrange for smaller ensemble quite often.

    Jens

    Edit: Today I have a rehearsal with music that I wrote and arranged for the most part and after that I go play a big band gig (Where I just show up and read my part...)
    Last edited by JensL; 09-23-2012 at 03:13 AM.

  24. #23

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    Seems to me there's a few separate topics here:

    1. Composing.
    2. Harmony.
    3. Arranging.

    All of them are to some extent dependent on genre, but only the last is really tied to genre.

    So there are good and very useful books on "jazz arranging" (probably mostly aimed at big band stuff, because that's where arranging skills matter most).
    And there are good and very useful books on "harmony" - mostly classical, involving counterpoint or SATB rules, but still applicable to jazz harmony. (Jazz harmony is just a little less fussy about voice-leading - to say the least....)

    Books on "composition" would need to deal with the much less easily defined realm of melody (what is a "good tune"?) - although of course there are still easily discussed formulas for structure and chord progression, what you might call "templates" for composition, rather than composition itself.

    Ultimately, original composition is about inspiration - and here I agree with timscarey: "the ability to compose compelling music comes from experience with compelling music" (not from reading theory books).
    Inspiration often seems like mysterious magic, but really it springs from all the music one has ever heard. One absorbs the vocabulary and grammar of melody from long experience, especially with playing melodies, not just hearing them.
    There are rules of melody; at least, ways in which one can analyse melodies and identify common features, write down what seem to be formulas. But it's debatable that one could go on to compose good tunes just from learning those formulas.

  25. #24

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    I studied arranging with Don Sebesky. Obviously his live teaching was more nuanced than the material in his book.
    He addressed all 3

    1. Composing auxiliary parts and counter lines
    2. Harmony and reharmonization
    3. Arranging including the element of form, motivic development, etc.

    Learning to voice for multiple voices freed my thinking beyond the limits of what's easily playable on guitar. (and will one day probably destroy my hands)

    I think most learning works best with a give and take between personal initiative and feedback and input from the world.
    To study composition, start composing in the same way we practice every day.
    To study analysis, pick some element that you want to observe, listen and read scores.
    Books can be a useful part of the process combined with live interaction and ones own efforts.

  26. #25

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    1. How many of the composers you admire actually know big band arranging?

    F.ex: Joe Henderson wrote for big band, and Scofield admits in an interview that he is clueless about how writing for horns work. Dave Holland writes for big band, but Kurt Rosenwinkel does not. Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, John Coltrane?
    I would say with confidence that all of the composers that I admire write for big band, orchestra, or some kind of large ensemble from time to time, I don't really admire Miles and Coltrane for their composing skills but they are some of my favorite players. My biggest influences are Hermeto Pascoal, Jim Knapp, Debora Gurgel, Jovino Santos-Neto, Wayne Shorter, etc... all of whom write for many different groups of many different sizes.

    2. Did you ever learn to write for bigband? Do you have any idea what is in a big-band arrangement and what might be in the books?
    I took 4 years of community college classical theory (tonal, atonal, Schenkerian, etc..) 2 years of jazz theory, and a year of arranging at a university.

    I have read...

    Bill Dobbins' "Jazz Arranging and Composing"
    William Russo's "Composing for the Jazz Orchestra"
    Jim Knapps "Jazz Harmony"
    Paul Hindemith's "The Craft of Musical Composition"
    David Cope's "Techniques of the contemporary Composer"
    Ron Miller's "Modal Jazz, Composition and Harmony"
    Both of Schoenbergs theory books, three Walter Piston Books, and Messian's "Technique of my musical Language" in addition to the required texts for the theory classes I've taken. I'm pretty well read on theory and arranging.

    I have done over 30 big band arrangements, several choir arrangements, Solo piano, Solo Guitar, Jazz combo, Jazz choir, etc...

    I currently direct and arrange for a high school jazz program and teach theory and arranging at a local 4 year college.

    None of these things means that I really know what im talking about BTW

    And I love to use internet forums to be totally honest and have discussions

    I am aware that Composition is something that you can major in, I teach at a private arts college where there are many composition majors, I understand that. I just don't think that the manifestation of creative and compelling music can be taught.

    I think all of the skills that help bring that music to fruition can surely be taught. Notation, instrumental technique, theory, history, rhythm, transcription, etc... but these things are not composition, they are tools. Again, I believe that composing is something you learn by listening and doing only, all of the stuff in the books just makes it easier.

    Honestly, I think there is less disagreement here than it seems on the surface, I'm not trying to argue, just give my point of view on the topic.

    Although, I would argue that there is more to composing than just writing a good melody, I think the rhythm and harmony play a big role in the initial composition process, even if the final result is removed from the original conception.

    In other words.... if you want to learn to write music well, write music often, and reading about it will only help you. IMO


    Also, I would just like to add that while there are definitely considerations that must be taken in writing for horns, as far as the actual voicings go, there is TONS of crossover between style, instrumentation, etc... and learning about arranging for a large group applies to much more than just a big band. I mean, if you think about it, all groups are limited by range, number of voices, the level of the performers, etc.. and most importantly, the number of available pitches we have to work with (the grand staff).

    There are only so many ways to voice a Bb9 for example, and saying that there is one way to do it for a big band and a different way to do it for a choir or a solo guitar is just inaccurate. Granted, the limitations of the instrument or ensemble must be taken into account, but if you took a standard guitar voicing and gave it to a sax section, it would and does sound just fine (assuming they can play in tune)

    sorry I keep ranting......

    but, I would also like to add that there is WAY more to arranging for a large group than just "orchestrating the harmony that's already there" passing chords, written bass lines, choosing appropriate chord extensions to create smooth voice leading, instrumental technique, groove, all of these things are essential to big band arranging and are also very helpful in composition... no matter what the genre.
    Last edited by timscarey; 09-23-2012 at 04:07 PM. Reason: too wordy

  27. #26

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    Hello I Have been working composing some modal changes tunes, based on two books: Ron Miller´s Modal Jazz Harmony and nicolas slonimsky´s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns . Miller´s book could gives you a good insight about modal harmony and its possibilities. Heres and example of how I have applied the concepts from those books.






    This is my approach to it. The chord changes are


    Glydian
    Db lydian augmented aka Lydian #5)
    Bb lydian
    E lydian augmented (I play thinking in C altered)


    Changes were created based on slonismky concepts, diving the octave in four equal parts, that gave us minor Thirds. Then You organize those notes the way You choose.


    E G Bb Db.


    I organized it starting in G and then going up a tritone to Db, then going down a minor third to Bb, And finally up a tritone to E.[/


    So finally the changes are: G lydian Db lydian #5 Bb lydian E Lydian #5[


    G Lydian chord I Apply the triad pairs concept, playing G And A triad. Sometimes I play A triad\ B triad implying a Glydian #5


    Dd Lydian #5 chord I play A altered, which has the same notes. Also I Apply the triad pairs concept playing Eb triad \ F Triad.


    Sometimes I play also minor pentatonics, using the One who are inside the Lydian And Lydian #5 scales.


    In G lydian I play : F# minor pentatonic. B minor pentatonic


    Db lydian#5 I play: C minor pentatonic. G minor pentatonic (replaces the D for the Db)