Resources for music composition & theory

Similar to many of the posts, I would like to learn (rather, retain this time) music theory, scales, all of the things associated with the learned pianist. Given my interests I feel that it would be best to do within the framework of learning jazz piano.

A little bit of background to illustrate where I’m at. I’m a lifelong musician who has taken a few intermediate jazz guitar courses, I retained a few of the chords, but was not in a dedicated mindset at the time. Last year, I attempted learning piano through various sources on the internet, but was deterred by the frustration of bouncing around between courses, before settling on using the Synthesia software which resulted in tennis elbow and essentially a year off.

Learning on Synthesia was fun, but felt like learning guitar with Guitar Hero. It takes an additional effort to learn to play a song independently after learning it on-screen. Just as much effort as learning a ‘slower way’ in my opinion.

I’m hoping that a focused, single course in video format may be helpful in staying on a linear track, but am entirely open to any suggestions.


find someone to play music with and play jazz with them and experiment. best way to learn imo. I’m a hard kinesthetic learner though so maybe that won’t work for you

for solo practice I really love the Real Book. I’m pretty sure there’s one specifically for piano, but I just bought the generic treble clef one to play on guitar. it’s really nice for learning to read, and the range of difficulty is so great that you’ll find easy peasy beginner stuff and really complex stuff for when you get better and wanna push yourself

again though, I am pretty much only able to learn by taking the “just do it” approach, so your mileage may vary if you are not like that

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This would be ideal. A friend’s father teaches piano also, but the money is tight at the moment.

My goodness, never knew about this before. Just the story and the name are great, I can’t wait to try it out. Thanks!

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I’ve been really working at learning jazz piano and how to improvise over the last couple years. i took lessons for a while but have been mainly teaching myself. progress has seemed frustraitingly slow at times, but looking back i guess i have come a long way.

A couple free youtube tutorial channels that i highly recommend:


Just listening to NewJazz talk is music enough for me

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As referenced by @Galapagoose in the second episode of Maps—it’s a searchable database of all 3 original Real Books, and has setlists made by users to help find things quickly.


I know this is an old post originally, but I thought I’d toss in some ideas.

Theory is definitely helpful, but if you want to write music of a certain style there are different rules that often are used in theory - so that should be considered.

I think the first thing is to figure out what you want your music to sound like. What style are you interested in? Synthesizers could do anything from modern baroque to sound art and everything in between. Then, listen to all types of music from pop to classical to help learn the language. I think score study is super helpful because you watch the music as you listen, so you’re learning how all the sounds fit together.


I thought it might be helpful and fun to make a thread talking about books on music and creation, separate from the general thread on books. Like, reference books on synthesis/other electronic music forms, histories/biographies, and general books on the creative process—that sort of thing. Apologies if this is in an inappropriate category.

I’d like to shout out Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch: it’s a great little read about improvisation, super inspirational for moving toward more spontaneous creation.


The Real Book is iconic, for better or worse, but it is also a relic of its time and place. It is full of mistakes and awkward chord choices. It also includes a lot of music that was hot at Berklee in the 1970s, but that is not exactly canonical now. Get The Real Book and use it, but be skeptical of it, and always defer to recordings and writings by the jazz masters themselves. Before the internet, the Real Book was an unparalleled resource, but now it’s only one entry point among many.

3 Likes has a pretty nice collection of old fake books. You’ll run into the same issues that Ethan_Hein mentioned above but it’s still a pretty great collection. The Fake Book Library : Free Texts : Free Download, Borrow and Streaming : Internet Archive

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All of Schoenberg’s didactic works are worth studying. No 12-tone stuff there, just solid training in a “traditional” composition trek. For the more adventurous there’s Charles Wuorinen’s Simple Composition.

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I’m reading through it now. Though its core topic purports to be 12-tone system, which I consider to be the ghastliest of (para-)musical inventions, it’s very well written and has got a lot great comments on many aspects of composition apart from the 12-tone stuff – it’s giving me the vocabulary I’ve been searching for to structure and develop my own views on the architecture of music. Sets down musical layers lucidly and without recourse to contentious formulations as most texts have the misfortune to succumb to. Thank you very much for your suggestion.

It is an interesting book. Most of its principles are drawn from the work of Milton Babbitt, particularly the time-point stuff and the unique aspects of combinatorial sets, structural concepts Babbitt had laid out in articles in Perspectives Of New Music.


I wonder how the serious 12-tone purists would react to the fact that anytime I hear their music I think of Tom & Jerry cartoons.


I feel compelled to hype Anton Webern and Alban Berg as two excellent (and very distinct) 12-tone practitioners who each made beautiful, extraordinary music.

Webern’s Six Bagatelles or Berg’s Violin Concerto are great places to start if you’re on the fence about 12-tone or want to see what else can be done with that method.

I feel like Webern is really helpful especially if you’re interested in minimalism in music. That dude chiseled away just about everything. And Berg is great if you’re secretly a Romantic and lover-of-fine-melody but also wish to retain some Avant-Garde street cred.

Edit: Added some more detail. Also, I mistakenly listed Berg’s Wozzeck as a 12-tone piece. Brain fart. Still–listen to it! It’s amazing!


I’ve recently discovered the YouTube channel ‘David Bruce Composer’. So far I’ve found these videos helpful in providing a bit of inspiration - especially if I’m heading down the spiral of sound design, when I want to be thinking about structure. I wish more composers created this kind of content (blogs / videos).


It’s been mentioned on the forum before, but it’s always worth going through Vincent Persichetti’s Twentieth-Century Harmony: Creative Aspects and Practice. It surveys 20th century techniques up to its publication in 1961. Chapter 1 begins with music composition’s prime directive, “Any tone can succeed any other tone, any tone can sound simultaneously with any other tone or tones, and any group of tones can be followed by any other group of tones, just as any degree of tension or nuance can occur in any medium under any kind of stress or duration. Successful projection will depend upon the contextual and formal conditions that prevail, and upon the skill and the soul of the composer.”


One of my favorite harmony texts. I sequenced every example in that book when I was a composition student. Very helpful. Persichetti’s music is worth a listen too.


A friend of mine has put together a comprehensive collection of notes on music theory from the basics which I found extremely useful, I’d like to add it to this thread for anyone else looking for resources such as this.

Sorry for reviving this old thread.


Hi folks! I love playing with norns, synthesizers and other electronic music objects. But I constantly find the thing that hinders me the most is that I have no music education background. I never played an instrument as a kid, and while I listen to a lot of music, and attempt to create a lot of music, I have a constant feeling of “I have no idea what I’m doing”.

Over the weekend, I’ve been thinking of taking a dive into the deep end. So, question for you all: If I want to learn the basics of music theory, and give myself a little home-school music education, what should I read (books, blog posts, etc), listen to (albums, talks, etc), watch (documentaries, classes, etc), etc?

Also if folks have suggestions on basic approaches to turn listening to music a more “educational” or “theoretical” way, that would be useful as well.


Other related threads I’ve found: