As regular readers of the blog know, I love “geeking out” about music and technology. A happy consequence of that is that I often get asked for advice on what software, hardware, or related items to purchase. In the spirit of the holidays, I figured I’d put together a list of some of the products that are on my shelf, on my devices or in my office. These may not necessarily be the most suitable items for everyone, but, except where noted, I own and use everything on this list. Keep in mind I’m a Mac and iDevice user, so some items will be specific to those platforms only. Happy shopping!
You’ve heard of those things, right? Made of paper and organized by chapter, with an index at the back?
Music notation aficionados will want to pick up a copy of Elaine Gould’s Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide to Music Notation, from 2011. A thoroughly comprehensive resource for music notation in the modern age, it’s clear, logical, and sensible. Even when you don’t necessarily agree with a rule in the book, it makes you stop to consider your reasons for notating something a certain way. Daniel Spreadbury interviewed Elaine Gould for this blog a few years ago.
Gardner Read’s Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice, from 1979, is another useful reference, and, until Gould’s book was published, was probably the most consulted book on the subject. Although it’s not updated for the digital age, and not as meticulously indexed as the Gould, it’s still a fascinating resource and provides excellent historical context about notating music.
The Study of Orchestration is one of Samuel Adler’s many enduring contributions to the field of music. What distinguishes the Adler from other instrumentation resources is his in-depth discussion and contextualization of repertoire. The most current edition is the third edition from 2002, although I have the second edition — one of the few textbooks surviving from my college days. A bonus for me (and for anyone that has ever studied with Sam) is that it’s very easy to imagine his unique delivery on such lines as “a group or section of basses, on the other hand, can raise the roof.”
From one Sam to another: Sam Adler wrote the forward to Samuel Z. Solomon’s How to Write for Percussion. Solomon is a percussionist, and the book is written from the performer’s perspective — a highly useful take for composers and orchestrators. As a “recovering percussionist” I’ve always been grateful to have familiarity with this section in a first-hand way, but if the myriad drums, keyboards, and beaters have your head spinning, Sam Solomon helps sort it all out for you. Fun fact: composer Nico Muhly typeset the music examples in the book, which dates from 2004.
No book on my shelf is more well-thumbed than the Alfred Essential Dictionary of Orchestration, from 1998. In fact, it’s so small and handy it spends most of its time right on my desk. While it’s really not an “orchestration” book like the Adler — it’s more of an instrumentation primer — for a quick reference of ranges, timbres and performance techniques, there is none better. Also in the “Essential” series are dictionaries of music notation and terminology, but in my opinion the orchestration book is the ideal stocking stuffer.