5 Music Theory Books I Recommend You Should Study

Posted by Adrian Earnshaw on 30th December 2019

I remember my younger days when I first started out playing the piano and keyboards. The last thing I wanted to do was learn music theory, the theory was boring and reminded you of stuffy professors pouring over their manuscript.

As time went on I got curious about why I was playing the exact notes in front of me, what held them together and more importantly, why did it all just work. This is when I turned to those once hated books and it opened my eyes. It helped me write music quicker and understand chord structures.

Fast forward a number of years and I was writing 4 part harmony (SATB) for my choir to perform. Hearing my first pieces performed gave a feeling of elation that is hard to describe.

The following are just a small selection of books that I used on my musical journey to get me to point I am at now.

1. Elementary Harmony by C.H.Kitson


If you only purchase one book on theory then this is it. It was the one book that I understood and gave me that lightbulb moment. Although it is of a dry academic tone the exercises this book provides takes you through the dos and don’ts of classical harmony.

There is an emphasis on ear practice and to get the most out of the book you will need access to a keyboard instrument or piano. Do not underestimate the slimness of this book compared to others as what it provides are the essentials to get you started on four-part harmony.

I always find myself returning to this tome from time to time just so that I can brush up my skills. 

2. The AB Guide to Music Theory by Eric Taylor


If you have taken any grade exams in the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music line then you may well be familiar with this series. It is split over two volumes and provides the basic building blocks of being able to read and write music. If you ever want to learn to read music then this series is for you.

The first volume of this series takes you through the basics that you will find in grade 1 - 5. Whereas the second volume of the series takes you all the way up to what you would find in a grade 8 music theory test.

Some may find it a dreary little book but I found it an essential volume to read in understanding the dots that I was reading, writing and performing.

3. The Musician’s Guide to Reading and Writing Music by Dave Stewart


Some of you may recognise the name of the author of the keyboardist for Eurythmics. This book is written in a fun style and provides the basics to help you start putting things together musically. Interestingly Dave shows the differences between chord voicings on keyboards compared to guitars, so you get a two for one deal. It also shows what chords would have guitarists wanting to throw things at you due to their impossible nature of voicing.

The book provides a lot of encouraging quips along the way and helps break up what is technically a dry subject. Another thoroughly recommended book to add to your arsenal.

4. Music Composition 1 & 2 by Jonathan E. Peters


Being written in 2014, this is a more modern take on the compositional technique. You can also use the two books to follow along with the tutorial video series the author has made on Udemy. The books show how you can take a simple phrase of music and turn it into a full piece by twisting the notes every which way.

Following these books through coupled with what I have already learnt gave me another light bulb moment in my musical journey. The techniques provided in this series are not just helpful in writing for orchestras and choirs but translate to all styles of music.

5. The Study of Orchestration by Samuel Adler


Now for the big hitter in this short series of recommended books and, also,  by far the most expensive. This book is weighty, coming in at over 1000 pages, but the knowledge contained in these pages is priceless. The aim of the book is to teach the reader the basics of orchestration taking you through each instrument within a typical orchestra.

It provides information on how to combine the individual instruments, how to choose the most appropriate instruments for your pieces and provides a set of CDs to accompany the book with material to demonstrate the techniques presented.

If you are looking at getting into writing for strings, woodwinds, brass and orchestras in general then this is the book you need.


This is a small selection of music theory books that I have personally used to help me understand the art of music. In the coming New Year, I would recommend you give some of these a try, you will be amazed at the results.

What books have you read that influenced you in your music creating journey? Let's share them in the comments below and make the coming New Year on for productivity and learning.

Wishing all my followers and friends the very best that this universe can offer you in 2020.

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