Mike Outram

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19 great books about music, musicians, artists and the creative process

Here’s a list [in no particular order] of some of my favourite writings about music, musicians, artists and the creative process. One of these, a coffee from here and all is well.

So, read any of these? Care to offer me a recommendation for a good book? Also, as a way of expanding on it, feel free to share any ideas you’ve taken and used in your own work, and how?

A little example. In Betty Edwards’ book, ‘Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain’, she talks about ways to ‘head-fake’ yourself into seeing things differently to improve your drawing. One of the ideas is to use ‘Negative Space‘ – Instead of trying to draw what’s there, look at the negative spaces that are created, and draw those instead.

To apply this to music, listen to a piece but instead of being drawn to the melody, focus on the negative space, the stuff between the events. For example, check out ‘So What‘ from the album ‘Kind Of Blue’. But listen to the spaces that Miles Davis leaves and what happens in these spaces. The 1st chorus of his solo features some great comping by pianist Bill Evans. Listen to how he waits for the phrases to end; how sometimes he plays short, clipped phrases; sometimes long sustained chords that support the solo.

For me this serves as a reminder that music consists of sound and silence, and that you can actively play silence. It’s not just something that happens when you run out of ideas.

Over to you…

34 responses to “19 great books about music, musicians, artists and the creative process”

  1. Adrian says:

    “Musica Practica” by Michael Chanan is one I keep meaning to find and re-read. It’s a history of music, but he looks at the culture and psychology of people making music, rather than the music itself.

  2. Chris Bestwick says:

    I’d nominate The Advancing Guitarist by Mick Goodrick. Hugely inspirational, not just in terms of the specific ideas for guitarists, but even more so for the Zen-like section towards the end of the book.
    Unfortunately I found it so inspirational I lent my copy to a friend who never returned it :)

  3. Andy Wiersma says:

    At the moment I am into Olivier Messiaen “The Technique of My Music.”
    Ted Greene, “Chord Chemistry”
    George Van Eps, “Harmonic Mechanisms, Vol. 1”

  4. Mike Outram says:

    Thanks for all the recommendations chaps!

    Adrian – The Michael Chanan sounds really interesting, that’ll be next on the hit list then.

    Chris – I agree, Advancing Guitarist is a great book. It kind of ruins you for other instruction books as he really rams home the point of doing it yourself and finding your own method.

    Andy – Will have to borrow the Messiaen from you when you’re finished! The others I’ve got but don’t visit that often. There are only so many chords you can play in a lifetime :-) Nice website by the way!

    Another one I forgot about is ‘The Jazz Composer’s Companion’ by Gil Goldstein. There are some interesting interviews with around 20 composers about their composition processes/techniques, etc.

    Seems to have gotten all instruction book related. May have to do another blog post about that….

  5. Adrian says:

    Anyone tried Wayne Krantz’s book (the Improviser’s OS)?

  6. sid smith says:

    Good post Mike and a great point about silence within music and what accompaniment really means. Too many albums I hear these days are filled to the brim as if this was some kind of quality indicator!

    That old jazz saying (I forget who actually coined it now) about what you leave out is as important as what you play is right on the money.

    Finally on yer actual book recommendation I would heartily point folk in the direction of John Wickes’ masterful survey, Innovations in British Jazz Volume One 1960 – 1980.

  7. Mike Outram says:

    I’ve got this book. Like the way he’s laid it out. Was going to do another post on instruction books but haven’t got around to that yet. It’s a ‘getting better through pain’ kind of book. He forces you to lock down the area of the fretboard you’re practicing on and play using ‘formula’ or function/note-name, that kind of stuff. I absolutely love his playing and how he’s designed his band/music/gigs and edited out and honed his krantz-ness. There are a couple of mini lessons on his site too that are well worth checking out.

  8. Mike Outram says:

    Hi Sid, nice to see you here! Thanks for the comment and thanks for the recommendation. Enjoyed your Hugh Hopper podcast :) M

  9. Chris Gron says:

    If you are hip to a slightly brain challenging read i must highly recommend that you get a hold of Douglas Hofstadter’s magnum opus “Gödel, Escher, Bach: An eternal golden braid”…

    If you’ve ever wondered about that “elusive connection” between music, math, art and the brain, then this is a “must-read”… nuff said!

  10. Adrian says:

    Sounds interesting, Chris – must give that a try.

    And on the theme of Bach, you just reminded me of “Evening in the Palace of Reason” by James Gaines, all about how he came to write the Musical Offering for the Emperor of Prussia… the aging Baroque master meeting the arrogant young classicist.

  11. Chris Gron says:

    Haha, thats funny… I’m halfway through Gaines book at the moment… Very cool book.
    And i’m very much looking forward to the Vila-Lobos contrafact thing on your soon to be album – quite bright idea.

  12. OK not books, but there’s a couple of great audio and video resources I’ve come across:

    There’s the Georgia State University ‘History of Jazz’ podcast available via ITunes U. It’s best to search for ‘history of jazz’ in ITunes for that one, but you can get the RSS feed via http://bit.ly/2Ht244

    There’s also the Yale University ‘Listening to Music’ course that also available as a podcast via ITunes U or via the Yale website http://oyc.yale.edu/music/listening-to-music

    Ade xx

  13. Martin Speake says:

    A suggestion for your list of essential books on the creative process.
    Simon Purcell told me about this book. It is great.
    Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch

  14. Mike Outram says:

    Hah. Just got it for Xmas! Haven’t read it yet though. Also got Richard Niles’ book of Pat Metheny interviews, it’s really good too. Also a Victor Wooten one that looks fun. M

  15. Mike Outram says:

    Thanks for those, Ade. They look brilliant. Quite a bit to wade through in those lectures. I’m getting an iPhone in a few weeks so I’ll be able to check ’em out on the run!

  16. Paul Brown says:

    Hi everyone, I’m a beginner to Jazz Guitar (Electric Blues player with a serious itch thanks to Ford, Schofield, Carlton,Burrell and Grant Green) how about ‘The Jazz Theory Book’ by Mark Levine. Seems like a good bedtime read to get some understanding of some jazz principles and theory.

  17. Mike Outram says:

    Hi Paul, thanks for commenting :) Levine’s book is great, full of good stuff. Check out this other post too for more book recommendations. https://www.mikeoutram.com/books
    Cheers! Mike

  18. dave marks says:

    Any of you guys read ‘Zen Guitar’? It’s a great little book with a selection of mini chapters each dealing with a discipline or pitfall of playing and practicing. It’s not going to teach you any specifics of music, but it will help a lot of people get clear with their concept…

  19. Mike Outram says:

    I’ve got that one too and I think it’s great. Thanks for reminding me about it. Going to dig it out, need to get some inspiration to keep plugging away :)

  20. Joe Rodriguez says:

    Hi everyone,

    I haven’t seen anyone mentioning “Effortless Mastery” by Kenny Werner. This is like the inner game of music but more in depth; highly recommended for those who’ve been playing for a while and would like to consistently resource from that inner place he calls “the zone”.

  21. Hi Mike – I’d recommend The Recording Angel: Music, Records and Culture from Aristotle to Zappa – good read LOL

  22. Mike Outram says:

    Thanks, Peter! Sounds immense :)

  23. John says:

    time will tell: conversations with paul bley by norman meehan (Berkeley Hills Books, 2003). I have just reviewed this on my blog (http://ajazzblog.blogspot.com/2010/07/time-will-tell-conversations-with-paul.html).

    Absolutely brilliant on the subject of improvisation. For example:
    – “I don’t think musicians can study improvisation very well, but they can certainly study composition.”
    – “Improvisation is composition in real time.”
    – “A scale is an ugly thing and it’s a very bad discipline to expose yours ears to bad music in the name of technique.”
    – “You can’t see where you are unless you are working 5 years ahead of yourself, looking back from where you are now.”


  24. DHM says:

    Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening by Christopher Small.

    Genesis of a Music by Harry Partch.

    Sync or Swarm: Musical Improvisation in a Complex Age by David Borgo.

    Free Play: Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts by Stephen Nachmanovitch

    Noise: Political Economy of Music by Jaques Attali.

    Derek Bailey and the story of Free Improvisation by Ben Watson

  25. Mike Outram says:

    Thanks, John. I’ll certainly be adding that to my list of things to get this Xmas :)

  26. Mike Outram says:

    Thanks, David. All new, apart from ‘Free Play’, which I haven’t read yet! Roll on Xmas :)

  27. steven says:

    the guitarists guide to composing and improvising by jon damian ,very inspirational

  28. Brian Rundstrom says:

    Hi Mike, Thanks for a great site for sharing thoughts and ideas on all things jazz, and music in general. I bought Zen Guitar a couple of years ago, and found it so inspiring in its delving into the spiritual side of thinking about music, and where it is all coming from. Highly recommend it to ALL guitarists (or any musical instruments) in all generes of music. Anyone interested can currently find the book in most branches of Waterstones Bookshops fo less than £10. Amazing read.

  29. James says:

    Free Play… A great book in the non-musical processes of improvisation.


  30. Graham Lyons says:

    Another thought about spaces: if we stick three fingers in the air we convey three of something – surely, to everyone from any culture. But one particular culture might think you meant two, because in that culture the spaces between fingers showed number.

  31. Mike Outram says:

    Thanks for that, Graham.
    It’s a memorable image, and an easy one to convey to people to illustrate a point. I’ll be using it :)

  32. Tommy Emmerton says:

    Primacy Of The Ear – Ran Blake

  33. Mike Outram says:

    Thanks, Tommy. It’s on my list :)

  34. paul pirongs says:

    Wot? No gigs?!
    Other Planets – The Music of Karlheinz Stockhausen by Robin Maconie
    The book sort of messes with your mind
    Hope you are well

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