Six of the best inspirational books for musicians

If you spend enough time doing anything you’ll eventually become tired and bored of it. At one point or another we’ve all looked up from our computer screens, instruments, consoles or whatever we’re trying to make music with and felt a distinct lack of inspiration. Here, Erin Barra presents a list of 6 inspirational books for musicians that will help to fill your creative well and inject new excitement into what it is you do.

How Music Works by David Byrne

6 of the Best: Inspirational Books for Musicians - How Music Works

David Byrne is a pretty deep guy; and he’s thought about music A LOT. In this book – he presents his findings. This is a great and dense read that you can return to over and over any time you need to reset your mind and ears. Byrne recounts stories about his career and his body of work but largely focuses on the ‘why’ of music as opposed to the ‘how’.


Byrne takes you on a philosophical journey back to when music was only ever experienced in person and in the moment, before recordings existed, and forward to the age of the internet where things are quite the opposite. It’s also a profound look at culture and how music is woven in and out of our existence. If you’re the type of person who likes to take it there, this is the book to blow your mind.


Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison

6 of the Best: Inspirational Books for Musicians - Writing Better Lyrics

Perhaps the preeminent voice on lyric writing, Pat Pattison does a great job of pulling you into his world , just like a great song does. With a forward by Gillian Welch and a reference to it in a recent NYT piece about how Janelle Monae found her voice, this book has got the juice.

It’s a fantastic read for anyone who wants to learn more about the craft of lyric writing as well as seasoned professional writers. The book offers a 360 view of both words and music, and a thought piece how to use your words wisely. This is another book that you can re-read, discovering something new each time.


Interactive Composition by V.J. Manzo and Will Kuhn


6 of the Best: Inspirational Books for Musicians - Interactive Composition

If you’ve ever wanted to get into Max 4 Live, then this book is the gateway. Manzo and Kuhn do a great job of making Max programming easy to grasp and even find a way to make it, dare I say, interactive. Each chapter dives into a different genre, giving you insight and information on many popular styles of electronic music, while at the same time teaching you how to program custom Max patches for each one.

A lot of time learning a new technical skill can be somewhat of a snooze fest, especially in written form, but this book does a great job of keeping you engaged and focused on the musical results. Great for Ableton Live users who are interested in taking things to the next level, as well as anyone whose thought about dipping their toes into software engineering.


Making Music: 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers by Dennis DeSantis

6 of the Best: Inspirational Books for Musicians - Making Music

Do you have problems getting creative projects rolling? Have you ever been brought to a halt after a creative sprint forward? Do you have hard drives full of ideas which have never been finished? Basically – are you a person? If the answer is yes, then you’ll likely find something useful and calming about having this book.

DeSantis partitions the book into three sections, dealing with issues you encounter at the beginning, middle and end of the music making process, respectively. Each roadblock is dealt with in a succinct and direct way, typically covered in 2-3 pages, which almost urges you to put the book down and get back to making music. With flavours of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, you’re sure to encounter things you probably never thought of before as well as things the apply directly to you.


Dinner with Lenny by Jonathan Cott

6 of the Best: Inspirational Books for Musicians - Dinner With Lenny

Leonard Bernstein was one of the most passionate, prolific and genuinely talented composers ever. You’ll likely know him from West Side Story and Candide. Bernstein had a way with music and a way of igniting a fire within others.

This book is a transcription of the last major interview Bernstein ever gave which took place in his own home. He talks music, politics, spirituality, education, and about his own life with a sort of fervor and understanding that only comes with a lifetime of hard work and achievement. Not just for classical music lovers, this book will give a jolt of life and renewed thrill for art and life.


The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

6 of the Best: Inspirational Books for Musicians - The Artist's Way

The Artist’s Way was originally published in 2001 and has been helping people unblock themselves ever since. Whether it’s writers’ block or, more generally, the inability to see the path forward in life, this book helps to illuminate the darkness and strives to help you understand the obstacles that block our way.

Julia takes you on a 12 week journey where you do lots of creative exercises that challenge the way you think and engage with your surroundings. This book has saved lives, relationships, careers and many minds from spiralling out of control, and if you’re in dire need of a reset, this is the book for you. The Artist’s Way is another book that you can revisit as the years go by and one that you’ll likely recommend to others who are in creative crisis.


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