- Listen to a piece of music several times until the subtleties of its form and structure become familiar to you
- Learn something about the piece you are listening to — learn about its historical context, the composer who created it, and the terminology necessary to understanding it.
The first suggestion — asking you to listen to a piece over and over — may take a little time, but time spent listening to great music is never wasted. The second suggestion, however, takes a little more effort. You will need to do some reading, some research. Even so, there's no need to worry because the resources are ubiquitous. You should have no problem finding good books that teach you almost everything a Tyro needs to know about classical music and how to enjoy it.
I have assembled a personal library of over 170 books on classical music — I’m soon going to need another bookcase — and thought I'd use this blog to list a few of my personal recommendations. The list could have been much longer, but I decided to to keep it short and only recommend the books that I think are best for Tyros. I should mention that every book I have recommended resides in my personal library, and I have used all of them extensively in my teaching and writing. Someone who's new to classical music can't go wrong with any of these books.
Who’s Afraid of Classical Music? by Michael Walsh
An entertaining, sometimes irreverent book that Tyros will want to read cover to cover. For Tyros, this book may be the best place to begin a classical music education.
How to Listen to Great Music by Robert Greenberg
A book written by the Elvis of music historians. Dr. Greenberg’s Great Courses lectures are immensely popular and for good reason — he provides a scholarly approach to understanding classical music that is tremendously entertaining. For some, his courses might seem expensive. However, the book summarizing much of what he says in those lectures is inexpensive and should be an essential addition to the Tyro’s library.
What to Listen For in Music by Aaron Copland
A classic in the music appreciation genre since it was first published in 1939.
The Complete Classical Music Guide edited by John Burrows with Charles Wiffen (DK Limited)
A readable and colorful reference book for those who are just entering the world of classical music.
The Vintage Guide to Classical Music by Jan Safford
A book containing terrific information about composers and the historical styles their music represents.
All You Have to Do is Listen and What Makes It Great? by Rob Kapilow
Essential books for Tyros. I know of no one right now who is publishing better books designed to explain classical music to beginners than Rob Kapilow. His books are even accompanied by a website that provides free samples of the music he discusses.
The NPR Classical Music Companion by Miles Hoffman
An easy-to-understand dictionary of musical terms.
The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians edited by Don Michael Randel
A more extensive and technical dictionary of terms than Hoffman’s NPR companion.
Classical Music: The 50 Greatest Composers and Their 1,000 Greatest Works by Phil G. Goulding
A book that provides provocative information about music history and the composers of great music — a book that will make you think.
The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold C. Schonberg
The best reference book for those seeking information about composers.
The Lives and Times of the Great Composers by Michael Steen
Another great reference book for those seeking information about composers.
The Rest is Noise and Listen to This by Alex Ross
Two books for Tyros who are ready to graduate to more “advanced” literature. Alex Ross is a great music critic — possibly the George Bernard Shaw of our time
A History of Western Music by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald J. Grout, and Claudia V. Palisca
A standard textbook for college survey classes in music history. It would be difficult to find anyone who has majored in music in the last forty years who does not know about A History of Western Music.