26 of my favourite books on musicians, artists and the creative process


These are some of my favourite books and articles about music, musicians and the creative process.

  1. Drawing on the Right Side Of The Brain – Betty Edwards.
    • This book is designed to challenge your preconceptions about drawing. She uses elements of the work that Roger Sperry did on the two hemispheres of the brain and applies it to how we draw. It’s fascinating to have your brain tricked by the book and produce some great drawings! And it’s totally applicable to musical perception. There’s a companion book about creativity that’s also worth checking out.
  2. Music And Imagination and What To Listen For In Music by Aaron Copland
    • I love these books for how Copland describes music; like this idea of the Sonorous Image, for example.
  3. The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp.
    • Twyla Tharp is a choreographer. In this book, she outlines her creative process. Tons of practical ideas.
  4. The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
    • Kind of like a manifesto for not dicking around.
  5. Writing Down the Bones – Natalie Goldberg
    • I LOVE this book, and especially the audiobook read by Natalie. In this book, she’s teaching writing. I love her enthusiasm for writing and she’s a little bit bonkers :) I love hearing her thoughts on things like attention to detail, observation and how you might use that in your writing. And again, the ideas are universal. Absolutely applicable to music and creativity.
  6. No Minor Chords – Andre Previn.
    • This is a fantastic read. His stories about how he learnt his craft are inspiring. Stories of being thrown in at the deep end; having a full orchestra at your disposal to experiment with; playing Beethoven and Jazz – what a life! And the ‘No Minor Chords’ story is a classic.
  7. The Art of Asking – Amanda Palmer
    • Amanda Palmer has great things to say here about connection & creativity.
  8. Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up – Patricia Ryan Madson 
  9. Ways Of Hearing – Ben Thompson.
    • There’s a fun chapter on a hang with Lemmy and a great description of a duet with Herbie Hancock and Jools Holland.
  10. The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
  11. Words And Music – Paul Morley.
    • I LOVE Paul Morley. I know he annoys some people, but I like him. His love of music and words and uncontrollable gushing really come through in everything he does, but this book is him 10x-ing his imagination. It’s a wild ride. Makes me smile.
  12. The Unanswered Question and The Infinite Variety Of Music by Leonard Bernstein 
    • These two Bernstein books/lectures are utterly fascinating. He’s exciting, energetic and passionate about music and art; drawing on examples and connections from all over the place. Inspiring.
  13. This Is Your Brain On Music – Daniel Levitin.
    • The title reminds me of the Bill Hicks sketch. Very interesting read.
  14. Poetics Of Music – Igor Stravinsky.
    • Interesting little book. I liked his stuff on freedom and limits. Stravinsky was pretty good at music you know. So why haven’t you got this one yet??
  15. Hair Metal – Steven Blush.
    • Part amusing; part horrifying. So all that’s great about Hair Metal, then! I went to Castle Donnington in 1987 to see Bon Jovi and unwittingly saw Metallica, Anthrax and Cinderella – who came out dressed like something out of, well, Cinderella, and I just remember the Earth being hurled in their direction. Bon Jovi were good!
  16. The Real Frank Zappa Book – Frank Zappa and Peter Occhiogrosso.
    • Amazing man, brain, music, etc. A hero.
  17. Martian Love Secrets [guitar player articles] – Steve Vai.
    • Splendid articles from Steve. Try some of the stuff he suggests. It’ll transform your music.
  18. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative – Austin Kleon
  19. Creative Options – Freff Connor Cochran.
    • These are among my favourite essays, but you can’t get them at the moment. I used to read them in Keyboard Player magazine in the 80s/90s. I would buy the magazine just for these articles. Connor has put this page up detailing the titles and hopefully they’ll be out sometime! Anyhow, you can get them all on the net if you look Very Hard. They’re awesome.
  20. The Inner Game of Music – Barry Green.
    • A good description of your natural and critical selves. How to imagine them as separate, and then how you might manipulate your attitude and approach. Lots of suggestions for things to try.
  21. Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music – Derek Bailey.
    • Derek had a great TV series based on this book which drew on improvised music from all over the world. Thought provoking.
  22. Concerning The Spiritual In Art – Wassily Kandinsky.
  23. On Writing – Stephen King.
    • This is such a great read. Highly recommended.
  24. Ignore Everybody – Hugh MacLeod
  25. The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance – K. Anders Ericsson
    • This book, which is a collection of papers on skill acquisition & expert performance is brilliant. So much good advice here on things like overcoming plateaus, practising, memory, and so on. A more concise edition would be Ericsson’s Peak: How all of us can achieve extraordinary things.
  26. Do Improvise – Less push. More pause. Better results – Robert Poynton

Some others that I’ve enjoyed: