My Top 10 Favorite Books for Musicians

The ends of the concert season and school year are approaching and (thankfully!) bringing along the slower pace of the summer.  Even if we have a full schedule of festivals and concerts, there is a bit more free time between June and September.  It’s the perfect time to catch up on reading, and a great time to reach for a something that will keep you musically inspired through the summer months.  I’ve put together a list of my top-10 favorite books for musicians.  These are the books I would most recommend to colleagues AND students alike.

The following books have taught me about music making and life making alike, have given me insight into composers and performers I have long admired and given me fresh perspective on what it is I do, and why it is I do it.  It is, to be sure, an incomplete list–I wanted to limit it to my top 10, but please feel free to add your favorites to the comments.

P.S. Any of these would make a great graduation or post-recital gift for your favorite high-school musician.

Happy Reading!

-Kate

 

 

1. Casals and the Art of Interpretation by David Blum: The thoughts and wisdom of this musical giant should be read by every musician–no matter their instrument.

Casals

 

2. Beethoven, by Maynard Solomon: An in-depth look into Beethoven’s life and the world in which he lived.  You’ll never believe how much chocolate this man consumed on a daily basis.

Beethoven

 

3. Testimony, the Memoirs of Dmitry Shostakovich:  No one should attempt to play this man’s music without reading this book first.  An insight into his soul, and the stories behind the music.

Testimony

 

4. Joys and Sorrows, by Pablo Casals: This one is more autobiographical than philosophical.  You’ll learn important details of the political landscape (and minefield) of his time, and how they affected his career, and the careers of his contemporaries.

Joys and Sorrows

 

5. The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece by Eric Siblin: A charming and fascinating look at the Biography of J.S. Bach through the lens of his six suites for solo cello and the man who made them famous.

The Cello Suites

 

6. The Rest is Noise, by Alex Ross:  (from his website) “The narrative goes from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties, from Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia to downtown New  York in the sixties and seventies. We follow the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of dramatic new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, riots, and friendships forged and broken. The end result is not so much a history of twentieth-century music as a history of the twentieth century through its music.”

The rest is noise

 

7. High Performance Habits, by Brendon Burchard:  Burchard spent years researching the top performers in a wide range of fields-athletes, musicians, business, writers, artists, and statesmen, and came away with the six habits they all had in common.  He also found that these habits are accessible to us all.

High Performance Habits

 

8. Beyond Talent by Angela Myles Beeching: This books is like a warm hug and a gentle nudge for musicians embarking on a career.  She combines great advice everything from networking to branding with words of wisdom regarding balance and keeping stress to a minimum.

Beyond Talent

 

9. The Savvy Musician, by David Cutler: More great career advice.  Cutler goes into the nitty-gritty of making recordings, setting up concerts and gettin’ S&*^ done.

The Savvy Musician

 

10. The Artists Way, by Julia Cameron: This is a book that I recommend to everyone-even people who just want to get back in touch with their creative sides to help them in their non-artistic careers.  Cameron lays out 12 months of journaling and exercises to help you figure out what the heck it is you actually want and how to go out and get it.

Artists Way

Etudes: A Love Story

Anyone who has asked me how/what I practice each day knows that I play an etude every day. Usually I just go through my books of Popper or Piatti,  but sometimes I mix it up.  Every so often I go through a student level book just to remind myself of which one tackles which technical issue.  In fact, I look ahead at the “etude du jour” and use that key for my scales/octaves/arpeggios warm up before-hand, so you could say that Etudes are a very big part of my life.  That wasn’t always the case.

 

Growing up, my teacher would assign me an etude every week and I would, well, just kin of ignore it. You know, pretend it didn’t exist.  Hoped it would just sort of go away. Etudes were boring, and they were difficult to figure out, which made me feel like a bad musician (because surely no one ELSE had any trouble sight-reading them, right?) so I would show up to my lesson and tell my teacher that I had “forgotten my etude book at home”.  Some weeks she would just nod at me and say, well I’ll hear it next week then.  And sometimes she would fully call me out on it and put her own copy of it on the stand (a technique my own students are learning and catching onto quickly) and I would struggle through it and exasperate my poor teacher.

 

It took going to conservatory and studying with a man who would dedicate ENTIRE STUDIO CLASSES to The Glorious Etude, and we each had to perform one FROM MEMORY for our entire class to get me to truly appreciate the benefits of working on them.  The purpose of this blog is to save the rest of you the time that I wasted in my youth, so I’m going to just spell it out for you.  WORK ON YOUR ETUDES.  Here are 3 reasons why you’ll thank me if you do.

 

1. Your general playing ability will improve.

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David Popper. The Mac-Daddy of Cello Etudes

Each etude tackles one or two specific technical issues and just drills it into you.  Playing up-bow staccato? Check.  Playing chromatic scales up and down the cello and figuring out the best fingering for them? Check. Double Stops? Check.  Trills? Check.  Trouble with octave shifts? There’s one for that.  Trouble with ricochet? We’ve got you covered.  Working on the 2-3 measures of your concerto that has ricochet simply won’t fix the issue like working through a two-page etude where you have constant ricochet in every possible situation on the instrument will.  Students? Trust that your teachers are addressing your specific issues with their choice in etudes.  Adults? Try writing out a list of the top 5 issues in your playing that you want to improve, and then dug through your books of etudes and came up with a list for each of the 5. Spend a couple of months working on those etudes, and I guarantee you’ll see a huge improvement in those playing issues.

 

2.Your sight-reading will improve.

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Mr. Kruetzer. The man violinists love to hate.

Etudes are full of patterns, and the more you come across them, the more your brain and fingers will recognize those patterns in your performance repertoire.  Intervals will start to translate into certain fingering choices and you’ll find your able to play things through correctly the first time more often.  Start with some easier ones and gradually build up to trickier keys/clefs/registers.

 

3. Your confidence will improve.

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Piatti. My former nemesis.

I have a student who would consistently come into her lesson and say that she couldn’t do one of her assignments (be it a new section of a piece, an etude, her new orchestra or chamber music piece) because “it was too hard and she couldn’t figure it out”.  Through etudes, she is learning that “nothing is un-figure-outable”.  She can take something one measure at a time, heck, one NOTE at a time and put it together.  Piatti 6 used to scare the hell out of me.  I refused to attempt it.  I would play a few measures of it and then give up.  Then one day I forced myself to figure out 1 line a day.  That’s it.  Just one line, and then put it together with the lines I had done before.  Eventually, I was playing the entire thing.  It wasn’t as horrible a monster as I had made it out to be, but figuring it out like that did stretch me in a lot of ways.

 

What are some of your favorite etudes, and why?  What technical stumbling blocks do you have in your playing that you might be able to fix with some etudes? Leave a note in the comments!

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