Best Music Terminology book??

August 16, 2017, 6:27 PM · Anyone recommend a good all around book of music terminology?

Replies (10)

Edited: August 16, 2017, 6:59 PM · The best is naturally The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians - but that likely won't fit on your bookshelf - I personally access it from my campus library :P

I usually use three resources at home:

A Dictionary of Early Music: From the Troubadours to Monteverdi
The Oxford Dictionary of Music
New Harvard Dictionary of Music

I'd recommend the Harvard if you just want 'one book'. The Oxford companions to music is also quite useful.

Basically there are lots of options...

August 16, 2017, 7:45 PM · I was given an earlier version of this dictionary as a gift by my violin teacher. I learned a lot from it (I was 8 years old, and loved reading dictionaries):

The Harvard dictionary is more in depth, but is less comprehensive...whereas the Oxford has more entries, but the entries are brief. If you can afford it, get both.

As a side note, around this time my brother got me a setof the nine Beethoven symphonies, and this:

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It had beautiful color illustrations on every page that were historically significant. I would recommend it for any young person that is into classical music. I wish it would be republished! I actually came across it again in a university library in Turkey a couple years ago, of all places.

August 17, 2017, 6:42 AM · Thank you so much! Looking into all of these :)
August 17, 2017, 7:35 AM · Depending how good your reading French is, I find a useful and handy paperback reference is Dictionnaire de Musique by Roland de Candide, published by Microcosme. About the only thing it does not have is biographies of composers.
Edited: August 19, 2017, 6:33 AM · Candide's boek has, for example, one of the most comprehensive tables of intervals I have seen - 54 intervals in the octave, each with its definition as a fraction (or as a mathematical expression in the case of the irrationals), its name, its note, and its relationship in the octave. In the table there is also another unit, known in French as a "savart", which I have not come across before; a savart is defined as the interval log 0.001, so there are 301030 savarts in the octave. The smallest interval in the table is the Schisma, defined by the fraction 32805/32768, used in the Zarlino temperament system.

Edit added 19 August 2017:
The Schisma fraction has these arithmetical properties:
32805 = 3^8 x 5
32768 = 2^15
Gioseffo Zarlino (1517 - 1590) was an outstanding Italian composer and theoretician of his time.
Felix Savart (1791 - 1841) was a French mathematician and physicist.

August 18, 2017, 4:44 AM · Good info Trevor.

As I learned in a first year theory course, an accurate interval table can actually be rarer than expected.. My textbook that year had a misprint in the amount of steps in one of the intervals. Had I not passed it on (it was a bad book, not shelf worthy) I'd find the precise interval!

August 18, 2017, 9:11 PM · The New Harvard is a fine standard. A very good one-volume book is the New College Encyclopedia of Music. And I'm pleased to have the rare Grove original edition in about 6 volumes - kind of the musical Encyclopedia Britannica! But for what I think the OP is asking - a quick, practical handbook of musical terminology, I'd highly recommend the "Musician's Handbook of Foreign Terms" by Christine Ammer, published by Schirmer. It is thorough (with a lot of German as well as Italian words defined) yet thin and light enough to fit easily in the sheet music compartment of any violin case.
August 18, 2017, 11:12 PM · I used to have the original Groves. Now my ex wife has it. Come to think of it, I used to have a lot of things...

But seriously, I just look stuff up on the internet these days. It's less expensive.

Edited: August 19, 2017, 4:43 AM · Raphael;

Thanks for that one - I might have to get a copy. Looks like a nice reference that one can just stash in their case.


If a source is wrong it sounds better to say 'I read it in X book', opposed to I believed the internet... But I do frequently do the same thing.

August 19, 2017, 4:47 AM · Michael McGrath,

I have a PDF of Galamian's book in Ilongo I can send you (great for brown outs when you can't remember what BUILDING TIME Ilongo).

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