The best film scoring books offer students practical advice about film scoring, orchestration, and MIDI orchestration techniques. The following books are especially valuable reference materials for any aspiring film or game composer. This list also includes some of the best orchestration books as well as books on MIDI orchestration techniques, game audio, arranging, and film music composition. If you know of any good film scoring books not covered in this list, let us know in the comments! We’ll be updating this list periodically, so be sure to bookmark it and check back.
If you’re after a more visual or interactive learning experience, we’ve sourced some great online film scoring courses, including some free music courses around the web.
The Study of Orchestration (Third Edition), Samuel Adler.
This iconic work is divided into two parts: Instrumentation and Orchestration. It’s an excellent, in-depth reference to writing for orchestra, covering information idiomatic to each family, including instrumental construction, range, and tone; articulations; and scoring techniques. The book is packed full of useful diagrams and score excerpts. There is also a complementary multimedia CD set available.
Film Scoring Books
Industry pros endorse “Guerrilla Film Scoring” as “the definitive groundbreaking guide to the new film scoring and music landscape.”
Music Composition for Film and Television, Lalo Schifrin.
A film scoring “recipe book” by the talented Hollywood composer Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible), covering genres such as action, suspense, horror, love, comedy, and ethnic and period music, as well as fundamental film scoring concepts such as syncing to picture, the role of dialogue and sound effects, and cinematic devices. Helpful score excerpts are included.
Sounds and Scores, Henry Mancini.
This book has comparatively little text; rather, it’s filled with score samples written by film composer Henry Mancini (The Pink Panther, Peter Gunn). An inspiring and visual guide to orchestration with a jazz and big band slant. A CD is included.
Complete Guide to Film Scoring: The Art and Business of Writing Music for Movies and TV, Richard Davis.
Good book, albeit with a misleading title. It’s a great briefing on the film scoring industry and business and includes interesting interviews from Hollywood film composers, but it won’t teach you how to compose music.
Music to Picture, Stephen Melillo.
Available in iBook format, this text was designed as a one-semester self-study course for students of film scoring. Music technology has evolved significantly since 1990 when the course was originally written, but many of the techniques remain relevant. The text lays out a systematic approach for syncing music to picture and exercising creativity within the limits imposed by a film. Learn how to create a lead sheet, identify hit points, and prepare a score from cue sheets. The text includes visual aids, useful templates, and breakdowns of cues.
Game Audio Books
A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, Winifred Phillips.
A multi-award-winning book with great reviews from the likes of Harry Gregson-Williams and Sound On Sound magazine. Includes step-by-step walkthroughs and compositional techniques.
The book examines the language of music scoring, offering scoring techniques and tools that work successfully in all media – films, television, theater, commercials, and games. Powerful game scoring techniques are revealed, from the most basic to the most highly advanced. Later chapters show how to launch and run an effective music scoring business, with candid details specific to the video game industry. Business topics include prospecting, pricing, contracts, social media, ancillary income streams, lifestyle management, disruptive innovation, and career evolution.
Music for New Media: Composing for Videogames, Web Sites, Presentations and Other Interactive Media, Paul Hoffert.
For composers interested in writing music for apps and games, this book is a nice introduction to adaptive (a.k.a. dynamic or interactive) music and video game scoring. A complementary CD is included.
MIDI Orchestration Books
The Guide to MIDI Orchestration 4e, Paul Gilreath.
A comprehensive guide to MIDI orchestration beginning with a broad overview of traditional instrumentation and orchestration and then moving into sequencing techniques, effects plugins, mixing, and virtual instruments. The diagrams of effective voicing structures for each family of the orchestra are helpful references.
Acoustic and MIDI Orchestration for the Contemporary Composer: A Practical Guide to Writing and Sequencing for the Studio Orchestra, Andrea Pejrolo and Richard DeRosa.
Another good MIDI orchestration book by Andrea Pejrolo, music tech professor at Berklee College of Music, covering traditional orchestration as well as modern production techniques. Some topics include MIDI messages, sequencing and mixing techniques for each section of the orchestra, and how to use performance techniques like portamento, pizzicato, harmonics, and mutes. Comes with a DVD.
Modern Jazz Voicings: Arranging for Small and Medium Ensembles, Ted Pease and Ken Pullig.
While this book is styled as a resource for jazz musicians, in many ways it doubles as a “Part Writing 101” course that can be translated to any other genre. It covers creative ways of voicing chords and harmonizing melodic phrases for a small ensemble.
Arranging for Large Jazz Ensemble, Ken Pullig and Dick Lowell.
A good followup to Modern Jazz Voicings and a valuable resource if you’re interested in learning how to write big band charts.
Essential Grooves, Dan Moretti and Matthew Nicholl.
A lesser-known book and a useful primer on rhythm section arranging in many popular styles: soul and motown, funk, hip hop, rock, jazz, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian (samba, bossa nova), and Afro-Caribbean (reggae, calypso). Comes with a CD/DVD set.
Music Notation Books
Music Notation: Theory and Technique for Music Notation, Mark McGrain.
Learn how to notate scores like a professional — an essential skill for working composers.