2021's Summertime Reads for Music Students
Students deserve to strike a balance of more play than work during their summer break. That's why we've posted articles such as How to Create a Balanced Practice Schedule for Your Child this Summer (which is excellent advice for older students, too).
That said, there are plenty of terrific books out there that have music at their core and are also enjoyable reads. Here are recommendations divided by age.
Summer Music Reading for the 5- to 8-Year-Old Crowd
Little ones absorb so much from the books and stories we share with them. These books engage the young mind while imparting important information about the world of music.
Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin, by Lloyd Moss (Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman)
When Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin begins, the trombone is playing all by itself. But soon, a trumpet makes a duet, a french horn a trio, and so on until the entire orchestra assembles on stage. Written in elegant and rhythmic verse and illustrated with playful and flowing artwork, this unique counting book is the perfect introduction to musical groups. Readers of all ages are sure to shout "Encore!" when they reach the final page of this joyous celebration of classical music.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music, by Margarita Engle (Illustrated by Rafael López)
The story Drum Dream Girl…, is based on the true life of female musician and drummer Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba's traditional taboo against female drummers. It begins long ago on an island filled with music, where no one questioned that rule—until the drum dream girl.
In her city of drum beats, she dreamed of pounding tall congas and tapping small bongós. She had to keep quiet. She had to practice in secret. But when at last everyone heard her music, they sang and danced and decided that both girls and boys should be free to drum and dream.
Wild Symphony, by Dan Brown (Illustrated by Susan Batori)
Besides the fact that Wild Symphony is a fun story with excellent illustrations, U.S. royalties due to Dan Brown support music education for children worldwide through the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. The account allows readers to travel through the trees and across the seas with Maestro Mouse and his musical friends! Young readers will meet a big blue whale and speedy cheetahs, tiny beetles, and graceful swans. Each has a special secret to share.
Along the way, you might spot the surprises Maestro Mouse has left for you — a hiding buzzy bee — jumbled letters that spell out clues, and even a coded message to solve! Plus, there's a particular interactive smartphone app that allows you to listen and sing along to the songs in the book.
Musical Fiction (and non-) for Older Kids
Here are books for the pre-teen crowd.
Why Beethoven Threw the Stew..., by Steven Isserlis
That's right! Renowned cellist, Steven Isserlis, is the author of Why Beethoven Threw the Stew..., which compiles the book's subtitle, "lots more stories of other famous composers." It turns out that Steven Isserlis's cello instructor taught him about famous composers in entertaining ways so they could feel like "real people," allowing Isserlis to express their music via a more personal connection. This is the gift he wanted to give to other young musicians. You can read more about Steven Isserlis in this Artist Spotlight.
Amina's Voice, by Hena Khan
Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she's in middle school, everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the "cool" girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more "American." Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in?
Amina's Voice is powerful at multiple levels. It covers the topic of stage fright (when so many other books about musicians highlight intentional desires for fame). And it also speaks about race, how it is to feel different from your peers, and the challenge of navigating the shifting realm of adolescent friendships.
Better Nate than Ever, by Tim Federal
On the opposite end of the stage right spectrum, we meet Nate, who has a lifelong dream to be a Broadway star. That's something author Tim Federele knows much about since his Broadway play, "Tuck Everlasting," was nominated for a Tony.
In Better Nate than Ever, Nate Foster has big dreams. His whole life, he's wanted to star in a Broadway show. (Heck, he'd settle for seeing a Broadway show.) But how is Nate supposed to make his dreams come true when he's stuck in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, where no one (except his best pal Libby) appreciates a good show tune? With Libby's help, Nate plans a daring overnight escape to New York. There's an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, and Nate knows this could be the difference between small-town blues and big-time stardom.
Books for the More Advanced Music Student
This list includes two non-fiction and one fictional novel. But, if you are a young adult or adult who is at the more advanced level, we're going to assume you love music, and these reads are all worth your time. The first and third books listed below are also listed on the USC Thornton School of Music's student reading list, so consider them proactive reading for your future music school admission.
The Art of Practicing: A Guide to Making Music from the Heart, by Madeline Bruser
This book is such a wise, warm, and very personal analysis of The Art of Practicing. It enlightens amateur, and professional musicians about a way of practicing that transforms a sometimes frustrating, monotonous, and overly strenuous labor into an exhilarating and rewarding experience.
Acclaimed pianist and teacher Madeline Bruser combines physiological and meditative principles to help musicians release physical and mental tension and unleash their innate musical talent. She offers practical techniques for cultivating free and natural movement, a keen enjoyment of sounds and sensations, a clear and relaxed mind, and an open heart. She explains how to prepare the body and mind to practice with ease.
In Tune: Music as the Bridge to Mindfulness, by Richard Wolf
Richard Wolf first tried Zen meditation in his teens, but no matter in what posture or for how long he sat, transcendence proved stubbornly out of reach. It was only years later that he found the bridge that could take him there: music. In Tune charts twelve "bridges" — skills and sensibilities refined in musical practice that carries over to mindfulness and meditation, among them: concentration, posture, harmony, silence, and The Art of Deep Listening.
This inspirational guide offers a wealth of music-based exercises to enhance daily meditation and creativity. Plus, Wolf shares personal anecdotes of eminent musicians—from Miles Davis to Dr. Dre—to illuminate points along the intersection of music and mindful living.
If I Stay (Book #1), by Gayle Forman
One of the best things about If I Stay is that it's the first of multiple books in Gayle Forman's award-winning Y.A. fiction series that the author hopes adults will read as well because it gives families something to discuss.
In, If I Stay, Choices (Book #2), by Gayle Forman
Seventeen-year-old Mia faces some tough ones: Stay true to her first love—music—even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her family and friends behind? Then one February morning, Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it's the only one that matters. It is a heart-achingly beautiful book about the power of love, the true meaning of family, and the choices we all make.
We hope these summertime reads for music students will help you relax while keeping you connected to the art you love so much. Interested in more recommendations? Visit, Summertime Reading for Musicians.