Music History for Dummies?
By - FilteredPeanuts
Ken burns did a country music series that was really good!
Really good. So good I bought it. Changed my entire outlook on country music
I'm bumping your post to find answers as well. I have a few large western music history books but haven't read them. There are a few good youtube surveys of composers I would link
This series was pretty good. They have interesting \~20 min vids on the major western composers. Not the whole of music history at all but a good supplement you can easily watch while relaxing
Not really focused on music theory (as is commonly understood) by David Byrne of Talking Heads has a book called How Music Works.
He talks about various things surrounding music starting with how the environment in which music is made decides the style of music (tribal music is meant for outdoor communal gatherings so percussion is very prominent while Gregorian chants were played in cathedrals with a lot of echoes and reverbs so they had to be simple and slow, etc)
The difference between making music using analog vs digital; his experiences as a live performer, the business side of music; his guide on building music scenes and making it as an independent musician, etc.
Not exactly what you're asking for but I highly recommend it nonetheless
Second this! A fantastic compendium on music.
I found a lot of information about the history of Jazz and swing and other genres in some of its musicians' biographies as well, these are my favourite:
"Miles: The Autobiography", written by Davis with poet and journalist Quincy Troupe. This has a lot of history.
"Monk himself", by Laurent De Wilde.
I made this suggestion just yesterday: Just look up Jazz on Wikipedia, and then follow all the links in the article. Some of them you can hover over and there'll be a pop up so you don't have to leave the main page.
But you can do this with any page - like look up Chord Extensions, or Dixieland Jazz - or things like that and just do a "self-guided tour".
While it won't be chronological like most history books are it's a readily available, free, and generally reliable source that you can read while waiting in the Doctor's Office, or on your commute, or on a break, and more easily pick up and put down than "finishing a chapter" and you're probably already carrying some device to read it on.
As pimpleface kind of alludes to, you're not going to find anything that's a "history of music theory" other than a textbook. Such things just don't really exist. It's a history of music, or a style, or a biography of a composer/songwriter and so on and so on.
There are tons of great music documentaries out there and really, you just have to try them all because tastes are different.
If you're interested in "unsung heroes" as it were, there are two documentaries you should definitely check out:
Standing in the Shadows of Motown
50 Feet from Stardom
The best "history of music theory" online right now is probably Early Music Sources, but it focuses on Early Music (Music in the Middle Ages and Renaissance).
Jazz is still "contemporaneous" so the vast majority of things about it are going to be "how to play it" rather than a history of it. I'm sure there are some good books on it and potentially some even better documentaries than Burns's stuff but I just don't know about it.
You might want to post on a Jazz forum and put that in the title to get more specific recommendations as "music history" is pretty broad and it sounds like you're not really looking for things like Early Music Sources.
I really enjoyed [The Rest Is Noise](https://www.therestisnoise.com/) as a storied survey of 20th-century western classical music. It felt more like a novel than a history book. Entertaining and educational.
I enjoyed *Listen to This*, too. I haven't gotten to Ross's third book yet (*Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music*), but if it's up to his usual standards, it ought to be really good.
Ken Burns's Country Music is a really great series too.
As for books, Temperament by Stuart Isacoff is a great look at the history of tuning and temperaments (if you're not familiar with those terms, think: why the notes we use are *those* notes).
[Philippe Carles and Jean-Louis Comolli - Free Jazz/Black Power](https://www.amazon.com/Free-Black-Power-American-Music/dp/1628460393)
[Ken Prouty - Knowing Jazz: Community, Pedagogy, and Canon in the Information Age](https://www.amazon.com/Knowing-Jazz-Community-Pedagogy-Information/dp/1617031631/)
[David Perry - Jazz Greats](https://www.amazon.com/Jazz-Greats-20th-Century-Composers/dp/0714832049/)
For classical music, an easily readable pair are Howard Goodall's [The Story of Music] (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Story-Music-Howard-Goodall/dp/0099587173) and [Big Bangs] (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Big-Bangs-Five-Musical-Revolutions/dp/0099283549/). Both were produced as BBC TV series, which can be found on youtube, to give you an idea.
For jazz, there's [The Birth of Bebop] (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Birth-Bebop-Social-Musical-History/dp/0330375539/). For Miles Davis and modal jazz, I recommend [Kind of Blue] (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kind-Blue-Miles-Making-Masterpiece/dp/1783784733/).
For African-American music in general, I recommend [Music of the Common Tongue] (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Music-Common-Tongue-Celebration-Afro-American/dp/0819563579/) and [The Power of Black Music] (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Power-Black-Music-Interpreting-History/dp/0195109759/).
Alex Ross - The Rest Is Noise is a very good (if somewhat academic) book that's well worth checking out!
OMG I'm finding this kind of book, too. At the school (in my country), students have to learn it like a subject. But, we can only get those books when apply the subject. So for self study, I have to find it by myself. I think Wikipedia is a basic source you can search. But of course, if you want to understand deeply and widely, you should find another source.