I've found plenty of resources and books (books especially are what I'm looking for here) about jazz theory and scoring, but apart from a few famous ones (such as Fux's study of counterpoint) I've failed to find any really decent ones on classical music. I'm studying music for A-level, and I do a lot of reading about theory and history and a decent amount of listening outside lessons, so I definitely know a bit about things, but I've recently taken up composing a bit more seriously. I've been trying my hand at a string quartet (four-movement sonata and all that), but apart from Wikipedia I've been stuck trying to find any advice on composition for such works.

What I'm looking for is a book that will give a kind of step-by-step guide on how to write a fugue, or a symphony, for example. I know that might sound like a stupid thing to ask, but I don't mean it literally says 'first write a pretty tune and repeat it up a perfect fourth for your first theme in the first subject group in your exposition' or something like that. If any of you have read Stephen Fry's 'The Ode Less Travelled' then that's the kind of book I'm looking for: it covers all the theory behind writing poetry and sets exercises to improve skills in each area, without being too mollycoddling. Because if I'm trying to write a Scherzo at the moment, all I can find out about them is the minuscule amount of information Wikipedia has to offer. Yes I've listened to a lot, but I am not Mozart; I can't understand everything that Chopin or Vaughn Williams are doing in their Scherzos to know how to write a decent one myself.

Really though, alongside fugues, symphonies, sonatas, and the suchlike what I would love to do is to write a ballet (hence the title), but I haven't the faintest idea on where to start, and would like some guidance in book form (preferably).

tl;dr - any books that teach how to write a ballet, a fugue, a symphony, etc...
The only advice I can tell you is that you should keep listening to classical music, without overthinking what's going on in your head. Just listen to it and enjoy it, the beautiful thing about composition is that you don't have to follow a process at all (you must follow some rules sometimes though, like in counterpoint), you can start anywhere.

We tend to think that analyzing every piece of music we can and studying a lot of theory will make us better composers, but the truth is that most compositions are not overthought and written by following a process. Many barroque composers used V7 devices in their compositions without even knowing the theory behind it- they just followed their ears.
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It's tough, because books will only take you so far in understanding. It's important to know what makes up the harmonic language of tonality (I'm assuming you're primarily interested in tonal composition?) and for that there's lots of books out there that teach it fairly well. Piston's Harmony is good as is Kostka/Paynes book, the name of which escapes me. But I always think it's best to keep the books at arms length, not because theory is bad, but because the way books teach theory is often detrimental to the way you would want to compose. For instance, they more often than not have a lot of vertical thinking, whereas composition is much more horizontal in the real world. The other problem is that they will often use some sort of bullshit method that is plain stupid.

Another important thing you can do is score study. Not just listening, but listening and looking at scores, seeing what the composers you want to influence you are doing. This and learning the theory goes hand in hand, because the theory will help you in your understanding of what's going on.

You won't find a book out there with step-by-step for anything, and if you do, it'll be awful. That I can guarantee as I've been working out of one for a year and a half for school.
unfortunately, music is more about breaking down existing music and making your own "book". because there is just so much involved in every little nuance of a subgenre of music, even in classical, it's impractical to really write a book on it. other than scanning theory textbooks and breaking down tons upon tons of scores, it's just down to hoping it sounds good more than following the rules
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Keep studying the styles is all the advice I can provide, or if you're at College/University, you could take a composition class, although that might result in an unwanted way of learning how to compose.
OK, thanks for that, I definitely agree with what you're all saying, but I still need to find resources for the more basic of things then maybe. As in, I get that it would be pointless to have a guide to composition, but I mean, where can I find a book that talks about how a ballet is structured?

For example, I've learnt that a sonata has an exposition, a development, and a recapitulation, and I understand how the thematic material can be treated, and all that, but I have no idea where you'd start with writing a fugue. I know that it's (from what I've heard, so I could be wrong) usually four voices in a sort of canonic layout, but much more complex, but apart from that I know nothing!

I suppose I worded my question pretty badly. I'm not so much looking for compositional walkthroughs, as much as explanations of what things are, and the layouts, and things like that.

Do ballets have one thematic idea that permeates the whole piece? Is the second piece always a minuet and trio? Just things like that I have no idea about, and I suppose they're the kind of things you'd learn at a conservatoire or a university, but unfortunately I am off to study Maths next year, not Music...
As for fugue, we just happen to have a local fugue "expert" who made this thread recently https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1506478

But you know who he learnt from (I imagine)? Bach. Bach invented the fugue you're talking about and was pretty much the only guy to do it. And I'll tell you what, he wrote an awful lot of them, so it's a matter of looking at him and drawing some conclusions. If you google fugue structure you can probably get some reasonable articles on what a basic fugue looks like, but it's really all about J.S. and what he did.

For ballets, I have no idea, but find a ballet you like a look at the structure and then find another and look at the structure and see if there's any regularity. And then do it. You don't have to do it the way someone else did it for any of this stuff. Sonata form, for instance, is one of the most open forms you can name. You literally know everything there is to know about sonata form, because you've named everything that can connect all sonata forms (Expo - Devel - Recap). Everything else is just conventions from a certain era or composer.

Analysis is your friend, and if you're going this alone (as in, no teacher or school) then it's really all you have to learn this stuff from.

EDIT: I guess what I'm trying to say is, I don't think this book or series of books exists in quite the way you want.
Last edited by jazz_rock_feel at Jan 8, 2012,
Thanks for that thread. I remember the same guy starting (but unfortunately not finishing) a thread about tone rows that was really interesting. I'm having a read of that fugue one now though.

I was guessing that that was what I would end up having to do, but I was hoping that there might have been a book or some pre-consolidated form of information about it, but now I know I shall get right on it.

Thanks for all the help though guys, I think I'm gonna be posting quite a lot of questions in this forum the next few months...
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