The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music History

If you liked The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory, you’ll love The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music History. It’s the next step in your musical education!

You’re no idiot, of course. You know an essential part of learning music is understanding how it evolved, from primitive instruments to high opera and into modern forms. But you’ve heard music history is boring, and you’re not looking forward to studying it.

Don’t get stuck in the wrong groove. Music history can be fascinating, for music students and music lovers alike, and this is the book that will bring it to life. With the help of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Music History, you’ll get a pitch-perfect understanding of how music has followed human development and world events. In this Complete Idiot’s Guide you get:

  • A vibrant historical perspective on important musical developments, from ancient cultures to today
  • A centuries-spanning overview of influential composers and important musical styles
  • Toe-tapping coverage of classical, popular, and world music, then and now
  • Expert suggestions for building a diverse music library
  • Discover the most memorable music in history, including…
  • Ancient music form Egypt, Greece, Rome, and other cultures
  • Plainsong, Gregorian chant, and other early music
  • Classical Western music, from early counterpoint to modern atonality — and everything in between
  • The great European composers, from Bach to Mozart to Beethoven to Stravinsky
  • Berlin, Gershwin, and other great Tin Pan Alley songwriters/composers
  • Blues and jazz — the two great American musical forms
  • Rock, country, folk, hip hop, and other popular modern styles
  • The musical flavors of the Middle East, Asia, and India
  • Latin American and Caribbean rhythms
  • The polyrhythmic styles of Africa — where it all began

What a great book – easy and fun to read – hard to put down! ( review)

Letter from the Author

Music history doesn’t have to be boring!

That was my mantra as I wrote this book, and I think you’ll see why as you flip through the pages you hold in your hands. The history of music — starting with the ancient Greeks and Babylonians and continuing through to today’s rock, country, and hip hop — is a fascinating one, filled with brilliant developments, interesting personalities, and even a fair amount of drama and intrigue. It’s not just a matter of memorizing composers and major works; it’s about getting to know the people and the trends behind the music.

Music history is also more than just what we commonly call “classical” music. In the course of history, I think that Louis Armstrong, George Gershwin, and the Beatles are every bit as important as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. American popular music of the twentieth century is the classical music of the future — just as classical music was the popular music of its day. It’s all important, and it’s all interesting.

Also important is music from other regions of the globe. Western Europe and North America don’t have a lock on important musical developments; there is a rich musical history in other parts of the world, such as China, India, Africa, and Latin America. We’ll cover this world music in addition to the Western music you’re more familiar with.

The thing is, it’s interesting to figure out how we got from point A to point B, musically speaking. How does the rise and fall of jazz parallel the rise and fall of classical music? How is Gershwin like Beethoven? What influence did Gregorian chant have on modern jazz? What’s the thread that ties African music to American rock and roll?

These are all questions that get answered in this book, along with many, many more. Indeed, music history doesn’t have to be boring — it’s just a matter of how you look at it!

What’s In the Book?

Part I: Western Classical Music
1. From the Beginning: Ancient Music
2. Of Monks and Troubadours: The Medieval Period
3. Masses, Motets, and Madrigals: The Renaissance Period
4. Ornate Patterns: The Baroque Period
5. A Lyrical Revolution: The Classical Period
6. Classical Music Matures: The Romantic Period
7. The Death of Traditional Harmony: The Twentieth Century and Beyond
8. This Led to That: The Evolution of Classical Music

Part 2: American Popular Music
9. Setting the Stage: American Popular Music Pre-1900
10. From the Bayou to Bourbon Street: Blues and Jazz
11. Tin Pan Alley and Beyond: The Great American Songbook
12. Rock, Rhythm, and Rap: Popular Music from 1950 to Today

Part 3: World Music
13. The Music of Asia and India
14. The Music of the Middle East
15. The Music of Africa
16. The Music of Latin America and the Caribbean

A. Glossary
B. Key Composers

Author: Michael Miller

Publisher: Alpha Books

Published: June 2008

Page count: 315 pp.

Price: $18.95

ISBN: 1592577512

Purchase at

Comments (4)

  1. JANE FISHER August 24, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    CIG to Music History EXACTLY what I was looking for: historical context & relationship to developing instrumentation. QUESTION: p. 19: “ornate upper voice” labelled “Superius” not “Tenor.” I’m confused. Can’t find corrections website you list in the book.

  2. Kristen Thompson June 12, 2017 at 4:05 pm

    I was just given the Idiots guide to Music History c 2008. I’m not sure if there is a more recent edition. Mr. Miller, you left out a very important art form from the American popular section – Barbershop. It is uniquely American art form. SPEBSQSA has come a long way from the 30’s and is now a worldwide Society. Sweet Adelines and Harmony Inc are also worldwide. Quartet and Chorus competitions demonstrate vocal excellence and great presentation. The art form is G rated and many families are immersed together. If you publish a later edition, please include this incredible a cappella art form.

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