Novels about music give audiences the rare opportunity to satiate their hunger for both literature and music. Most are fictional works that weave page-flipping tales about a character’s relationship with producing his or her art. However, some nonfiction novels are included to paint real-life stories about culture’s favorite musicians.
Novels about music tend to delve into authentic issues faced by artists who are thrust into or out of the limelight. Readers receive an insider’s glimpse into the creative, eccentric minds of singers, instrumentalists, and songwriters as well as the struggles they resiliently overcome. Many acclaimed authors have beautifully captured lyrics and melodies on printed pages to add to your life’s soundtrack.
Pair your favorite playlists with the following 50 novels about music that sing to the heart and soul for true inspiration.
#1 – Lovestruck Summer
Teenage indie rocker Quinn is traveling to Austin, Texas, for the music internship of a lifetime. She’s anxiously awaiting a glorious summer filled with lazy days and rocking night concerts. But instead she’s left sharing a room with her obnoxious, sorority obsessed cousin Penny. Sebastian, a hot DJ, helps make up for it. That’s until she unexpectedly clicks with Penny’s friend Russ despite his Texan twang and drastically different music style.
#2 – The Piano Teacher
Janice Y.K. Lee
This New York Times best-seller takes place in the war-torn nation of Hong Kong in the early 1940s. The British Will Truesdale falls in love with Trudy Liang, a gorgeous Eurasian socialite. However, their love dissolves as the Japanese invade during World War II. A decade later, Claire Pendleton travels to Hong Kong as a piano teacher. While teaching music to the Chen’s daughter, she develops feelings for their wounded driver, Will.
#3 – Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
Developed into a hit film with Michael Cera and Kat Dennings, this YA novel tells of one sleepless night of adventure in Manhattan. Left broken hearted, Nick scavenges the city’s indie rock scene. Meanwhile, Norah’s questioning all of her world views and assumptions. The pair share nothing in common except their taste in music. Nick and Norah join forces to locate a legendary band’s secret show.
#4 – The Metropolis Case
Spanning from the 19th to 21st centuries, The Metropolis Case is a sweeping story that portrays the heart’s yearning for music. Martin, a present-day middle-aged lawyer, feels disconnected from his Manhattan lifestyle. Anna, a 1960s grand stage dame, finds the spotlight is harsher than expected. Maria, an outcast 1970s teen, faces uncertainty when her powerful voice leads to Julliard. Their lives suddenly become bound together across time.
#5 – Virtuosity
One of Jessica Martinez’s brilliant novels about music is Virtuosity, the forbidden love story between Carmen and Jeremy. As a talented violinist, Carmen is focused on winning the prestigious Guarneri competition. That’s until the handsome Jeremy, a competitor, steals her attention. Their undeniable bond tempts Carmen to follow her heart rather than desire to win. But can she trust Jeremy with her secret that she needs anti-anxiety drugs to perform?
#6 – Accordion Crimes
Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Proulx created this masterpiece novel to eloquently link centuries and continents through powerful music. Beginning in the late 19th century, the story introduces colorful characters like Ludwig Messermacher and Onesiphore Malefoot. Proulx illuminates the immigrant experience in the United States by following Mexicans, Africans, Poles, and Irish who successively own a green accordion. Many meet the same fateful end as the original owner who’s murdered by an anti-Italian lynch mob.
#7 – Whale Music
Inspired by the Beach Boy’s creative leader Brian Wilson, Whale Music centers on a former rock star named Desmond Howl. Since his brother Danny’s fatal car accident, Desmond has hid away at his seaside mansion. He spends his day composing instrumental symphonies for the whales inhabiting the coast. However, Desmond’s life takes a drastic turn when the mysterious Claire suddenly appears in his living room.
#8 – The Cellist of Sarajevo
Similar to other novels about music, The Cellist of Sarajevo tells the haunting tale of four people whose lives intersect. One musician witnesses 22 of his friends abruptly killed in an attack. He defiantly begins playing his cello at the site for 22 days. Meanwhile, two other men are searching for bread and water for their families when they’re sidetracked. The fourth character, a female sniper, holds the cellist’s life in her hands.
#9 – Orfeo
From the author of The Echo Maker, this intense novel was based on the myth of Orpheus. Richard Powers weaves the tale of composer Peter Els. He’s established a home microbiology laboratory to study surprising musical patterns. But then he sparks suspicion from the Department of Homeland Security. Peter’s become the center of viral Internet gossip as the ‘Bioterrorist Bach.” Now he must journey into his musical past to fix his present.
#10 – Stone Arabia
Growing up in 1970s Los Angeles, siblings Denise and Nik developed a close relationship. Nik has always been an artistic musician leading bands on-stage. Now passing 40 years old, he’s become reclusive with Denise as his only audience. She’s also much-needed support for their deteriorating mother with dementia. When her daughter Ada begins filming a documentary on Nik’s music, each family member’s vulnerabilities are exposed.
#11 – The Pianist in the Dark
The Pianist in the Dark tells the real story of Maria-Theresa von Paradis, the gifted daughter of the empress of Austria’s secretary. Despite visual impairment, she becomes a notable virtuoso playing piano for the royal family by 17. Yet her father remains unwilling to accept his daughter’s blindness. He enlists guidance from Franz Anton Mesmer, a hypnotist, through whom Maria-Theresa discovers her strength and passion.
#12 – The Song of the Lark
Willa Cather’s second novel in the Prairie trilogy portrays a talented young artist born in rural Colorado. Against the backdrop of the budding American West, Thea Kronborg discovers her passion for music. She leaves Moonstone behind to fulfill her dreams in Chicago as a pianist. However, her instructor discovers that her artistic gift is actually singing. Readers watch as Thea blossoms into a Wagnerian soprano at the Met.
#13 – Time Won’t Let Me
In the late 60s, four classmates at New Hampshire’s Chase Academy formed a garage band called the Truants. After recording their album “Out of Site,” Richie, John, Jerry, Tim, and Brian separated paths. Now nearing 50 years old, the band members are facing unhappy marriages and unsatisfying careers. That’s until they learn a German record collector will pay $10,000 for their work. Can the Truants reunite and cash in?
#14 – A Visit from the Goon Squad
With music blaring from every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad offers a time-hopping story focused on Bennie Salazar, an aging record executive. Chapters bounce back and forth between Bennie’s heyday in the 60s rock band called the “Flaming Dildos” and today. As he grows older, life begins taking Bennie in unexpected directions. The Pulitzer Prize winner also inspects the troubled life of his assistant, Sasha.
#15 – King Dork
Titled after a 1999 song by The Mr. T Experience, King Dork portrays a 14-year-old sophomore in San Francisco named Tom Henderson. While dealing with daily bullying from cruel peers, the skinny, awkward teen attempts to become a rock band. He partners with his only friend, Sam Hellerman, to begin playing their favorite heavy metal. Preparing for Hillmont High’s Battle of the Bands proves disastrous for their band.
#16 – Music and Silence
Published in 1995, Rose Tremain’s Whitbread Award-winning novel takes place in the 17th century court of King Christian IV of Denmark. He’s left in limbo as his country faces collapse and his wife Kristen’s cheating goes public. Christian soothes his misery with music performed by the royal orchestra in his comforting chamber. Resembling his lost childhood friend, Christian declares musician Peter Claire the “Angel” who’ll resolve his problems.
#17 – Amplified
Life dramatically changes when spoiled, close-minded Jasmine is kicked out of her family’s house at 17. After cashing in her savings, she decides to pursue music in Santa Cruz. Now she must convince her three roommates that she’s worthy of becoming the lead guitarist for C-Side. There’s only one obstacle: her serious case of stage fright. For more novels about music, don’t miss Tara Kelly’s companion book titled Encore.
#18 – Corregidora
Corregidora is a brutally honest, painful novel told by a talented African American blues singer named Ursa. While struggling to find herself, Ursa reflects on the cruelty of the 19th century Portuguese Brazilian slaveholder who fathered her grandmother and mother. Her sense of selfhood further deteriorates when her abusive husband Mutt orders her to stop singing. Can Ursa overcome her family’s violent past and present through healing music?
#19 – Dragonsinger
Belonging to the Harper Hall trilogy, this YA science fiction novel takes place in the legendary world of Pern. Here Harpers hold more power than kings for their music controls others’ minds. Young Menolly is passionate for music, but her gender forbids her from studying or practicing. That’s until she’s finally accepted as an apprentice Harper. With the help of her nine colorful dragons, Menolly discovers her talent is stronger than expected.
#20 – Living Underground
Ruth E. Walker
Ruth E. Walker’s impressive debut centers on Sheila Martin from her dismal childhood to her reawakening three decades later. Her life forever changed when Sigmund Maier, her family’s handsome German tenant, introduced her to opera music. After a painful separation, Sigmund reappears into Sheila’s cultured life in Toronto. Suddenly she’s drawn into disturbing accusations surrounding Sigmund’s Nazi involvement in pre-WWI Dresden.
#21 – Coming Through Slaughter
Set in vibrant New Orleans, Coming Through Slaughter introduces the story of Buddy Bolden, one of America’s first great trumpeters. Lyrical prose tells the colorful life of the unrecorded “Father of Jazz.” Based on historical facts, the book’s pages focus on the music pioneer’s last months of sanity in the early 1900s. With photographer E.J. Bellocq, Ondaatje shows the correlative relationship between artistry and self-destruction.
#22 – The Fountain Overflows
Channeling her own volatile childhood, Rebecca West artfully tells the tale of the talented Aubrey siblings in The Fountain Overflows. Their lives in the London suburbs is largely clouded by their eccentric father’s instability and gambling. Their pianist mother teaches the reluctant daughters music, but life takes supernatural turns. Events are told from Rose Aubrey’s eyes as the family encounters bill collectors, ghosts, heirlooms, and even murderers.
#23 – Echo
Pam Muñoz Ryan
Granted the 2016 Newbery Honor, Echo begins with a young boy named Otto who’s left imprisoned in a dreary forest by a witch’s curse. He promises to break the curse by carrying the spirits of three mysterious sisters in a harmonica. The story shifts as the modern-day lives of three children: Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy become interwoven by the musical instrument. Each finds strength as their destiny takes them to New York City’s Carnegie Hall.
#24 – Guitar Notes
Tripp Broody has suffered the tragic death of his father and his best friend’s move to another town. In comparison, Lyla Marks leads a seemingly perfect life as an intelligent teacher’s pet and cellist, but she secretly suffocates under her father’s unrealistic expectations. Despite coming from different worlds, the two high schoolers begin connecting through music. Suddenly the two kindred spirits find their voice developing fluid, emotional lyrics together.
#25 – The Commitments
Obsessed with James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and other R&B greats across the pond, Jimmy Rabbitte decides to organize a band. He rounds up fellow working-class Dubliners like Derek Scully and Liam “Outspan” Foster to deliver Irish soul. Jimmy manages The Commitments to tour Ireland with songs filled with youthful alienation. However, tensions begin heating as jealousy and animosity brews, especially when a love triangle with Imelda develops.
#26 – Audrey, Wait!
Audrey, an audacious 16-year-old, decides to dump her musician boyfriend Evan. Unbeknownst to her, their breakup will inspire his band’s latest song. The rock ballad attracts attention from music executives and catapults up the charts. Suddenly Audrey reaches celebrity status as the motivation for the #1 hit. Paparazzi begin hounding her, even on dates with her gorgeous co-worker Scooper Dooper. What will happen when Audrey confronts Evan on live TV?
#27 – The Gold Bug Variations
Voted one of the “Best Books of 1991” in Publisher’s Weekly, Richard Powers’ novel examines the meaning of love through music and art. Beginning in the late 1950s, the story introduces scientist Stuart Ressler who’s pioneering research on DNA coding. Three decades later, librarian Jan O’Deigh and programmer Franklin Todd befriend Ressler whose career has derailed. The two young lovers learn music together by intertwining DNA structure with Bach’s harpsichord composition.
#28 – This Song Will Save Your Life
Outsider Elise Dembowski has been the butt of jokes for years. Approaching her sophomore year of high school, she’s desperate to fit in. Elise studies pop culture and slides on skinny jeans to try making friends. After that fails miserably, she almost gives up. That’s when she unexpectedly meets Vicky, Char, and Pippa at a warehouse party. Elise also discovers her love for music and being DJ.
#29 – High Fidelity
Among the novels about music adapted into a Broadway musical, High Fidelity was published in 1995 by Nick Hornby. This fictional work follows Rob Fleming, a Londoner who owns Championship Vinyl. Along with friends Dick and Berry, he spends his stare time making mix tapes of “top-five” songs. Dealing with heartbreak, Rob begins re-examining his five most memorable breakups, which leads him back to Laura.
#30 – Dr. Faustus
Thomas Mann famously devoted his last novel to reshaping the Faust legend within the turbulent rise of Germany’s Third Reich. Adrian Leverkuhn, a fictitious composer, bargains for creative genius. He purposely contracts syphilis to deepen his musical talent through madness. Adrian’s visited by a Mephistophelean demon who takes his soul for 24 years of genius. His complete mental breakdown parallels the downfall of the Nazi Party.
#31 – An Equal Music
From the author of A Suitable Boy, this 400-page novel delivers the story of Michael Holme, a successful violinist playing with the Maggiore Quartet in London. Irritated with his French girlfriend, Michael is continually haunted by his lost love with Julia a decade ago. A twist of fate reunites the couple. Though she’s now married, Michael and Julia forge a secret affair. Their relationship and her deteriorating hearing both threaten to annihilate their careers.
#32 – The Phantom of the Opera
Perhaps one of the most famous novels about music, The Phantom of the Opera revolves around Erik, a scarred, masked musical genius. After building an elaborate home under the Paris Opera, the “Angel of Music” begins terrorizing performers with letters and malevolent attacks. Enchanted by the theatre’s newest soprano, Erik kidnaps Christine and provides her voice lessons. Christine’s then forced to make the difficult decision of who to love.
#33 – Glitz
Philana Marie Boles
Glitz is an energetic YA novel focused on Ann Michelle, a teenage girl sick of living a boring, cushy life. That’s until she meets the fearless Raquel Marissa Diaz. Raq encourages Ann Michelle to come along her ride to music stardom. They leave home behind to tour with their favorite hip hop artist, Piper. But soon Ann Michelle finds she’s lost her true identity by becoming Glitz.
#34 – The Fortress of Solitude
Jonathan Lethem’s semi-autobiographical novel takes place in Brooklyn neighborhood where stoopball and muggings are the usual entertainment. Dylan Ebdus, a white, motherless teen, recently moved to Dean Street. Here he quickly befriends Mingus Rude, a Black teen. Together they find a magical ring that grants the power of flight. The Fortress of Solitude dissects crucial issues of racial relations, gentrification, drug addiction, and development of soul music.
#35 – The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
Renowned author Mitch Albom created the unforgettable character of Frankie Presto, one of Earth’s greatest guitarists. As a war orphan, Frankie was raised by a blind music teacher in rural Spain. At nine years old, he’s sent across the Atlantic to America with only an old guitar. Gifted with the voice of Music, he weaves himself into 20th century pop culture. Through his playing, Frankie discovers he can change people’s futures.
#36 – Nocturnes
Nocturnes is a collection of short stories written in first person about musicians who have unfulfilled artistic potential. For instance, “Malvern Hills” centers on a young guitarist who flees to London’s countryside after failing in the rock world. “Crooner” takes place in Venice, Italy, to portray a fading American singer who begins serenading tourists aboard a gondola. Each of these mini novels about music follows characters’ life-changing epiphanies.
#37 – Freedom
Selected for Oprah’s Book Club, Freedom has received acclaim for telling the Berglunds’ story. As a liberal middle-class family, they’re among the first moving back to Saint Paul after the city’s white flight. Jonathan Franzen expertly captures Walter and Patty Berglunds’ histrionics along with their devious neighbors, including the indie rock musician Richard. A scandalous affair with Patty leads to Richard’s hit album “Nameless Lake.”
#38 – If I Stay
Adapted into a hit film with Chloe Moretz, If I Stay portrays a talented 17-year-old cellist named Mia. The last memory Mia can remember is being tended to by paramedics after a deadly car accident. Now she’s stuck in limbo between life and death. Stories are told as flashbacks from Mia’s hospital bed. Can the power of strong family bonds, love with Adam, and classical music keep Mia holding on?
#39 – Where She Went
Another of Gayle Forman’s novels about music is Where She Went. Published in 2011, this book continues the love story of Adam and Mia, except from his point of view. Ever since Mia’s decided to separate, Adam’s anguish resulted in writing a chart-topping album. Adam becomes a bona fide rock star while Mia excels as a top-notch cellist. But when their paths collide in New York City, sparks fly again.
#40 – The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love
Set in 1949, this Pulitzer Prize winner shares the memorable story of Cesar and Nestor Castillo, native Cubans who emigrate to New York City. Nicknamed the Mambo Kings, the brothers find modest success playing nightclubs and dance halls. After appearing on the I Love Lucy show with Ricky Ricardo, their fame skyrockets. Suddenly the Mambo Kings steal hearts with tender vignettes filled with sexual bravado and soulful Latin flare.
#41 – The Piano Tuner
Middle-aged piano tuner Edgar Drake receives a strange commission from the British War Office. Imperial leaders request that he journey to Burmese jungles to repair an old piano for a peculiar Army doctor, Major Anthony Carroll. However, Drake is abruptly dragged into a mission to make peace between the British and local Shan warlords mostly through music. The nerdy Englishman quickly becomes enamored with the unorthodox political landscape.
#42 – The Loser
Classical music lovers will enjoy The Loser, a novel set in the 1950s at the Mozarteum University of Salzburg, Austria. Two young friends are sharing a piano class taught by the notable Vladimir Horowitz. That’s when they encounter a young Canadian prodigy pianist named Glenn Gould. He’s able to miraculously play the Goldberg Variations better than their instructor. Readers watch as Gould’s musical genius irreversibly affects their lives long-tern.
#43 – The Soloist: A Novel
At only 34, piano soloist Max Randal has slammed into a career roadblock. Over four years has passed since his last live performance. Intent on revitalizing the musician’s prowess, his manager arranges a concert at Carnegie Hall. The plot thickens as Max is preparing for the show of his life though. Music falls to the backburner as his ex-wife faces terminal illness and he’s left raising his nine-year-old daughter.
#44 – Telegraph Avenue
Named for the famous road running between Oakland and Berkeley, Telegraph Avenue portrays two Californian longtime friends, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe. They’ve owned the successful Brokeland Records for 12 years. That’s until an ex-NFL quarterback, Gibson Goode, plans to invade their turf by opening a Dogpile Thang megastore down the street. Will this mean doom for their vulnerable music enterprise?
#45 – Station Eleven
Emily St. John Mandel
Kirsten Raymonde will forever remember the night Arthur Leander, a Hollywood star, suffers a heart attack on stage. That was the fateful night when a disastrous flu pandemic wiped out most of the world’s civilization. Now two decades later, Kirsten is joining the Traveling Symphony, a troupe dedicated to keeping music alive. However, upon arriving in St. Deborah by the Water, the group meets a cruel prophet who threatens their survival.
#46 – How to Kill a Rock Star
Young journalist Eliza Caelum moves to New York City to take her dream job at a music magazine. However, she doesn’t expect rooming with Paul Hudson, the spirited lead singer of a rock band called Bananafish. Eliza and Paul fall madly in love over their reverence for music. Bananafish then signs a major record deal that skyrockets Paul to stardom. Now Eliza must make a difficult decision leading to Paul’s shocking disappearance.
#47 – Kamikaze L’Amour: A Novel of the Future
Richard Kadrey presents one of the few science fiction novels about music in a not-so-distant future. A genetic experiment gone awry made most of Southern California transform into dense rain forest. Afflicted with depression, rock star Ryder fakes suicide for the tabloids and retreats to the Amazon-like jungle. Here he befriends the talented Frida and rediscovers music beyond the microscope of celebrity.
#48 – Bel Canto
Listed among Amazon’s “Best Books of the Year” in 2001, Bel Canto is a thriller based upon the Lima Crisis of 1996. Katsumni Hosokawa, the visiting chairman of a Japanese corporation, is visiting the president of the South American nation. To appease his opera enthusiasm, the government arranges the soprano Roxanne Coss to perform. But terrorists crash the party and take everyone hostage. Readers follow the development of two romantic relationships as the hostage standoff continues.
#49 – The Song is You
Julian Donahue, a creative art director, lives for the music on his iPod. There are songs for his crazy college days, first encounter with his wife, and miraculous birth of his son. However, when Julian’s family shatters, music loses its luster. That’s until he stumbles upon a snarky Irish redhead, Cait O’Dwyer, while performing with her band. Soon their unlikely affair starts Julian’s soundtrack towards happiness.
#50 – The Road to Fluffer
Darrell Steiner, an aging music journalist, is devoted his latest piece to the heavy metal band Numb Skull. He follows their excessive rock and roll lifestyle on a tour throughout the Midwest. The band’s members are seeking a deal with Fluffer, an energy drink producer entering the music scene. While wrestling a rocky relationship with his cheating wife, Darrell strives to keep corporate takeover from derailing his assignment.
Whether you’re a rock, country, opera, or hip-hop lover, these must-read novels about music will further develop your appreciation for the art through written word.
We think you might like: