Essays that analyze music

Essays that analyze music are very much like other kinds of essays, except that they contain specific, technical information about the work or works that you are writing about. Normally, you should do the analysis first before you write the essay. It is a good idea to begin by creating any musical examples that you will include with the essay. Then write an outline and decide on your main analytical points before you begin to write. Clear writing about music depends on the clarity of the ideas you have and want to express.

As a first step, be sure that you know the piece. Play it if possible, or else listen to one or more recordings until you can look at the score and hear the piece in your “inner” ear. Then begin to analyze the piece: the analytical method(s) you use will depend on the work’s period, style, form, and performance genre, and will also depend on the assignment that the professor has given.  Depending on the assignment, your analysis may involve some research (see Working with sources).

When analyzing any material, you will use the understanding you have gained in the course you are taking, and other courses as well. Bear in mind that an analysis involves making choices, since more than one interpretation may be possible. Try to go beyond your initial impressions to understand the work as fully as you can. Consider whether there are special or unusual features that are significant for the piece: such insights are often very fruitful in analysis.

Once you have created any musical examples you want to include and organize your thoughts into outline form, begin to write. Use appropriate technical terms that will highlight and clarify the points you are making (see Terminology in Music). When quoting or referring to sources, be sure to use appropriate citations (see Citation Styles).

Once you have finished the essay, bear in mind that what you have created is a first draft. Reading it out loud will help you to see how clearly and correctly you have expressed your ideas, and highlight any changes that you need to make. Revision is a necessary part of the writing process: see Drafts, editing, and revision for suggestions about how to revise your work.

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