How to Write a Music Essay

Music essay

One of the challenges of writing a music essay for many people is narrowing your music essay topic in order to write in enough detail to make your essay both informative and interesting for the reader. Although most people have been fortunate enough to have been touched by a piece of music or to have one or more favourite songs, a formal education in music is uncommon.

Unless you are one of those few people who have a background or formal education in music, your knowledge of analyzing a piece of music and subsequently documenting your music sources may be inadequate to easily produce a well written music essay. Read on to learn more about common topics for a music essay, ways to analyze a piece of music and how to accurately cite the sources you use.

Topics for a music essay

Topics for writing a music essay are plentiful and another challenging task may be narrowing your focus and choosing your writing approach.

  • Music essays can explore how different music influences our lives.
  • You may devote your essay to the origins and progression of a particular genre of music such as jazz, hip hop, rock, blue grass, or classical.
  • Another category that lends itself to being analyzed for a music essay is world music. You may discuss the similarities or differences between Cajun and Creole music, for example. Or explore the influence of Gospel music has had on other genres of music throughout time. Appalachian folk music has interesting roots and a rich oral history. Other types of world music that can be the focus of a music essay African American music, Latin music, Indian music.
  • Other areas of focus for writing a music essay include an in depth analysis of a particular piece of music or a discussion of the complete works of a certain composer or artist.
  • A music essay on the history and progression of the music industry or the origins and evolution of music education would make an interesting essay.
  • For example, an explanation how music is used in music therapy sessions to reduce stress, build self esteem, encourage spontaneity and help patients with conditions can be entitled sensory impairments and developmental disabilities.

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How to analyze music?

When analyzing a piece of music you will need to listen to it many times to be able to interpret it thoroughly. As you listen, try to pick out the different components such as:

  • The kind of instruments used in the piece and how different instruments affect the arrangement of the piece. Citing Music
  • The texture of the piece. A monophonic piece is simple with just one melody whereas a composition with multiple voices and harmonies is polyphonic. Textures can also be biphonic, heterophonic or homophonic.
  • The improvisational style of the composition including any syncopation or irregular rhythm, any expression of personal or emotional feelings (lyrical), or other
  • The genre of music the piece belongs to and the ways in which the music and text of the genre are similar.

Other things you can do to help with the analysis of a piece is to learn about the life and era of the composer and to educate yourself on the subject of music theory so you can distinguish themes, structures and additional musical elements. As you listen to the piece again, think about why the artist chose to include different elements and what kind of emotion or feelings might have been intended.

Citing Music Sources in your essay

Writing a music essay is a task that not many students are familiar with. Documentation of references and source information for an essay on music typically follows the Turabian style, an adapted format based on The Chicago Manual of Style. Citation of sources for a music essay are as follows:

  1. Italicize the titles of oratorios, operas, poems and other lengthy musical compositions.
  2. Use quotation marks to enclose the titles of songs and other shorter compositions.
  3. Titles made up of generic terms have the first letter of each word capitalized but neither italics or quotation marks are used. For example “Chopin’s Waltz” or “Brahm’s Fourth Symphony”.

For more information and examples see Turabian’s Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations

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