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So, you’ve been assigned one of the weirdest kinds of essays – a music essay! Why do we think it’s a weird assignment? Because music is even harder to describe than works of art unless you are a world class musician and words like andante and legato comprise your everyday vocabulary. But don’t get upset too early, we have prepared a list of little tricks to help you with your paper about music. You are welcome! 🙂
What’s Difficult About an Essay on Music
First, let’s identify the main problems students face while writing an essay or a research paper about music.
1) It is hard to describe.
We get more than two-thirds of all information from the outer world by vision, so it is no surprise we are way better at describing shapes and colors than sounds. When it comes to songs and melodies, we usually don’t bother to go further than “awesome” and “cool,” and just give our friends an opportunity to listen to the masterpiece. Though you can ask your professor to play the song in the class for better understanding, you still have to write an essay about it.
2) It requires a special vocabulary.
If you have studied in a musical school or are just enthusiastic about learning all those adagio, andante and other weird Italian words, this will be rather easy for you. But for us, mere humans, writing a good essay about music which ponders theoretical questions requires a thorough study of musical theory and history. And this activity can be quite time-consuming, and let’s be honest, not that interesting. If this essay is not crucial for your GPA (at least, not THAT crucial), then reading a few articles on music and googling all the words you don’t understand will suffice to write a decent essay of your own.
3) You need to be really musical and have good ear training.
What’s the point in reading about subtle overtones in composition “X” which emphasize the feeling of uncertainty and fear, if you can’t hear them? Not many people have perfect ear training to distinguish those tiny differences in sound, and this is not an ability you learn overnight. If things are getting really bad, and you are not allowed to change the topic of your music essay to something more like “Why music is important for me,” ask a friend of yours or some strangers on the Internet who are good at music to explain minuscule details to you.
4) Don’t forget about the academic wrapping.
Remember that regardless of the type of your essay, whether it’s a strict academic analysis of a music style or a “value of music in my life” type of essay, you can’t write it in a style you would describe a new band or a song to your friend. Many students struggle with academic style, and if you are one of them, first write your essay in a casual style that is comfortable for you, and then edit it to fit scholarly standards.
Now that you’ve identified the problem that stops you from creating an awesome essay about music, it’s time to figure out what you need to do for creating an awesome essay.
We won’t dig into the academic definition of an essay on music since it’s rather tangled and hard to understand. The key point of the definition states that you need to deconstruct the song or album and evaluate it. Now, what do these two terms mean?
Deconstruction of a song means separating it into tiny pieces and identifying musical elements, such as pitch, timbre, rhythm, and others, and how they were used in the song. Also, deconstruction of a music piece includes identification of compositional devices, such as inversion, repetition, sequence, serialism. To finish your deconstruction you should also find out how these things are related to each other – for example, maybe each repeated part of the song is played louder or faster.
Now, after you’ve gathered enough data, move to the evaluation. You have to discover how the song’s content, style, and genre relate to the devices used. Make sure you analyze these three main points from various angles. For example, when it comes to the content of the song, it’s text, don’t just look for information in the lyrics itself. Remember the era when the song was created – the historical events, economic state and moral values of that time and the cultural influences leave a great impact on the meaning of the words in the lyrics. Maybe people of that time understood the song in a different way than we do now, so try to dig as deep as you can to come close to that initial understanding.
How to Deconstruct a Song?
Now you know all the requirements for a great essay about music, but how do you fulfill them if you are writing such an essay for the very first time? Analyzing a song is way easier than it seems. The problem is, when we listen to music, we don’t look for any specific devices and methods of expression, we just let the sound soak into our brains without analyzing it.
All you need to do is to write a list of characteristics of sound and song (highness, tempo, style, mood and so on) and listen to the song many times, each time concentrating on one of the aspects. Note as many of your thoughts on the particular aspect you are listening to as possible while you listen, and you will collect enough data for your essay. Voila! Your music essay is nearly done. Now you need to make a coherent text out of your observations and drive a conclusion to end your paper. Don’t forget to format it according to academic formatting rules!
If you have questions, suggestions or better ideas on how to write an essay on music, feel free to share them with the world in the comments section below.