Music WorldCredit: cory stophlet, 2012

The ability to effectively review, analyze, interpret and write about music is a very useful skill for academics, musicians, and even writers of web content for sites like InfoBarrel or any site, even your own personal web site. In this article, we will discuss a style of music criticism and analysis far more sophisticated than the typical blog commentary or customer review.

  1. Is there something more in the music than the sound itself?
  2. Is the author, composer, or musician trying to say something?
  3. What motivated or drove this collection of noise, scales, timing, and changes in emphasis from one note to another to becoming the thing it is?
  4. There is a lot of historical analysis and interpretation in the effort to analyze and interpret music.

Content Of This Two Part Article

How to Write a Music Review: Part 1 of 2


The Study.
Basic Reading Skills.
The History.
Listening and Writing.
First Listen.


How to Write a Music Review: Part 2 of 2





Listen Three Times.
Review Writing Structure.
Closing Statement.
What Do You Hear

Does Not Have To Be Difficult

How to listen to music critically and write a review does not have to be as difficult as it might seem. Both trained musicians and non-musicians can effectively analyze and interpret any piece of music; however, the approach taken by each person, and the interpretation, will be different. Here we will look at what you need to do in either case.

All students of the music arts, the humanities in general and cultural study students will eventually have to review a piece of music. Even just the average Jane or John Doe with an interest in music can benefit from the ability to listen critically to a selected piece of music, genre or period of music and further, put the analysis into words. Imagination is really the most critical skill for a music reviewer to write an effective review on a music selection.

Wolfgang Amadeus MozartCredit: Portrait by Barbara Krafft, 1819

You don’t have to be a composer to effectively write about music; however, there are some skills that will come in handy in order to translate what you hear into words on the page. Being a musician is helpful but not necessary. A good imagination and the ability to describe what you hear in terms of the senses and emotions is a necessity. Non musicians with the smallest amount of music reading literacy can use that knowledge in interpreting what they hear in writing a review. If you can’t refer to timing in the form of bars, beats, and notes (quarter, half and whole notes) you can reference the Movement name or number or Segment of the piece. An even easier option, one used by both the skilled musician and non-musician, is to simply refer to time as a measure of progress. For example: Instead of stating four bars of quarter notes into the segment of music you might use a measure of time, such as 30 seconds or one minute into the symphony movement.

Basic Reading Skills

If you know that you will be doing a lot of music reviews, in the long run, it will still pay off to gain at least some rudimentary understanding of the mechanics particularly as to scales and notes, measures and bars, music tempo and special terms. Some of the terms you can easily learn yourself are: allegro, adagio, fug, andante, fortissimo, canon, phrase, etc. The website “Classicalworks” is a helpful site for learning about these terms and many more. This knowledge can be invaluable for the serious music student and reviewer. With a little time and study you can build some fundamental skills that will help you understand the technical information for a music score and translate your impressions on paper with a bit more specific details.

Notes SampleCredit: Cory Stophlet, 2014

The History

One of the areas of study sometimes missing in music review is historical information as it relates to specifics of the composer or performer. Investigate events of the time that may have impacted the imagination and motivation of the composer or author. Try to discern if anything occurring during that period of history may have influenced the type of music, style, methods, and instruments used in its performance. Even health, family, financial, and other personal issues relating to the composer could have had affected the musical creativity and its interpretation. Additionally, determine if there are any cultural, social, philosophical issues of the time in history that may have affected the creator’s motivation and determine if this music is typical or atypical of other music produced and performed during that period (such as: baroque, classical, romantic, periods).

HearingCredit: Pixabay Image

Listening and Writing

First Listen

The first time we listen to a selection we are only familiarizing ourselves with the piece itself. Sit comfortably, close your eyes and really listen to the piece from start to finish; absorb the music; let yourself fall into the experience. What do you hear, see, feel, sense; what emotions are evoked? We obviously hear the broad work itself; sort of like seeing the forest, but that is all we see – a forest. We often miss the individual trees and the other individual elements that make up the whole piece of work. In time, we begin to form images in our minds; the more we listen to a piece the more we find.

Each of us will be partial to certain instruments and combinations of instruments. Our musical preference in combination with our state of mind can determine our ability to analyze, critique, and enjoy a selection of music. Musical notes and combinations of notes trigger or remind us of emotions and feelings. The way a piece is played, whether it’s fast, slow, loud, or soft can influence how we interpret the piece. Even when we are partial to a style of music, we can overlook the composer’s subtle hints to his message because of our focus on our instrumental preferences. Myself, I’m very partial to string instruments and especially the violin and cello; so I must admit that I tend to sometimes over focus on those two instruments.

1,2,3 ListeningCredit: Cory Stophlet, 12 March 2015

In the last part of this discussion or more appropriately, this lesson, we will continue the topic by covering the Listen Three Times Rule and the critique writing format.


Next.  How to Write a Music Review Part 2 of 2