Music WorldCredit: cory stophlet, 2012

In the previous section titled Music Reviews: How to Write a Music Review Part 1 of 2, we covered the topic headings: What do you hear; Basic Reading Skills; The History; Listening and Writing; and the First Listening. Now we will look at the listening three times and the writing format of a formal review.

Reviewing music from the perspective of analysis and critiquing is both an art and science. The art is in how and what you hear, the experiential aspect of the exercise; while the science is in the analytical activities of identifying notes, the timing, instruments, techniques, historical references and influences, even social and political influences.

Part 2 of 2


Listen Three Times.

Review Writing Structure.

Closing Statement.

Listen Three Times Rule

Listen to the piece at least three times before putting that first word to paper. The more we listen the more we remember and the clearer the images become as we build that picture in our minds. In essence, we are trying to see and feel what we hearing. Eventually, we may establish a whole mental visual imagery, an experience that accompanies the piece every time we hear it. We want to experience the music in our minds and not just our ears; for that moment we live it. Keep a means of measuring time of the music’s progress as the music continues or if you can read music, have the sheet music handy. This way you can keep your written comments consistent with their place in the overall music selection.

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

Review Writing Structure

When writing your music review, consider using this writing structure:

Opening paragraph: Introduce the name of the music and the composer. Add a general descriptive statement that will tickle the reader’s imagination, encouraging them to continue reading. Why is this music selection worth the effort of a review: positive or negative. Or if this is an academic/scholarly analysis, what is the reason for the interest or purpose of the exercise. State your thesis: what are you going to prove or disprove in this review or article.

Background: Provide a little history of the piece; when was it written, first performed, reaction by audiences and critics. Describe or discuss any social, religious or political influences of the time that did or may have influence the content, structure, instrument selections, performance location(s), etc.

Body: This will often take two or three paragraphs, or more to accomplish. Start with the overall impression and structure of the composition; then use the follow-on paragraphs to decompose the piece. Essentially, this is an effort to break the composition down to its smaller pieces so that they can be more effectively described, critiqued and the music analyzed in terms of its pieces and parts. Paint a picture in words while still paying attention to, and accounting for, all the details that support your assertions about the music. See the examples referred to in the reference section of this article.

Summary: Briefly remind the reader what the thesis is and cleanly move into a concisely statement of how the information you have presented proves or supports your thesis. Be cautious about ignoring any information that clearly defies your thesis. Don’t “cherry-pick” your facts. If you discover something that conflicts with your interpretation; you must resolve it by adjusting your thesis.

Closing statement: Finish with a simple statement or brief paragraph that presents your final thoughts and impressions of both the composition and the composer. You don't need to restate the thesis. This is a simple "Last Word" or "Last Thought" on the piece.

Sketch of Sergei Prokofiev by Hilda WienerCredit: Hilda Wiener (1877-1940)

Music Reviews on InfoBarrel:

  • Analysis of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Minuet for String Quintet in D Major[1]
  • Ludwig Van Beethoven's 1st Movement of the Eighth Symphony[2]
  • Sergei Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2, Op. 63 in G Minor[3]
  • Amadeus Mozart's Minuet No. 6 for Piano, in D Major[4]

Final Word

As stated before, the number one skill you can’t do without is your imagination. Your cultural background and environment will influence interpretation of how and what you hear. Historical issues of the past and the present social beliefs will also influence interpretations of the music. Even your state of mind during the first moments of hearing music will influence your interpretations. You need to use your imagination, let it go, but be aware of the influence, when you listen to the music. Don’t just focus on technical aspects alone, but don’t ignore them either; they are a part of the experience.

Your imagination is a great part of how you translate the mechanics of the music into images and sensations. Use your other senses as well as with your ears: does this music create a warm or cold feeling; does it affect sadness, a melancholy mood or excitement; does it sound violent or peaceful, bold or have subtle sounds interwoven in the music. Does the music sound like a call to war a respite or a calming breeze in the meadow? Most of all, try to enjoy it.