About writing about music
Why write about music if the main purpose of music is to communicate a message, express an emotion or make people dance without speech or the written word?
This question assumes that we do not talk about music or that it plays little or no importance in musical experience. Just a small degree of reflection will reveal that we actually talk about music, constantly!
Anytime we mention our favorite group or singer or instrumentalist or composer and describe what we like about their music, we are talking about music. The act of writing about music heightens our consciousness of what constitutes music in the first place. Even the word "music" is an act of speech or writing that is used in a social and cultural context. Let's face the music about writing about music: avoiding the use of words to make sense of our musical experiences is quite difficult.
Clarify the topic and narrow it down. Keep in mind that a paper about the history of the trumpet could end up becoming a Ph.D. dissertation-scale project entailing years of research. More than likely, such a general topic already has numerous published articles and books which are available through your university library collection or Interlibrary Loan (ILL). The key is to refine your topic and see what is possible given the time constraints of your semester and the library's resources. Ask your professor for suggestions if you have difficulty identifying an interesting topic.
You will need to engage in the four step research process that is outlined in the Webpage Guide to Music Research:
Step One: Clarify & Consult
Step Two: Identify & Evaluate
Step Three: Refine & Redirect
Step Four: Note & Cite
After locating, reading, and taking notes from numerous sources, you are ready to write.
Writing the paper
Much has been written about the act of writing about music and I have offered only a few Web links available on this topic in the upper right column "Expert Advice."
The Writing Process
While it would be easy to recommend only one method for the writing process, the simple truth is that writers employ a variety of techniques to get ink on paper or more appropriately, digitized words in the computer.
Some people think more clearly in the morning while others late at night, some need total isolation at home while others need the shuffling and chatter of people at a cafe. Some people need to walk or pace or speak into a tape recorder while others have trouble making their fingers move as fast as their thoughts. The secret is finding an environment that will be conducive to effortless production of words.
You can write about music in many ways, but what your professor will require is analytical writing. In other words, you will need to refrain from writing about how you personally feel about music or a specific composition. Instead, you will need to adopt a "distanced" approach to your topic, studying music like a lab specimen under a microscope.
Structuring the Paper
At minimum, your paper should consist of three parts: 1) introduction, 2) body, and 3) conclusion. Of course, you will need to provide a bibliography of the works cited in your paper or a general bibliography of works consulted or both.
In many respects, the introduction to your paper is the most critical section and often consists of just one paragraph. In this limited space, you must state the basic topic or question of your paper and then discuss how you plan to write about it. Concision is the key for this section, so avoid discussing the details of your topic or writing a lengthy discourse on your method of analysis.
The body of your paper is where you get to delve into the topic and provide as much detailed description and analysis within the page length as stipulated by your professor or as befits the topic. Although you have relative freedom to write at length in the body of your paper, you will need to provide a flow of ideas that connect each paragraph. You should consider writing a "topic sentence" for each paragraph that is not unrelated to the other paragraphs nor is redundant. After you have explored several facets of your topic in the body of your paper, you are ready to proceed to the conclusion.
Your conclusion should review, briefly, the opening statement that describes your research topic and the methods for answering it. If you simply restate your introduction without providing new ideas or information, then you are writing a summary. A conclusion should offer further insight about the topic as a result of the description and analysis that you provided in the body. Often, one can present original ideas that function as a denouement, i.e. the final outcome or resolution of a narrative as found in a novel or film.
Your paper will be word-processed with one of the many software programs available such as Open Office, Microsoft Word or WordPerfect. The paper presentation, however, is a much more involved procedure. The key factor to effective, clear paper presentations is the "KISS" principle: "keep it sweet & simple" or "keep it simple, stupid." In other words, you should seek to simplify your presentation as much as possible. Below are just a few suggestions that will make your paper presentation clear. And remember: a good presentation will likely put your paper in a favorable position when your professor reads and grades it.
- Use one font style, if possible.
- Double space your paragraphs.
- Keep one inch margins at all sides (left, right, top, bottom)
- Paginate: number each page.
- Include your name, date, and course number on the title page.
- Proof-read the final version; the spell checker does not catch the difference between heterographic homophones such as "whole" and "hole" or "bate" and "bait."
Start your bibliography on a new page and use the title "Bibliography" if it includes works that you did not cite. Label the section "Works Cited" if you include only works that you have cited in the body of your paper.
In general, you should arrange your works in alphabetical order by author and then by date of publication if you have multiple works from the same author.
There are many styles for creating your bibliography, and two of the most widely employed are the MLA (Modern Language Association) and APA (American Psychological Association) standards. Highly recommended are the following links for both citation styles:
General Style Guide Resource The Citation Machine - MLA, APA, Turabian, Chicago
MLA MLA Style Guide - OWL PurdueGuide to Writing Research Papers - CCCMLA Citation Guide - OSUMLA Style: Kingwood College Library
APA APA Style Guide - OWL PurdueGuide to Writing Research Papers - CCCAPA Citation Guide - OSUAPA Style.org
A discography is similar to a bibliography, the only difference being that it comprises a list of audio or sound recordings that you have cited in your paper. Sound recordings come in a variety of formats such as LP, cassette, CD, MP3, and even audio recordings streamed from the Web. If you refer to sound recordings in your paper, you will need to create a separate section on a new page entitled "Discography." The same holds true for video recordings that you may cite, thus warranting a section called "Videography." The above APA and MLA links should provide rules and examples of how to create a proper discography and videography.
Note on Plagiarism
The Arkansas Tech University handbook defines plagiarism as the following:
The term "plagiarism" includes, but is not limited to, the use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment. It also includes the unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or agency engaged in the selling of term papers or other academic materials.
Needless to say, plagiarism is fully unacceptable at ATU and at all other universities and colleges throughout the United States and Canada. While plagiarism may seem to be a convenient method for completing a writing assignment, it can be rather inconvenient if detected, resulting in a zero grade and possibly academic suspension or expulsion.
The bottom line: you must acknowledge your sources of information, whether they be direct quotations or even ideas that you use in your paper. Citation of sources also include images and graphs (e.g. music staff notation).
More about Plagiarism and How to Avoid It Citing Sources - Duke UniversitySources - Their Use and Acknowledgment - Dartmouth College
Further questions concerning music research?
Please contact Lowell Lybarger, music librarian, 479.964.0584. firstname.lastname@example.org
Importance of music in my life
March 11, 2010
Image Credit: Sandy H.Music is one of the most important and powerful things in my life. My life without melodies and harmonies would be totally empty. Listening to and playing different tunes helps me to de-stress, relax and it can also help to motivate me in trying times. I love listening to music while on my way to school, as I feel it helps me to prepare for the day that waits. I think it is like the memoirs to my life as it has been there throughout everything with me.
When I was younger, I didn’t have the great love for musical as I do now. I mainly listened to whatever was playing in the background or what my parents were listening to. I didn’t have much of a care for musical compositions. There was sometimes a little bit of pop music thrown in to the mix here and there, but that’s really all I liked back then. Whether I was in the car, the house, or anywhere else there was sure to be some Beatles, Buddy Holly, or the Dubliners constantly playing somewhere in the background. At the time I didn’t care for that genre of music much, but now as I’m older, I enjoy it as it allows me to reminisce on memories from times of my childhood. Once I hit my teenage years music became my life and gradually started to inhibit my soul.
I believe music has the ability to convey all sorts of emotion. Whether the emotion is joy and happiness or sadness and despair through rhythms, harmonies and the lyrics music shows it. The song “A little bit longer” by Nick Jonas is such an emotional and inspiring song that when I hear it, I always come close to tears, especially when I watch it being played live. The effect that music can have on our emotions is tremendous, as it can bring people to floods of tears or bursts of laughter.
The musical images that music and song are able to create are amazing. Music has the ability to transport me back in time just like a time machine. It lets me revisit lost and forgotten moments in life. Songs can paint a picture, for example in classical and country music where a story is being told. The music in classical music tells a story without lyrics which is an immensely powerful thing. I feel that this applies to the saying “music imitates life and life imitates music”.
Recently song writing has wandered its way into my life. I believe there is no better way to express myself than through song. After a bad day, it’s nice to be able to sit down and write about it. It can make all your problems just disappear and float away. Listening to other musical artists that I like gives me inspiration. My guitar teacher also points me in the right direction and gives me guidance as I need it. I love to just sit with my guitar and make up random lyrics about past experiences or what I’m going through at the moment.
I started learning how to play the guitar last year and within the past few months I have fallen completely and utterly in love with it. Once I start playing, I find it extremely hard to put the guitar down again. It’s very addictive and can also be distracting sometimes. It distracts me from my homework since my guitar sits right next to my desk. Playing guitar is one of the only things in my life in which I don’t feel pressurized to do well in. I think this is because I have a great teacher and she doesn’t push me to the music exams.
This past summer my grandma taught me how to play the piano. I had always heard stories about how my great grandfather, her father, was brilliant at the piano. He would sit at the piano for hours on end playing different well known songs as making up his own little tunes. He had taught my grandma how to play and I felt it was about time that I learnt. So when I was staying with my grandma and grandpa during the summer, I asked her to teach me. She was delighted to and now it’s something nice that we can both do together and bond over.
I believe music effects people in many different ways. To me music is more than just something to listen to or play, it’s something to feel. Music is extremely important in my life. I think it brings me closer to my friends and family. I also feel that it helps me to get through things. For example, I remember doing the twenty six kilometre gaisce hike and the whole way along the hike we sang songs. Music is an immensely powerful thing and has a huge place in my life right next to my heart.