Teaching Students How To Write A Musical Analysis

how to write a musical analysis

Most students struggle more with one area of musical assessment: music analysis. During an exam, a student is expected to actively listen to a given musical work, deduce as much meaning from it as possible and write a sensible essay. Musical analysis writing can get easier for the student if they know the elements to identify and analyze in a given tune.

For instance, they could start with instrumentation. Instruct them to listen to a song from the beginning to the end while listing all the instruments being played. Once done, the student can listen to the song once again and spot pitch all through. Pinpointing and listing musical elements results to an incomplete essay. Hence, the student should describe the role played by every element and illustrate how they interrelate.

The following process can be printed out and given to students as a guide on how to write a musical analysis.


Listen to a song multiple times

In a real exam, your music teacher will decide the song you will listen to. But for purposes of personal revision, you should pick a momentous song with a deep message. Listen to this song while reading the lyrics (print out the lyrics). And as you play the song, highlight all lines and words you find meaningful. Write down any personal response or thought that comes to mind.

Search for key music elements

Music has key elements: melody, harmony, dynamics, instrumentation, form and texture. 

  • Melody – A melody may move in steps or leaps, it can be smooth or short and detached and can have a wide or narrow range.  A melody may have an ascending, descending, real or tonal sequence. It is important to identify and describe all elements of a melody, including any composition device you can identify.
  • Harmony – Also called tonality, harmony is mainly about the chords and keys used in a song. So, as you listen to a song, you should identify the tonal center or key (major, minor, atonal, modal or polytonal).  As well, discover chromatic chords by names and where they occur. Further, specify the cadence points, dissonance and the consistency of the harmonic rhythm.
  • Rhythm or meter – Identify, name and discuss the rhythm or meter featured in your song. State whether different parts play the same meter or different rhythmic patterns. Additionally, name any irregular meters or time changes found and explain the behavior of note values.
  • Dynamics – This is also known as timbre and it is about how the sound climaxes. So you should determine whether the use of dynamics is practical and show how it supports the song composer’s main intention.
  • Instrumentation – Here you should simply classify all the instruments being played and the voice types they are matched with. Then, describe the point where each of two gets active, whether there is a single or a mixture of instruments and the roles played by each instrument.
  • Form – It refers to the theme, binary, variation, ternary or rondo of a song. Form can be episodic, free-flowing, cyclical or through-composed. Ensure you identify the actual form and discuss it.
  • Texture – As you listen to your favorite song, identify the predominant texture or a mixture of it. Is the texture homophonic, monophonic or polyphonic? Is it thin, light or heavy? Does it change often?

Armed with the above details, writing your final draft will be quick and easy.


Additional Information

If you student is analysis a song with lyrics too the analysis can include information the song genre and its historical, social and political backgrounds.

Next, analyze the lyrics using a figurative language or comparison language and find proper words to bring out the song’s central theme. Discuss each element you found in the body of your essay, leaving out no detail no matter how trivial. It is important to write interestingly and convincingly, of course. When concluding, restate and summarize your key points. Edit your paper twice to make sure it has no grammatical, spelling or clarity errors.



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