Has teaching musicology essays to your music classes got you a little stressed at the thought? It doesn’t have to be that way!
Even though the writing of a great musicology essay is an art form, it is one that can be easily taught and learned with the right tools.
If you’re a music teacher, particularly one guiding middle and high school students, this blog post is your invaluable companion, aimed at assisting you in teaching critical analysis and the art of the musicology essay writing. Within this post, you’ll discover practical and valuable insights on how to facilitate the process of composing musicology essays with your music appreciation students and classes.
Are looking for other ways that you can keep your music students engaged in the music classroom, then grab yourself a FREE copy of the 25 page eBook called – 5 Simple Ways to Makeover your Music Curriculum here
What is a Musicology Essay?
A musicology essay is like a musical detective’s report. It’s where your students explore and explain the mysteries behind the music, focusing on how the Elements of Music are used within a piece of music selected for study and analysis. Through this analysis, your students get to understand how the music works, what makes the piece special, and why the music can create a strong emotional response. As a music teacher, you can use musicology essays as a vehicle to teach your music students to appreciate music on a deeper, and more critical level.
Musicology can be defined as the scholarly study of music, encompassing its history, theory, composition, performance, and cultural significance. Musicologists analyze and interpret music from various eras, genres, and cultures to gain a deeper understanding of the artistic, historical, and social contexts of a given piece of music. Through the study and examination of musical compositions, styles, and the roles music plays in society, students can be led to a broader appreciation and knowledge of music’s rich tapestry.
10 Things to Consider Before Starting a Musicology Essay
Before you and your students start researching and writing their own musicology essays, there are a few things that you need to make sure they know how to do first. Even though a musicology essay is a great formative assessment, especially one for “assessment as learning”, setting your students up for success prior to beginning their own musicology essay is essential. Below is a list of 10 things you should prepare your students for how to do, before they start their own musicology essay.
- Understanding of the Elements of Music – Students need to have a thorough understanding of the Elements of Music and their terminology before they can start to analyze the music. The musicology essay can focus on one, or all the Elements of Music, but your students will need to have been taught the music vocabulary they will need for analysis of the music they select to study and analyze independently. If you would like more information and teaching ideas for this, you can read this blog post here –Teaching Music Terms Made Easy – 5 Simple Classroom Activities to Try
Making Song Analysis Easy with these 5 Simple Steps
- Clear Objectives: Define the learning objectives and expectations for the musicology essay, such as what is to be included in the essay, the expected length, and key research topics to be covered.
- Music Selection: Help students choose music that is suitable to their level of understanding and analysis skills. They should have a musicology essay topic that aligns with their interests and also has sufficient research material available.
- Research Skills: Ensure that your music students have the necessary research skills to gather relevant information from credible sources. You might need to provide research questions that they can use to research and find the appropriate information for their musicology essay.
- Thesis Development: You will need to guide your students in formulating a clear and compelling thesis statement that outlines the purpose and argument of their musicology essay.
- Structural Guidelines: Provide a clear essay structure, including an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion, to help students organize their thoughts effectively. Using the M.U.S.I.C. Paragraph scaffold will help your students to write effectively and critically about the music they have chosen to study and analyze for their own musicology essay. More information about this paragraph scaffold will be later in this blog post – keep reading!
- Critical Analysis: Encourage students to analyze and interpret how the elements of music are used in the music, historical context, and cultural significance when discussing the chosen piece or topic.
- Editing and Proofreading: provide your students with a guide and clear instructions on how to edit their written work before submission. Emphasize the importance of revising, editing, and proofreading to ensure clarity and coherence in their writing. Try incorporating some peer review sessions to allow students to receive feedback from their peers, fostering improvement in their own, and each other’s musicology essays.
- Support and Resources: Make resources such as books, online databases, and academic journals available to students to aid in their research and writing process. Additionally, offer guidance and support when needed.
- Time: Researching and writing a musicology essay takes time! Make sure that you provide your students with enough time in class, where you can provide support as needed.
Choosing Music to Study and Analyze
To introduce your students to the skills needed to complete their own musicology essay, you will first need to show them “how to” complete one as a class. If you have read any of my previous blog posts, you will know that I am a fan of the – Modelled – Guided – Independent Teaching Cycle.
To help in this teaching cycle process, it is important to consider which music to use for whole class instruction. When it comes to picking songs to study, think about what music you and your students love to listen to. Choose songs that will hook them in and keep them engaged. You can also explore musicology research topics to find interesting songs that are rich in meaning.
If you want some Creative Research of Music Ideas, or for Music Topics to Research, read these 2 blog posts.
Research and Analysis Using the Elements or Concepts of Music
To understand music, our students need to learn the building blocks. Both the Elements of Music or the Concepts of Music are like the ingredients that make a song. They include things like how long notes last (duration), how loud or soft the music is (dynamics), and the high or low sounds (pitch). You can analyze a song by paying attention to how the musician, performer or composer has used these elements and concepts.
There are a few resources that can help both you and your students to complete better analysis of the music they choose to study.
Drafting Your Musicology Essay with the M.U.S.I.C. Paragraph Scaffold
Now comes the fun part! Actually starting the analysis part of the musicology essay. The information that follows has been developed over time to help my own music students in grades 7 to 12, and using this simple but effective framework has meant that all of my music students have been able to successfully write their own musicology essays.
Here’s where things get really interesting! We have a special tool called the “M.U.S.I.C. Paragraph Scaffold” to help you organize your thoughts. It’s like building a house. Each paragraph is like a room in your house, and they all come together to create a complete essay. We’ll show you how to use this scaffold to structure your essay.
The development of the M.U.S.I.C. paragraph writing scaffold traces back to a specific challenge faced by one of my grade 12 music students, who possessed an exceptional knack for music analysis but they really struggled with translating their research and analysis into a coherent format. Various attempts to assist this student proved futile, which led both of us to be very frustrated!
During this period, I had already crafted numerous scaffolds and frameworks to aid my students in analysis of each Concept of Music. However, a unifying framework that could seamlessly tie together their analysis within a musicology essay remained absent from my teaching tool kit.
It was during my lengthy daily commutes, spanning a total of 200 kilometers (approximately 125 miles) to and from school, that the M.U.S.I.C. scaffold took shape in my mind. The long drive to and from work afforded me the time for reflection, and it was on one such drive to work that the concept crystallized. The simplicity and effectiveness of this framework excited me so much that as soon as I arrived at the staffroom, I quickly jotted it down so I wouldn’t forget!
The true power of this simple framework came when I introduced the M.U.S.I.C. scaffold to my struggling student, and they grasped how to apply and use it almost instantly. Their musicology essay fell into place seamlessly, marking a significant turning point in their understanding and writing.
As a result, I recognized that the M.U.S.I.C. scaffold could be applied beyond the confines of musicology essays. It found a place in my teaching approach for several grade 12 classes, where students who adopted this scaffold during their final exams experienced significant and notable improvements in their overall results, particularly in the HSC Music Aural and Viva Voce exams. The M.U.S.I.C. scaffold had transcended its initial purpose, becoming a valuable tool that could be taught and applied in several areas of the music course of study.
The M.U.S.I.C. Paragraph structure is a simple, yet valuable tool for you and your music students because it provides a structured and systematic approach to writing about music in their musicology essays. Here’s why using this scaffold helps students write about music more easily:
- Clarity and Organization: The M.U.S.I.C. scaffold guides students in organizing their thoughts and ideas systematically. By breaking down the writing process into distinct components, students can maintain clarity in their essays. Each part serves a specific purpose, making it easier for students to convey their thoughts effectively.
- Focus on Key Concepts: The scaffold emphasizes the identification of the main musical idea, which is often a fundamental concept or element of music. This helps students to concentrate on the most critical aspects of the piece they are analyzing, ensuring that they don’t get overwhelmed by unnecessary details.
- Enhanced Understanding: The “U” in M.U.S.I.C. encourages students to define the main musical idea. Defining the concept or element of music ensures that students have a clear understanding of what they are analyzing. This, in turn, helps them convey their insights in a more coherent and informed manner.
- Supporting Evidence: The “S” and “I” parts of the scaffold encourage students to provide specific samples and in-depth explanations. This helps them to substantiate their arguments with concrete examples from the music they are studying. It also prompts them to clarify any relevant musical terms or terminology, enhancing the depth of their analysis.
- Effective Conclusion: The “C” in M.U.S.I.C. prompts students to connect their specific samples and in-depth information back to the main musical idea. This concluding sentence ties the paragraph together, ensuring that the analysis remains focused and coherent.
- Consistency and Discipline: The scaffold serves as a reminder to students to include all the essential components in their analysis. It instills discipline and consistency in their writing, which is crucial for producing well-structured musicology essays.
- Improved Critical Thinking: By following the M.U.S.I.C. scaffold, students are encouraged to think critically about the music they are studying. It helps them explore the relationships between musical concepts and elements, leading to more insightful and thought-provoking analyses.
The M.U.S.I.C. paragraph writing scaffold is an effective tool for students because it provides a clear and structured approach to writing about music in their musicology essays. It encourages a deep understanding of musical concepts, supports arguments with specific evidence, and promotes a logical and coherent writing style. This scaffold ultimately empowers students to express their thoughts about music more confidently and skillfully.
Writing Your Musicology Essay using the M.U.S.I.C. Paragraph Scaffold
Once your students have completed their analysis and research of the music they have chosen for their musicology essay, it’s time to write the actual musicology essay using the M.U.S.I.C. Paragraph scaffold. M.U.S.I.C. is an acronym that stands for –
- M- Main Musical idea (concept of element of music)
- U – Understanding of the main musical idea – define it
- S- Specific Samples of how the music uses the main musical idea
- I- In depth Information that explains any relevant terms used in the specific samples
- C- Connect to the main musical idea with a concluding sentence
Below is a brief explanation of how to write about music using the M.U.S.I.C. scaffold in simple terms.
- M – Main Musical Idea (Concept or Element of Music): Start by providing an introduction to the name of the music, the composer or performer and the Element or Concept of Music that will be focused on in the paragraph.
- U – Understanding of the Main Musical Idea: Define the main musical idea – the element or concept of music. Explain what it is in simple words. For example, if it’s the melody, you can say it’s the tune or the main musical line that you can hum.
- S – Specific Samples of How the Music Uses the Main Musical Idea: Now, it’s time to show specific samples of the main musical idea of the paragraph and how it is used in the music. Make sure to state what instrument and in what section.
- I – In-Depth Information Explaining Relevant Terms in the Specific Samples: If there are any tricky words or music terms for the specific samples, explain what they mean. Use easy words to help your reader understand. For instance, if you talk about a ‘crescendo,’ you can say it’s when the music gets louder.
- C – Connect to the Main Musical Idea with a Concluding Sentence: At the end of each paragraph, tie it back to the main musical idea. Explain how the specific parts you talked about connect to the big thing you identified in the music. This helps your reader see why it’s important.
Please note that there can be several “specific samples and in-depth information” within a paragraph! The paragraph does not need to be only 5 sentences long, it could be much longer depending on how much relevant information there is in the analysis of the music. Not all paragraphs will be the same length, each piece of music uses the Elements and Concepts of Music differently. For example, some pieces of music might not include much variation in the use of dynamics or even texture – each piece is unique.
When your students follow these steps, their musicology essays about music will be well organized, clear, and interesting. Using the M.U.S.I.C. Paragraph structure will quickly show any weaknesses in their understanding of the Elements or Concepts of Music and will provide you, the music teacher, with a way to discuss the areas for improvement in their writing.
5 Tips for Editing Your Musicology Essay
Don’t forget the final touch! Like a musician tuning their instrument, you’ll want to show your students how to edit and proofread their musicology essay. Below are some strategies for making their musicology essay clear and polished. This step is crucial, especially when your students are preparing musicology essays for assessments and examinations.
- Take a Break Before Editing: After completing a draft, take some time away from the writing. This break allows your students to return to their work with fresh eyes and a more objective perspective. Your students will be better equipped to identify errors and areas that need improvement.
- Read Aloud: Reading the writing out loud can help your students to catch awkward sentences, grammatical errors, and any areas that lack clarity. It’s an effective way to ensure that your writing flows smoothly and is easy to understand. Try using the Accessibility or Read-Aloud Tools that are included in both Microsoft Word or Google Docs.
- Focus on One Aspect at a Time: When editing, it’s helpful to focus on specific aspects of the writing in separate rounds. For example, in one round, concentrate on grammar and spelling. In another, look at sentence structure and clarity. By breaking the editing process into manageable steps, you can address each issue more effectively.
- Seek Feedback: Encourage your students to ask for feedback from a peer, teacher, or writing tutor. Another person, with “fresh eyes”, can often spot issues that might have been missed. Consider the suggestions and use them to improve the writing.
- Proofread Carefully: Careful proofreading is essential. Pay close attention to common errors such as spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Look for consistency in writing style and formatting. Proofreading ensures that the final piece is polished and free of distracting mistakes.
Now that you have explored the valuable insights on teaching and writing musicology essays with your music students, it’s time to put these ideas into action. To further enhance your teaching and assist your students in crafting outstanding musicology essays, we recommend checking out these three helpful resources:
- Blog Post – Teaching Music Terms Made Easy – 5 Simple Classroom Activities to Try: Start by reinforcing your students’ understanding of the Elements of Music and related terminology. This free information offers creative classroom activities to make music terms more accessible. Read more here
- Blog Post – Making Song Analysis Easy with these 5 Simple Steps: Try exploring an in-depth guide to making song analysis straightforward and enjoyable. It provides step-by-step instructions and insights to help your students analyze music effectively. Read more here
- Writing About the Concepts of Music Bundle: This comprehensive bundle includes valuable materials to aid your students in their musicology essay writing journey. It covers Elements of Music and Concepts of Music, helping them develop a deeper understanding of musical analysis. Each resource in the bundle gives you a detailed guide of how to use the M.U.S.I.C. Scaffold with lots of examples and student samples. Access the bundle here
By utilizing these resources, you’ll be well-equipped to guide your students through the process of writing detailed musicology essays. These tools will enhance your teaching and help your students achieve success in their musical explorations.
Until next time
Julia from Jooya