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School of Music

On Doing Good Work in Music Theory Courses / Professor Scott Spiegelberg, School of Music

Three Tips

1.  Listen to audio recordings of the examples in the assigned reading or assigned homework. Ask yourself if you can hear the specific musical structure or pattern being described, and come up with strategies to recognize the feature in other examples.

2.  Check multiple reference texts in the music library, especially Oxford Music Online, theory textbooks and anthologies in the MT section, and IMSLP (Internet Music Score Library Project). Oxford Music Online has articles on such topics as sonata form, Neapolitan chords, modulation, and rhythm that can explain things in different ways that might help you. IMSLP can provide scores for pieces mentioned in readings, so you can follow along while listening and make sure you understand the topic.

3.  While writing about music has some particular challenges, you can get good advice on writing from the Writing Center, especially on writing flow and structure. When writing an analysis of a piece of music, do not ascribe agency to the music itself, as all observations are based on your perceptions of sonic waves that are translated into interpretations by your personal and cultural associations. You may use similes and metaphors, such as describing a melodic line plummeting down to a low B, but be sure to make clear that the agency belongs to your perceptions. Also avoid the intentional fallacy, ascribing any observations you make about a piece of music to intentions by the composer unless you have concrete proof of that intention (letters or interviews by the composer, etc).