Teaching senior students how to write a musical analysis

April 24, 2011

Musical Analysis

Of the three musical assessment areas – performing, composing, and analysing repertoire – it’s the last one which invariably takes up the most lesson time, and the one which my students seem to have the most trouble with.  My analysis assessments generally involve an extended written task or a formal exam, where they have to write an essay of several hundred to a thousand words.  In order to let them analyse a work in as much detail as possible, I will generally give them only one question in the exam, or a choice between two or three in an extended written task.  Where possible, they will be provided with both a score and a sound recording of a musical work, and the question they must answer will require them to gather evidence primarily, if not solely, from those resources.

The problems which need to be overcome in teaching musical analysis don’t just involve teaching musical literacy – reading a score, identifying the musical elements, comparing and contrasting compositional devices, etc – but also English literacy: forming a main idea, listing dot points, constructing sentences and paragraphs, writing an essay.  Furthermore, the senior music student is required to demonstrate higher order thinking skills: using evidence to support a hypothesis, justifying a position, comparing and contrasting.  I’m constantly searching for more efficient and effective ways to teach all of these things, and yet still have time to get around to performing and composing.

One of the resources I created in this endeavour is a powerpoint presentation, which looks at the first four bars of “Et In Terra Pax” from Vivaldi’sGloria, and aims to show just how much information can be pulled out of that one tiny section of music:

The presentation has several objectives: firstly, it aims to help students take the elements of music, and pull out as much information as possible from the score about each one of them, one at a time.  Secondly, it shows them how to articulate that information as clearly and concisely as possible, first in dot points, and slowly working up to full paragraphs.  A third aim is to teach them how to look for evidence in the score and apply it to critical thinking questions.

The method for all this involves giving lots of visual cues and verbal hints at first, and slowly backing off until the students are getting no help at all and they’re on their own.  A sequence of animations take the students through each of the elements in detail.  They also aim to encourage students to look at the score and try to answer the questions, before being given any answers.

On my “Resources and Lesson Plans” page, you will find a download link for the powerpoint presentation, plus a student handout, teacher’s notes, and a “read me first” document which gives a few hints about running the slideshow.  Feel free to download all of these so you can use them in your own classes, if you wish.  You will also need to obtain a sound-recording of the piece to go with the rest of the materials.  It’s quite a long presentation, and will take several lessons to cover in detail.

I’ve made a short film which demonstrates the slideshow, so you can see what’s there.  Since I used Jing to make it, I had a five-minute time limit, so some of the slides go through quite rapidly, but the animations are designed so that you have manual control and can run them as quickly or as slowly as you think necessary.  To find the whole set of resources, go here and click on “Vivaldi Analysis”.  To see the five-minute runthrough of the content of the slideshow, click on the video link below:

Vivaldi Analysis Demo

You may wish to use PowerPoint to cut out some of the slides, and that’s fine.  What I don’t advise it editing the animations within each slide.  Fiddle around with them too much, and you may never find your way out again.  Believe me, I know.

If you do use this resource in your class, please get back to me and let me know how it went.  Some feedback on how it could be improved would be especially helpful, and I will do my best to apply it to any future presentations I make and share with you guys.  Enjoy!

Creative Commons License
Teaching senior students how to write a musical analysis by Gabrielle Deschamps is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by contacting me.

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About Gabrielle Deschamps

I'm a secondary music teacher, interested in music technology and its integration into classroom pedagogy.

View all posts by Gabrielle Deschamps


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4 Comments on “Teaching senior students how to write a musical analysis”

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  2. Musician Says:

    Brilliant, thank you for sharing.



  1. Sharing Music Tech Classroom Ideas Part 1: Australia | Midnight Music - March 5, 2012

    […] Teaching senior students how to write a musical analysis. […]

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