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Analysis of a song


Analysis of a song


For this assignment, you must select a 3-4 minute work of American Popular music in any style. While you can pick anything you like under the broad umbrella of American Pop, you’ll be happiest if you choose a work that includes a number of internal contrasts (changes in dynamics, pace, texture, and other musical elements).

I’m calling this the “APM Monday Morning Quarterback Paper” because you’re going to do exactly what I set as a goal at the outset of this course: you’re going to talk about music like we talk about sports. You’ll give me an objective description of what happens in your work, some subjective commentary about how the work affects you, and some analysis of how these two are related (i.e., how the musical elements are used to produce this subjective response).


Your paper should be 700-800 words, typed and double-spaced using a standard word processing program (Microsoft Word preferred).

Use a standard font (e.g., Times New Roman) in 10 or 12 pt. size.

Use italics to indicate the titles of works of art and longer pieces of music. Use quotation marks for shorter songs. For example, “Yesterday” (in quotation marks) is a song on the Beatles’ album Help! (in italics), and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is one song from the musical The Wizard of Oz.


In your paper, please include the following:

1.) A short introduction that explains how you selected the work and summarizes its key features.

2.) An objective description of the music and how it unfolds over time. Do remember that music is a temporal art form so describing what’s happening at the beginning may not be enough; you’ll need to listen to see what changes as the work progresses (e.g., does it get louder? Higher in pitch?). Please provide some specific time markings. For example, “After 32 seconds, another wind instrument enters, playing notes in a higher range and faster pace.”

Please be sure to utilize the concepts and vocabulary we’ve covered thus far, especially the material from the Formalist Toolkit we covered in Tracks 1 & 2. We’ve also added a few things in later tracks such as texture, subdivision, and ways of looking at music & text, vocal performance, etc.. It’s important that you include discipline-specific terminology (such as rhythmic elements, form, dynamic contrasts). Note, the purpose of this assignment is to encourage you to use these tools (vocabulary and concepts) to describe music. While I’d like you to be attentive to how you use them (don’t use rhythm terms to describe pitch, for example), I won’t judge you harshly if you get some things “wrong” (identify the wrong mode or meter, etc.). It’s most important that you demonstrate that you’ve gone through the process of identifying the musical elements and formal design techniques in the work you chose.

You can discuss the lyrics to your work, if it has them, but make sure you’re focused on them in the context of music and not performing a literary analysis in isolation. For example, it’s great to talk about how the musical elements are used to enhance the meaning of the lyrics, or draw attention to a particular line of text. It’s not great to spend a lot of time talking about the lyrics without making connections to what happens in the music that they’re set to.

3.) A chronicle of your subjective responses to this music, the mood it generates, your emotional responses, what associations it evokes in you. Because this is a subjective response, you really can’t be wrong here. Just as a 30-point blowout evokes widely varying responses depending on which team you root for, if you have a stake in the outcome, etc. So, too, our responses to a piece of music can vary depending upon our previous musical experiences, cultural background, or specific associations.

4.) An analysis of the ways that parts 2 and 3 above are related. How do the musical elements create the mood or generate the emotional response? Consider how the effect might have been different if a musical element were changed.

5.) A brief conclusion that summarizes the important objective and subjective characteristics of your musical selection.

Note: in the interests of promoting creative and interesting writing, I have no objection to you weaving parts 2, 3, and 4 together in your paper. Just make sure to include all of these features in your narrative.

Also, notice that I’m not asking you to play the role of contextualist in this paper (that’ll come later). Consequently, this is not a research paper; please don’t include historical context or analysis from sources other than your own observation. Just tell me what you hear using some of the terms and ideas we’ve discussed so far this semester. Then tell me what the music makes you think and feel. The only source you should be using is wherever you found your musical example. Analysis of a song

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