Writing About Music


Writing about music can range from reporting the latest music news to delivering deep cultural criticism. The key is to keep the focus on the music rather than the composer’s biography. Although practically anything in a composer’s life could affect his or her music, there is no need to include every detail in an article about a particular piece of music. Concentrate on facts that surround the composition of the specific work or works that you wish to discuss.

Songwriting is the process of turning a theme or subject into musical sounds and lyrics that convey a message. Many artists let the sound and feel of a song guide them from beginning to end, but other musicians may start with a specific lyrical idea or chord progression. Whatever the approach, a good way to spark ideas is by using free word association and listening to music that inspires you.

Musical sounds are not only melodies and rhythms but also articulation, dynamics, tempo and harmony. Musical articulation refers to the way notes are played or sung, such as short (staccato), long (legato) and stressed or un-stressed (marcato). Dynamics refers to the loudness of a sound and the gradual increase or decrease in volume. A tempo is the number of beats per minute and can be fast, medium or slow. A harmony is a group of musical tones that are played together or sung at the same time.

A song can be sung by a solo singer or a lead singer supported by a choir or other vocal performers. It can be accompanied by an instrument such as an acoustic guitar, piano or organ. It can be improvised by jazz musicians such as Thelonious Monk, or orchestrated in classical music. It can also be a cappella, meaning without instruments (although this term is usually reserved for religious or secular chants).

Music has a history of being used in various ways by cultures around the world. Plato, the Greek philosopher, saw music as a kind of shadow or imitation of the divine. His idea that a work of art contains some measure of truth gave rise to the belief that music has power to mold human character. Aristotle further developed this concept and emphasized the symbolic value of music.

For philosophers, mathematicians and astronomers throughout the centuries, music has been seen as a means to understand the universe. The Pythagoreans used musical intervals to relate the movements of planetary bodies, and other philosopher-mathematicians like the German Gottfried von Leibniz, believed that all musical forms were based on mathematics. Evangelical Protestant Reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, took a more traditional view of music as a source of pleasure or emotional uplift, while warning against its use in vain pursuits. In contrast, Renaissance artists such as Johannes Kepler viewed music as a symbol of order and a medium for moral education. Their belief that the musical world was a reflection of a more harmonious cosmic order brought about a new musical era known as the Baroque period.