Thinking and Writing About Music

Analysis of Music and Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning

Analyzing and writing about music is an exercise in critical thinking. It lies on the high end of Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning Objectives as follows:

Levels of Cognitive Learning Arranged into Lower-to-Higher Types of Learning

a. Knowledge: learners have knowledge of and the ability to recall or recognize information (recite basis of secondary dominants, for example)
b. Comprehension: learners understand and can explain the knowledge in their own words.
c. Application: learners are able to use knowledge in practical situations (i.e., write and label secondary dominant progressions.)
d. Analysis: learners are able to break down complex concepts or information into simpler, related parts (i.e., locate, identify and label secondary dominant progressions in a passage or work).
e. Synthesis: learners are able to combine elements to form a new, original entity
(i.e. write passages that incorporate secondary dominants, discover how composers use secondary dominants in their work).
f. Evaluation: learners are able to make judgments (i.e., on a foundation laid by a through e above, describe a passage, show how secondary dominants are used in the passage and explain what this means musically.)

(Cognitive outcomes focus on what the learner should know, understand and be able to do at the end of a lesson.)

Analysis and Writing About the Music

When writing about a passage, provide an overview of the passage or composition that shows you understand how it goes together and what it all means musically. Most of your work lays a foundation for this but should not be reported in every detail in the finished product.

Do not report every step of your journey in a measure-by-measure account. This may describe the actual process you went through to analyze the passage but does not reveal your thinking about the work. This is also called a blow-by-blow (i.e., "The piece starts on measure one and this is what happens in measure one--then it goes to measure two and this is what happens in measure two--then..."). Your task is to go beyond factual information, synthesize your findings so you can evaluate the music and state your thoughts about it.

Give the reader a broad view of the work, supported where appropriate by examples from the work. A note-by-note analysis is a foundation but its details should be synthesized into conclusions and evaluations. A good analytical description is not a diary of one's effort but rather a summary of one's thoughts on the work after having stepped through its details numerous times.

Yet, the process does not stop here. Music itself is an amalgamation of cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains described by Bloom. One must hear the work, feel its psychomotor gestures and consider its plot and affects to fully comprehend and evaluate the work. More information on this amalgamation of learning domains can be found in the link to "My Philosophy" on my home page.

Modern education tends to emphasize lower order types of learning; emphasis on knowledge and comprehension. Higher order types of learning such as application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation take place less frequently. While lower level learning is an essential foundation, students should be challenged at all levels of cognitive activity. One of the important objectives of this class is to require the student to develop higher level learning through musical composition and critical analysis.

From paragraphs to semester documents, all written work for this course is to be machine processed (i.e. typewritten or word processed). Likewise, all musical examples included in papers should be type set using a computer scoring program such as Encore, Finale, Nightingale or Overture. While physical cut-and-paste is acceptable, electronic cut-and-paste is preferred. One can save a picture of a passage, edit, crop and save it (EPSF or PICT) in a graphic program and import it into a word processing document.