A Guide to Writing a Music History Essay

For those of you who are majoring in music, at one point in time you will be asked to write about the history of music. It is a vast topic that can be difficult to put into words. Where do you begin? What do you focus on it?


All of these questions have stumped music students for generations. Today we will be looking into the more beautiful aspects of crafting a music history essay.

Select your topic

Before you begin to write anything, you first have to make up your mind on the subject of your essay. It is not a thesis statement but rather a general area of interest you will be covering. For instance, you could talk about the social effect of Woodstock during the 1960s.

While you haven’t concluded or hypothesized anything relating to the topic, you have narrowed your search down to a specific event within the history of music. It will infinitely make your job easier as you can discard all other irrelevant research and hone in on your subject matter.

The example above is just one of many. There are many primary topics you can explore online or within the syllabus of your school.

Understand your subject

Now that you have selected your topic, it’s time to hit the books. Do online and offline research and be sure to look at the bibliography section of being books that you are reading. It will potentially reveal new source material for you to consider and to expand your research efforts.

While digital platforms such as YouTube and similar site are readily available, you can also expand your research within the video format. There are plenty of TED talks and webinars on music history available within this sphere. You can also take a look at the source material these videos used to expand your research.

The trick in this phase is not to even think about writing but instead spend all of your time submerged within the subject matter. In this phase, you are conducting an information upload. Become an expert in the subject matter, fill your mind with all the little details you possibly can. Do this for a few days before moving onto the next phase.

Building your reference section

In the next phase you will have had enough time to digest the information at hand, and by now you should have identified your primary sources that you will be referring to throughout the essay. Before writing, build your first bibliography. Organize your thoughts around the source examples and help structure the delivery of your point of view.

In this phase, you will also be narrowing your scope a bit more. In our example of “Social Influence of music in the 1960s” you could now have narrowed it down to the top influential figures that shaped the culture around them.

As you can see, this approach to writing essays on music history allows you to organize your thoughts before actually writing a single word.

Furthermore, to help you narrow down the topic there are a few things you could consider.

  • Period
  • Geography
  • Genre, body of work, repertoire
  • Musical technique
  • Person or group

It is just for the sake of providing you with some ideas to consider when you are writing your music history essay.

Figuring out what to say

The next step is to look at the approach of your essay. Will you be merely reporting on an event that occurred or will you be providing a new unique perspective on the subject matter? Both of these styles are acceptable depending on what your preferred method is.

Regardless of what you choose, the point is to say something. You don’t just want to report on an event verbatim but instead provide a unique perspective on the event.

So now that you’ve established your approach, it’s time to formulate your argument.

Creating your argument

You’ve done enough research and now you know how you wish to express your idea. Now you will want to formulate your thesis statement. You need to create an argument that is appealing to the reader. The case should let the reader know why they should care and the significance of the work you are doing.

Once you have established your core argument, you can start working on the supporting arguments to drive your message home. These supporting arguments will make up the rest of the document.

Within the first paragraph, you will establish your central premise, and the rest of the document aims at providing your argument.

Concluding the right way

Many people make the mistake of restating the hypothesis. You have already done that, and there is no need to do it again. Instead, use this space to address the core questions you haven’t answered; why should a reader care?

Relate the content to a more significant relatable topic, perhaps a current event. Make it relevant to your reader and connect the dots on their behalf. A closure is essential to every experience, including an essay.

Finally, let your already-written essay sit for a few days before editing and proofreading it. It allows you to take a mental break from your work. It allows you to have a clear perspective on the job you’ve done.

Once you complete the essay, hand it in and feel proud you did an outstanding job.

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