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  • Chris Anderson

Writing A Music Essay Under Pressure

I know for a fact that when I did my GCSE and A-Level music, having to write an essay or two under exam conditions really scuppered me!  I remember sitting there wishing I understood the wording a bit better.  I also started to question whether Id studied my set works enough (I knew I had).  In this blog I give some tips that I wish I’d been given when tackling the essay component of the exam.


1. Read the Question Carefully:

  • Break down the question into key components. If there are multiple questions, ensure that you address each one in your essay.

2. Plan Your Time:

  • If the exam allows, spend a few minutes planning your essay. Create a rough schedule for each section, so you don't spend too much time on one part at the expense of another.

3. Brainstorm and Outline:

  • Quickly jot down any relevant ideas that come to mind. Group similar ideas together and arrange them in a logical order to form an outline for your essay.

4. Introduction:

  • Begin your essay with a hook that grabs the reader's attention, such as a compelling fact or a thought-provoking quote related to the topic. Provide context for the reader and end the introduction with a clear and concise thesis statement.

5. Body Paragraphs:

  • Start each paragraph with a topic sentence that introduces the main point. Use evidence to support your claims, whether it's specific musical examples, historical context, or theoretical concepts. Be sure to explain the significance of each piece of evidence in relation to your argument.  Use the PEEL method.  Use DRSMITH.

6. Use Musical Terminology:

  • Integrate appropriate musical terms based on the prompt. This not only demonstrates your knowledge but also adds precision to your analysis. For example, if discussing harmony, use terms like consonance, dissonance, or modulation.

7. Provide Examples:

  • When discussing a specific point, bring in examples from well-known compositions or musicians. This adds weight to your arguments and shows that you can apply your knowledge to real-world examples.

8. Analyse and Evaluate:

  • Instead of simply describing musical elements, analyse how they contribute to the overall meaning or effect of the music. Evaluate the impact on the listener and connect these effects to your main thesis.

9. Counterarguments (if applicable):

  • If the prompt allows, acknowledge and address potential counterarguments. This demonstrates a nuanced understanding of the topic and strengthens your overall argument.

10. Conclusion:

  • Summarise the main points discussed in the body paragraphs. Reinforce your thesis statement without introducing new information. End with a closing thought that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

11. Proofread:

  • Look for grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and ensure that your ideas flow coherently. Pay attention to transitions between paragraphs to ensure a smooth and logical progression of ideas.

12. Be Concise:

  • Stick to the word limit if there is one. Avoid unnecessary repetition or overly complex sentences. Aim for clarity and coherence in your writing.

13. Manage Time Effectively:

  • Keep an eye on the clock throughout the exam. If you find yourself spending too much time on one section, make a conscious decision to move on and come back later if time allows.

14. Stay Calm:

  • Take deep breaths if you start feeling overwhelmed. Clear and concise writing is more important than trying to include every detail. Trust in your preparation and focus on presenting your ideas effectively.


Remember, practicing writing under time constraints will improve your ability to manage your time effectively during the actual exam.

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