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Music: Guide to Writing Program Notes

Helpful Books

Things to note:

Don't just use one source! Branch out and see what new and interesting information you can find! Check out:

  • The Music Reference collection on the main floor of the library.
  • Online resources and databases for music.
  • The CD collection on the ground floor of the library. CD jackets are great sources of information.

All information must be footnoted if it is not your original voice.  Citing your source is important. Click here for help with citations.

All text must be justified to the right and left margins for a more uniform look. 

Essential Heading Information

Includes information to be included in the heading for each piece of music to be performed.

  1. Full Title with appropriate keys, numbers, opus numbers, and catalog numbers
  2. Date of composition (if known)
  3. Composer's full name
  4. Composer's dates
  5. Movements or song titles to be performed
  6. Your name and instrument
  7. Your accompanist's name and instrument

Essential Body Information

Don't know what to write in the body of your program notes? Use these questions to guide you. Please note: the questions posed below are merely things to think about and should not necessarily be a "means to an end" when writing your program notes.

1. Paragraph 1 - Biographical Information About the Composer

  • Where was the composer born?
  • Some relevant facts about their life (don't just write a biography)
  • Facts about the composer's life/family that might have influenced their music
  • Why are they known/not known for their composition?
  • What was happening in the composer's life when the piece was written?

2. Paragraph 2 - Scholarly Information About the Piece

  • Is the piece significant to the life of the composer in some way?
  • Contextualization! What else was going on in the world when the piece was composed? Historical/political/economic influences on the composer and/or piece?
  • Are there interesting quotes by noted authors or musicians that support the information gathered?

3. Paragraph 3 - Your Interpretation of the Piece

  • How is the piece challenging for the player?
  • If performed with a pianist, how do the voices interact with each other?
  • How is the overall mood conveyed by the different voices?
  • Does the piece modulate and/or change mood? Where, how and why?
  • How is the melody/harmony/rhythm characteristic of the time period and/or composer's style? Is it different, and how?

More Information