Marcellin Music

VCE Unit 3-4 Performance 2011

How to write a musical analysis

March 2, 2011 by nicholascowall · No Comments · Uncategorized


Outcome 3 of the VCE Music Performance Study Design states that students will “analyse the interpretation of expressive elements of music in pre-recorded works.”

When writing a musical analysis the following areas will be considered:Sarah Hopkins


•  Tempo: fast or slow?
•  Basic pulse generally regular/irregular?
•  Is this music organized into a metre/metres?


•  What is the tonality of the example (major, minor, modal etc.)?
•  Is it atonal?  If so, in what way?
•  Describe the basic harmonic features  (simple/complex harmony, slow/fast harmonic rhythm)


Focus on the central melodic line(s) in the excerpt.
•  Are there distinctive themes and/or gestures?
•  Describe the basic character of melody in this excerpt – if there is one basic theme, draw its contour.Kats Chernin
•  Nuance this contour or description by adding sol-fa/scale degrees/rhythmic cells (use your Aural/Theory knowledge)


•  What instruments and/or sound sources are being used?
•  How are they being played? (i.e. using what idiomatic instrumental techniques)


•  Describe the texture of the example (monophony/homophony/heterophony/polyphony).
•  Is the texture crowded or spacious?
•  Group the sound sources listed at 4) by their function (accompaniment, melody, rhythmic patterns, countermelodies etc.)


•  Are all the features described so far organized into discrete sections?
•  Which features change over time?Grainger


•  Who wrote/created this music?
•  Who for?
•  Why might this music have been written? Is this art music or commercial music?
•  Where and when might this music have been created?
•  What is the style of this music?

Other important factors:
•  Describe the expressive intension of the performance (i.e. what emotions are the performers portraying?)
•  Describe the expressive intensity (which interpretation do you find more intense? Why?)
•  Describe the use of rubato (the relative freedom or strictness of the playing)
•  Describe the use of dynamics (loud/soft, transitions between dynamics)
•  Describe the use of articulation (staccato, marcato, bowing/tonguing patterns, vocal onsets etc.)


Each Student will be allocated one work (listed below) to analyze using the above list of musical elements as a guide. Each written response is to be about 500 words in length and be in as much detail as possible. The analysis will also be presented in the next class (after the weekend) as  powerpoint. Your analysis will be handed to other students in the class for discussion during your presentation.

Josh: Molly on the Shore by Percy Grainger

Daniel: Past Life Melodies by Sarah Hopkins

Luke: Requiem for cello alone by Peter Sculthorpe

Sean: Eliza’s Aria by Elena Kats-Chernin

Information about the above Australian composers can be found at


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