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Essay Practice

Use this page to help you revise for the essay you have to write in Section B of the exam.

If you want to revise the listening section of the paper, click here.

Remember that the essay is only short, and that you have 25 minutes to complete it. The format of the essay is always the same, and you have a choice of two on the paper, and have to complete one.

You are marked for the 'Quality of Written Communication', as well as the accuracy of what you write about, so spelling, grammar, and a proper essay structure are important.

Here is an example question, followed by how to approach your answer.

Comment on how Schoenberg uses the following musical elements in Peripetie.

  • Tonality and harmony
  • Instruments and texture
  • Melody
  • Dynamics and tempo
  • Structure

Remember to use correct musical vocabulary where appropriate. (10)

Your approach to the question should be as follows:

  1. Write a short introductory paragraph - this should include the following information: context of the piece - when written (date and period of music), who by, and other basic information like this.
  2. Write one paragraph per bullet point. Make sure that you include the correct musical language for each element of music.
  3. Wrap it up with a short concluding paragraph/sentence.

This means that your essay to answer this particular question should have seven paragraphs in it.

Revision Information for the Essay

Below is a list which covers what technical terms should be included for the different bullet points for each Set Work. It might not be totally comprehensive, but it ought to do the trick for most things.

Handel
  • —Genre – oratorio – sacred piece for (vocal) soloists, chorus and orchestra
  • —Melody – themes 1-4; imitation; sequence (these all affect texture)
  • —Instrumentation – this includes voices – four-part choir (SATB), string orchestra (no double bass on our recording), basso continuo
  • —Tonality/harmony – A major; modulations to V (dominant – E, and V/V – E’s dominant, B); no minor key mod.; Perfect cadences used at end of sections (V-I); final cadence Plagal (IV-I); pedals (I and V)
  • —Rhythm/Tempo – Allegro;3/4; one-in-a-bar feel; hemiola; harmonic rhythm; adagio at final cadence
  • —Texture – (link to use of melody) homophonic (all singing same words together, usually at cadences), polyphonic – imitation; sequence; monophonic – soprano bar 108
Mozart
  • —Genre – symphony (4 movts. Mozart wrote 41)
  • —Tonality/harmony – G minor tonic, modulation to relative major Bb for 2nd subject; many other passing modulations; cycle of keys chord sequence in dev.; pedal (I, V, in bass, inner); lots of perfect cadences (V-I)
  • —Dynamics – start to become more of a feature, full range from p to f; cresc and dim; sfz
  • —Instrumentation – classical symphony orchestra, know them in score order; different roles, compare first violins with horns for instance
  • —Melody – lots of regular 2 and 4 bar phrases; imitation and sequence (affect texture when used); development of 3-note motif
  • —Rhythm/Tempo – Allegro molto; 4/4 time sig, conventional rhythmic writing for a classical piece
  • —Texture – mixture of homophonic (melody plus accompaniment), polyphonic (particular in bridge and dev and coda); some short monophonic phrases (bar 66)
  • —Structure – sonata form (get your spellings right here):
    • —Exposition (1st subject, bridge, 2nd subject, codetta, modulation to rel major (Bb)
    • —Development (three sections, exploring modulations, development of Expo Theme 1 in full and three-note motif)
    • —Recapitulation (1st subject, bridge (longer), 2nd subject (in tonic), coda (longer))
Chopin
  • —Genre – prelude – freely composed piece with no particular structure used for each one. Chopin wrote 24, one per major/minor key
  • —Structure - modified ternary (ABA1codetta); B section longest
  • —Tonality/harmony – Db major A, C# minor B (tonic minor); pivot note; modulations to other related and non-related keys; chromatic harmony; inner dominant pedal
  • —Melody – irregular phrase lengths; ornamentation; chromatic flourishes; melody moves between right and left hand; cantabile playing; sotto voce
  • —Texture – almost all homophonic; thicker texture explored in B; piano melody see point above; monophonic start of codetta
  • —Piano techniques – sustain/soft pedal; expressiveness through use of touch sensitivity (link to dynamics); articulations (legato, accents etc)
  • —Rhythm/tempo – 4/4; no tempo marking (sostenuto instead); tempo rubato; septuplets; insistent quavers for pedal; dotted rhythms; ritenuto
  • —Dynamics – wide, expressive range, sfz, cresc/dim, from pp-ff
Schoenberg
  • —Structure – rondo form (ABA1CA2)
  • —Tonality/harmony – atonal; chords constructed using hexachords; dissonant
  • —Melody – hexachord/compliment; Principal voice (H symbol), Secondary voice (N symbol); angular shape; changes in register; passed from one instrument to another
  • —Rhythm/Tempo – tempo changes reflect ‘expressionism’; pulse hard to feel despite 3/4 time sig
  • —Instrumentation – v. large orchestra; extreme ranges
  • —Dynamics – lots of extremes, sudden changes; variety of different articulations (legato, accents etc)
  • —Texture – ever-changing combinations; thick/thin texture; polyphonic – instrument often used in blocks, occasionally monophonic [listen and look at score for both of these]
Bernstein
  • —Genre – musical – mix of overture, solos, duets, choruses, dance, acting; based on Romeo and Juliet; libretto by Stephen Sondheim
  • —Form – ABB1A1
  • —Instrumentation – Tony (tenor), and lightly scored orchestra (full strings, fl, cl, tr, horn, kit)
  • —Rhythm/Tempo – syncopation, push rhythm; 176 bpm; 3/4, 2/4 time sig; cross-rhythm
  • —Tonality/Harmony – D major/C major; jazz chords (7ths, 9ths); some dissonance
  • —Melody – ostinatos; short phrases with long last notes; ‘blue notes’ #4th, b 7th); tritone
  • —Dynamics – enhance excited mood of song; cresc and dim throughout long notes
  • —Texture – complex layers underneath main melody
Reich
  • —Melody – ostinatos looped; additive; resultant melody
  • —Harmony/Tonality – tonal; modal E minor/aeolian; ambiguous opening; modulation to Cm
  • —Texture – polyphonic layers, counterpoint
  • —Rhythm/tempo – syncopation; cross rhythm; polyrhythm; regular metre
  • —Performance/Instrumentation – one live guitar, 7 recorded guitar parts, 2 bass; multi-tracking
Davis
  • —Rhythm/Tempo – syncopation; swing rhythm; 6/4; cross rhythm
  • —Melody – head; improvised; modal scales; chromatic; fluid and laid back
  • —Harmony /Tonality: 12-bar blues chords; altered chords; voicings; comping
  • —Texture: light; altered by piano’s role
  • —Instrumentation – Frontline – tr, saxes; Rhythm – Pno, kit, bass;
  • —Playing techniques – trill; mordent; appoggiatura; brushes; mute
Buckley
  • —Instrumentation – know line-up and roles, particularly guitars; use of synth strings
  • —Form – classic rock song verse/bridge/chorus structure (know it!)
  • —Rhythm/Tempo – 12/8; syncopation
  • —Harmony/Tonality – Em (modal)/D major; Drop D tuning; power chords; drone; chromatic falling bass
  • —Guitar techniques – Strumming; picking; pitch bend; slide; lead/rhythm/bass; drop D
  • —Production techniques/use of technology: EQ; flange; delay; overdub; reverb
  • —Texture – varied thickness, depending on use of strings, layers of guitar, backing vocals
Moby
  • —Harmony – simple patterns in Am, chorus in C, sus chords
  • —Melody – Samples of 1953 gospel, modal, melody reharmonised, echo canon, riff
  • —Use of technology – Effects such as: EQ, delay, reverb, samples, ‘telephone voice’, low-fi resample, final mix/mixdown; Hardware such as: synthesiser, drum machine etc. (you could learn the exact equipment list if you wanted...
  • —Structure – Intro, verse, chorus, break(down), outro
  • —Club dance features – four to the floor, mix-in, mix out
Capercaillie
  • —Fusion – mix of folk and western music. Know which element of the piece is which...
  • —Folk – modal harmony and melody
  • —Folk – melody uses pentatonic scale, which is reharmonised
  • —Folk – some of the instrumental line-up: accordion, pipes, bouzouki, Gaelic vocals (know what ‘waulking’ is)
  • —Western – recording/studio production techniques (use of studio to multi-track, modulation, chorus, reverb etc)
  • —Western – some of the instrumental line-up: drum kit, bass, guitar, synthesiser, acoustic guitar
  • —Western – 12/8 use of syncopation, cross rhythm
Rag Desh
  • —Rag – Indian scale; sargam – system of tuning; Sa – tonic; meend – pitch bend
  • —Tala – Rhythm patterns – different types: learn them
  • —Instrumentation – sitar, sarod, sarangi, tambura, esraj (strings/drone); tabla, pakhawaj (drums); bansuri (flute)
  • —Structure – Alap, jhor, jhalla, gat (no vocals), bhajan (vocals). No percussion until last section. Alap improvisation, unmetred, slow; speeds up through different sections
  • —Different versions – sitar; vocal; bansuri: don’t mix them up!
Koko
  • —Sub-Saharan Africa (Bukino Faso)
  • —Instrumentation – tuned: balaphon; untuned: djembe, talking drum, dun dun
  • —Playing techniques – strike the skin with (a) hand(s) open/closed, or (b) beaters, rim shot, alter ‘pitch’ of talking drum by stretching skin
  • —Singing – call and response: solo voice echoed by chorus
  • —Structure – short sections, usually instrumental alternating with vocal
  • —Other features – texture: monophonic, hetrophonic; ostinato; syncopation; tonal
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