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Music Essay Topics and Guidelines

Essay Guidelines

Essays  to be about six to eight typed, double-spaced pages in 12-point Times New Roman font) with a complete list of written references and discography at the end. Long quotations must be indented and single-spaced.


Essays are due July 29, 2020. Please upload an electronic copy to D2L by the end of the day.


Choose one of the three questions below for your essay:


1. Find an original song and a cover version of it by a different artist. Listen to and examine the two versions of the song. How are they similar?  How are they different?  Has the instrumentation changed? Are the dynamics, rhythms, tempo, form, melody, or timbre of the singer's voice different? Is there a different mood to the piece? Consider the larger context: why might the artist have covered the song? Are there similarities between the two artists’ styles? Provide some background from scholarly sources on these styles and their history.  How was the cover received by audiences? Are issues of authenticity raised with the cover song?


2. Discuss the history and development of a specific sub-genre of American (or American-derived) popular music. You will need to be specific: for example, honky tonk rather than country music; delta blues rather than blues; 1970s British punk rather than punk; gangsta rap rather than hip-hop. Who are the prominent artists and/or composers in this sub-genre? What are its general musical parameters – like instrumentation, timbral profile, lyrical content – and how do these distinguish it from other similar sub-genres? When did this sub-genre thrive? Who was its audience? Did it have any lasting effect on subsequent genres? Consider the ways in which the music reflects its place and time historically, socio-economically, technologically, and so on. Pick one recording that best represents your chosen sub-genre and discuss it using the musical terminology from class, as explained in the Essay Writing Guide.  


3. Find a song from the early part of an artist’s career, and then a different song from a later period by the same artist. The two songs must be at least ten years apart (for example: Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone” (1965) and “Gotta Serve Somebody” (1979). Listen to/examine the two songs. How are they similar?  How are they different?  Has the instrumentation changed?  Are the dynamics, rhythms, tempo, form, or melody different?  How does the timbre of the singer’s voice change?  Is there a different mood to the piece?  Has the artist shifted styles significantly, or adopted a new approach to songwriting? Now look at the piece in a larger context—why did the artist change styles, or keep recording the same kind of material? Is the artist responding to audience demand? Has the artist worked with different producers, band members, or record labels? What elements of the earlier period have carried over to the later period? Did the artist gain or lose popularity in that time? What can the changes between the two songs (or lack thereof) tell us about the longevity of the artist or what is meaningful about their music? Provide some background from scholarly sources on the history of the genre(s) the artist uses, and ground your musical discussion within that.


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