Music Investigation Focus Statement In An Essay

Many scholars have discussed potential functions of music exclusively from a theoretical point of view. The most prominent of these approaches or theories are the ones that make explicit evolutionary claims. However, there are also other, non-evolutionary approaches such as experimental aesthetics or the uses-and-gratifications approach. Functions of music were derived deductively from these approaches and theories. In addition, in the literature, one commonly finds lists or collections of functions that music can have. Most of these lists are the result of literature searches; in other cases authors provide no clear explanation for how they came up with the functions they list. Given the aim of assembling a comprehensive list, all works are included in our summary.

Functions of music as they derive from specific approaches or theories

Evolutionary approaches. Evolutionary discussions of music can already be found in the writings of Darwin. Darwin discussed some possibilities but felt there was no satisfactory solution to music's origins (Darwin, 1871, 1872). His intellectual heirs have been less cautious. Miller (2000), for instance, has argued that music making is a reasonable index of biological fitness, and so a manifestation of sexual selection—analogous to the peacock's tail. Anyone who can afford the biological luxury of making music must be strong and healthy. Thus, music would offer an honest social signal of physiological fitness.

Another line of theorizing refers to music as a means of social and emotional communication. For example, Panksepp and Bernatzky (2002, p. 139) argued that

in social creatures like ourselves, whose ancestors lived in arboreal environments where sound was one of the most effective ways to coordinate cohesive group activities, reinforce social bonds, resolve animosities, and to establish stable hierarchies of submission and dominance, there could have been a premium on being able to communicate shades of emotional meaning by the melodic character (prosody) of emitted sounds.

A similar idea is that music contributes to social cohesion and thereby increases the effectiveness of group action. Work and war songs, lullabies, and national anthems have bound together families, groups, or whole nations. Relatedly, music may provide a means to reduce social stress and temper aggression in others. The idea that music may function as a social cement has many proponents (see Huron, 2001; Mithen, 2006; Bicknell, 2007).

A novel evolutionary theory is offered by Falk (2004a,b) who has proposed that music arose from humming or singing intended to maintain infant-mother attachment. Falk's “putting-down-the-baby hypothesis” suggests that mothers would have profited from putting down their infants in order to make their hands free for other activities. Humming or singing consequently arose as a consoling signal indicating caretaker proximity in the absence of physical touch.

Another interesting conjecture relates music to human anxiety related to death, and the consequent quest for meaning. Dissanayake (2009), for example, has argued that humans have used music to help cope with awareness of life's transitoriness. In a manner similar to religious beliefs about the hereafter or a higher transcendental purpose, music can help assuage human anxiety concerning mortality (see, e.g., Newberg et al., 2001). Neurophysiological studies regarding music-induced chills can be interpreted as congruent with this conjecture. For example, music-induced chills produce reduced activity in brain structures associated with anxiety (Blood and Zatorre, 2001).

Related ideas stress the role music plays in feelings of transcendence. For example, (Frith, 1996, p. 275) has noted that: “We all hear the music we like as something special, as something that defies the mundane, takes us “out of ourselves,” puts us somewhere else.” Thus, music may provide a means of escape. The experience of flow states (Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi, 2009), peaks (Maslow, 1968), and chills (Panksepp, 1995), which are often evoked by music listening, might similarly be interpreted as forms of transcendence or escapism (see also Fachner, 2008).

More generally, Schubert (2009) has argued that the fundamental function of music is its potential to produce pleasure in the listener (and in the performer, as well). All other functions may be considered subordinate to music's pleasure-producing capacity. Relatedly, music might have emerged as a safe form of time-passing—analogous to the sleeping behaviors found among many predators. As humans became more effective hunters, music might have emerged merely as an entertaining and innocuous way to pass time during waking hours (see Huron, 2001).

The above theories each stress a single account of music's origins. In addition, there are mixed theories that posit a constellation of several concurrent functions. Anthropological accounts of music often refer to multiple social and cultural benefits arising from music. Merriam (1964) provides a seminal example. In his book, The anthropology of music, Merriam proposed 10 social functions music can serve (e.g., emotional expression, communication, and symbolic representation). Merriam's work has had a lasting influence among music scholars, but also led many scholars to focus exclusively on the social functions of music. Following in the tradition of Merriam, Dissanayake (2006) proposed six social functions of ritual music (such as display of resources, control, and channeling of individual aggression, and the facilitation of courtship).

Non-evolutionary approaches. Many scholars have steered clear of evolutionary speculation about music, and have instead focused on the ways in which people use music in their everyday lives today. A prominent approach is the “uses-and-gratifications” approach (e.g., Arnett, 1995). This approach focuses on the needs and concerns of the listeners and tries to explain how people actively select and use media such as music to serve these needs and concerns. Arnett (1995) provides a list of potential uses of music such as entertainment, identity formation, sensation seeking, or culture identification.

Another line of research is “experimental aesthetics” whose proponents investigate the subjective experience of beauty (both artificial or natural), and the ensuing experience of pleasure. For example, in discussing the “recent work in experimental aesthetics,” Bullough (1921) distinguished several types of listeners and pointed to the fact that music can be used to activate associations, memories, experiences, moods, and emotions.

By way of summary, many musical functions have been proposed in the research literature. Evolutionary speculations have tended to focus on single-source causes such as music as an indicator of biological fitness, music as a means for social and emotional communication, music as social glue, music as a way of facilitating caretaker mobility, music as a means of tempering anxiety about mortality, music as escapism or transcendental meaning, music as a source of pleasure, and music as a means for passing time. Other accounts have posited multiple concurrent functions such as the plethora of social and cultural functions of music found in anthropological writings about music. Non-evolutionary approaches are evident in the uses-and-gratifications approach—which revealed a large number of functions that can be summarized as cognitive, emotional, social, and physiological functions—and the experimental aesthetics approach, whose proposed functions can similarly be summarized as cognitive and emotional functions.

Functions of music as they derive from literature research

As noted, many publications posit musical functions without providing a clear connection to any theory. Most of these works are just collections of functions of music from the literature. Not least, there are also accounts of such collections where it remained unclear how the author(s) came up with the functions contained. Some of these works refer to only one single function of music—most often because this functional aspect was investigated not with the focus on music but with a focus on other psychological phenomena. Yet other works list extensive collections of purported musical functions.

Works that refer to only one single functional aspect of music include possible therapeutic functions for music in clinical settings (Cook, 1986; Frohne-Hagemann and Pleß-Adamczyk, 2005), the use of music for symbolic exclusion in political terms (Bryson, 1996), the syntactic, semantic, and mediatizing use of film music (Maas, 1993), and the use of music to manage physiological arousal (Bartlett, 1996).

The vast majority of publications identify several possible musical functions, most of which—as stated above—are clearly focused on social aspects. Several comprehensive collections have been assembled, such as those by Baacke (1984), Gregory (1997), Ruud (1997), Roberts and Christenson (2001), Engh (2006), and Laiho (2004). Most of these studies identified a very large number of potential functions of music.

By way of summary, there exists a long tradition of theorizing about the potential functions of music. Although some of these theories have been deduced from a prior theoretical framework, none was the result of empirical testing or exploratory data-gathering. In the ensuing section, we turn to consider empirically-oriented research regarding the number and nature of potential musical functions.

After students have completed Step One of the Musical Links Investigation (MLI) Guide, it is time for the heart of the MLI, the inquiry of the musical analysis links.  The MLI’s focus is on critical analysis and comparison/contrast of specific musical analysis links in your chosen pieces.   The Musical Links Investigation must be YOUR musical analysis and not rely solely on other sources. You may use parts of published analysis found in your research. This analysis must be attributed to the source in the body of the work and listed in the bibliography or works cited section.

If you are interested in an in-depth view of the MLI, please see the course offered through Oxford Study Courses.  The course is offered annually in October 2017.

Criterion B, the most heavily weighted criteria in the rubric, describes the level of analysis necessary:

Criterion B: Analysis and Comparison Of Musical Elements

This criterion concerns the your ability to analyze and examine, compare and contrast musical elements (such as duration, pitch, timbre/tone colour, texture, dynamics, form and structure) and their significance in the chosen examples. It is marked from 0 – 6. (MUSIC GUIDE, page 37)

Ideas for practicing analysis throughout the school year

  • Complete assigned listening journals using analysis charts.  THE MORE LISTENING ANALYSIS YOU CAN DO THROUGHOUT THE COURSE, the more likely you will develop the necessary skills to do a comprehensive, thorough microanalysis for the MLI.  Assignments can consist of listening analysis to be completed as homework can be weekly or biweekly.
  • Keep completed listening charts throughout your SL and HL year.  This will include listening charts from class activities as well as independent homework. With a cursory glance, you can find pieces with similar underlined or starred compositional features.

Analysis Guides

You have already used the Venn Diagram and a narrative analysis to confirm your musical links.  Below are guides to assist your analysis of aurally identifying the musical elements with the correct music terminology.

  • An IB Music Microanalysis Guide      

Here is an intensive guide I developed for my more advanced students. Use this guide to discover the importance of relationships among the elements of music. For example, the process of discovering the form of a piece includes analyzing elements of change, repetition or variation as well as their relationship to harmony, melody, dynamics, rhythm, etc.

IB Music Microanalysis Guide

The adapted chart below is shared material which accompanies the textbook, “The Enjoyment of Music” by Forney and Machlis.   This is based upon . You could begin by writing in definitions and using this as a guide for the analysis of your pieces.

  • Analysis Guide using ME-ME-HA-ME-FA and more

These guides use Melody-Meter-Harmony-Medium-Form-Developmental Devices-Rhythm as an organizing device.


Style Analysis MMHMFSC

Tips for Writing a Detailed Analysis

Using the terminology from the rubric, the MLI “demonstrates highly effective description, analysis and examination of the musical elements…. well-focused comparison and contrast.” Your musical links are the thesis of your paper; the supporting evidence of these links needs to include in-depth analysis and location of the musical events using sustained reasoned argument. IN OTHER WORDS, DIG DEEP!!! Leave no stone unturned! Demonstrate your engagement with the music.

In-depth, sustained analysis contains:

  1. Supporting musical examples are examples or evidence of your chosen musical analysis links. These examples clearly detail representative locations using extensive music terminology. To receive the highest marks in Criterion C, “ the work consistently displays good knowledge and use of music terminology.”
  2. All musical examples events are clearly labeled with instruments/voice, location, why and how this is evidence. Strive to find at least two representative locations in each piece.
  3. Evidence is crucial to the success of the MLI and demonstrating your understanding and engagement with the music. Supporting points can be highlighted by:
    1. notation
    2. transcription
    3. optional recorded audio excerpts burned on a CD
    4. illustrations including diagrams, graphs and charts
    5. structure and form can be made into comparative lists, etc

Tip: Transcribe the music example or insert score notation for the specific measures of musical analysis link, not entire sections or scores unless you want to.

  1. Most importantly, use your critical thinking to provide a reasoned argument using music terminology to discuss evidence displayed. HOW AND WHY does this represent the link?*
  2. Articulate relationships and interrelationships between the melody, the structure, the harmony, etc using your knowledge of music terminology. Has the music been analyzed melodically, harmonically, structurally, rhythmically, etc ? See the IB Music Microanalysis Guide found above as your guide.

*MOST IMPORTANT, whether the musical example is student transcribed, inserted from a score or an audio example on an attached CD, you must analyze its MUSICAL CONTENT.   This analysis and its relevance must be discussed in the body of the MLI. Too often music examples are inserted in the script or on an accompaniment CD but the MLI does not clearly articulate the location and specific musical device. The examiner will not do the analysis for you. Eg: ‘In this piece you can hear imitation.’ An example of a correct analysis could be ‘In this piece you can hear the eighth note motive from the first theme imitated between the violins and the cellos from 1:20 – 1:43…..’ and is found in measure 2 of the inserted notation in Fig. 1. Musical examples cannot be a substitute for the candidate’s written analysis. Good musical examples include the specific location or notation of where the musical link or musical event occurs as well as a detailed written description.

Start Writing Your Analysis

Using what you have learned, write your analysis.   Remember in your first paragraph, list the musical links clearly and the names of your selected pieces. It is crucial the examiner understand the exact name of your musical analysis links. Keep a list of all sources you use for your analysis to be included in your bibliography or works cited page as well as discography. This includes sources for definitions and understanding musical elements. Be sure to keep track and cite the use of all primary and secondary sources.

Here’s your checklist for the analysis section:

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