Tuesday, June 9, 2015

How to Conduct Musical Criticism

Skill, time and effort go into a proper musical critique.

Musical criticism is a form of journalism that requires an ability to accurately assess and deconstruct a musical work. Valid music criticism requires a judgment of both the virtues and faults of a musical work. The ability to put your personal opinions aside and review the work based on practical and objective standards will make your reviews relevant and valuable to a large audience. Good music critics know how to bridge the line between opinion and analysis.

Learn about the background and history of the soloist or ensemble. Giving the readers an overview of the size of the ensemble and a description of the timbre helps to provide context to the reader. Describe timbre by discussing the types of instruments used and the relative range of the music, determine if it is high or low, bright or dark. Providing the reader with context to understand the style of music and experience of the performer will help them to gain a better understanding of the music.

Include a discussion of the overall dynamic range. Some music has very little dynamic range, while other pieces have large shifts in the volume of sound. The dynamics of a piece describe the volume level of the ensemble.

Analyze the intonation of the performance. Including objective criteria such as proper intonation -- how well the group plays in tune -- will add an element of expertise to your critique. If you are reviewing a recording that has poor intonation, then this a good sign that the recording was not created carefully.

Discuss the interpretation of the performed work. If it is an original composition, discuss the form, melody and harmony and how they work together to create a complete piece. For instance, discuss how the melody and harmony change between sections and if the changes are logical. If it is an interpretation of an already established piece, compare it to other performances. Discuss elements of mood and phrasing.

Provide a discussion of the tempo and rhythm of the piece. Talk about whether the piece moved too slow or too quickly. Bring attention to issues of poorly executed rhythms and inappropriate tempos for the intended mood of the piece. A solemn piece typically lends itself to slower tempos, while a joyous piece is generally faster. Know the different styles of music so that you can effectively discuss them.


  • If the performance involves a song with lyrics, make sure to discuss the diction of the singer. Diction is how well the singer articulates the words.
  • Make sure to include your own perception of the music. While the majority of the criticism should be as objective as possible, it is not possible to completely omit your own emotional response and perception of the music.
  • Provide a discussion of the types of people that would enjoy the music. Is it intended for classical music lovers, rock, pop, adults or children. Use specific targeting to apply the music to a particular group.