Music in context( Music genre research paper)

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In addition to understanding music immediately and experientially, an important skill we’ve been working to develop this semester is understanding music in a historical context as an important social and political phenomenon. This last writing assignment will be an opportunity for you to exercise both your research and your critical thinking skills as they relate to music.

Word Count:

1500 words


  1. Think about a musical genre or form in a historical context, tracing both origin and development
  2. Effectively trace a musical genre/form and highlight some of its most important features and characteristic pieces/songs


  1. Practice effective writing techniques, using the course grading rubric found in your syllabus and SJSU GE writing expectations as your guide. (If you have trouble with writing mechanics, don’t hesitate to use the SJSU writing center for help and advice.)
  2. Utilize critical thinking to shape your thought process and writing.
  3. Understand where to find information related to music and its many expressions
  4. Feel prepared to discuss music in a historical and social context and relate music you experience to a broader background


This is a research paper. You will be spending some time reading in addition to listening and will practice combining your observations with published literature on the genre/form of your choice.

First, you will need to select a genre or form! This can be any we have discussed in class. I have attached a list of good candidates below and would encourage you to select from this list. Choose a genre you do not regularly listen to. I don’t want to hear about what you already know, but rather what you learn through your research.

Second, you’ll need to develop your essay along two lines. Please cover both history of the genre as well as modern expressions of that genre. For example, if I chose to discuss kabuki as my genre, I would need to both give a brief description of the history of kabuki as well as talk about when, where, and how it is performed today.

Third, during your research, you will need to listen to examples of this genre and include a description of the characteristic sounds, instruments, and visuals associated with the genre. Also include a few specific song/piece examples that are significant within the genre with titles and composers names if known. Youtube, Soundcloud, and Wikipedia are good places to start searching for examples of a given genre.

Finally, be sure to discuss any political or social implications related to that genre. For example, if I chose to discuss South African rap, I would want to include a discussion of how it is often a vehicle for discussions on race relations, politics, and poverty.

Notes on Format and Citations

Your format should be a standard research essay format including introduction, body, and conclusion. Please include your word count in the heading.

Citations must be included in this essay and I will lower grades for quotes or ideas left un-cited. When in doubt, cite your source. I do not have a requirement for style (MLA, Chicago, APA…), but you need to be consistent with the style you use. Consider using the style standard within your field of study (I personally use MLA as I am in the humanities).

Wikipedia is not a source. If you cite or quote wikipedia, I will lower your grade. However, wikipedia is a great resource. As you are doing your research, check out the sources included at the end of any wikipedia pages you come across, follow those links, and read those sources.

I highly encourage a visit to the music librarian at the King Library. Let them know your topic and they will be able to guide you to an excellent number of resources to use and reference. Ideally, start there.

Genres/Forms/Styles to Consider


Opera (choose an era, eg. Classical, Early Romantic, etc.)



Song Cycle


Prepared Piano

Theremin and early 20th century electronic instruments

Jazz (select a sub-genre, eg. Big Band Swing, New Orleans, Chicago, Bebop, Freeform, etc.)

Delta Blues





East Coast or West Coast Rap

International Rap (select one country, eg. South African rap, Japanese rap, Brazilian rap, etc.)


Heavy Metal (choose a sub-genre, eg. death, black, symphonic, etc.)



House (choose sub-genre, eg. deep, tropical, trap, etc.)

Jamaican Dance Hall







Bossa Nova

Congolese Rumba

West African Highlife


Persian Classical

Hindustani Classical

Carnatic Classical

Peking Opera

Chinese Revolutionary Opera









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