Guidelines for Writing Concert Reviews

Taking Notes|Title Page|Specifics to Include|Guidelines for Attending a Concert|Grading|Sample Reviews

Taking Notes


When you attend a concert or performance it is a good idea to take notes about the music you hear.  This will allow you to make reference to specific aspects of the music that you might otherwise forget.  As though you were taking notes in class, try to be clear with your ideas so you can use them later to compose a complete review.  Be sure to distinguish between Classical music and Popular music.  Some terms will apply to any style, but make sure you know the difference.  It is advisable to learn a little about the music you are going to hear.  There is information in your textbook about many different composers and Classical genre.  If you wish to review a certain concert and you aren’t sure if it is appropriate, ask your instructor for guidance.   Since Jazz music is not covered until late in the semester, if you attend a Jazz concert, you should study the section on Jazz in your textbook.  There are certain terms and descriptions used for Jazz and other pop music that do not apply to Classical styles.  You may also find a great deal of information about any musical style on the internet.


What To Include In Your Review


You should begin by describing the concert “as a whole,” in other words, your general impression of the performance.  You should mention whether the group is professional or a community group made up of students and amateurs.  For example, The Atlanta Symphony is a professional orchestra, but the GPC Wind Ensemble, GPC Jazz Ensemble, GPC Chorale and The DeKalb Symphony are all community groups.  GPC’s ensembles are comprised of students, amateurs and semi-professional musicians.


Introductory material must include the following:


It is recommended that you put this information as a title page, on the first page or in your opening paragraph.


Your name: _______________________

·         Course and section no.:  indicated on your syllabus (for example MUSC 1301-201)

·         Your instructor’s name: Greg McLean

·         Name of the performing group: ___________________________

·         Date and location of the performance: _____________________

·         Type of concert: Classical, Jazz, Student choice

·         Start time and end time of the concert (must include both): ____________

·         Instruments or voices featured in the performance:

            For Symphony orchestra just indicate “orchestra” (Don’t list all of the instruments)

            For Wind Ensemble indicate “wind ensemble” (Don’t list all of the instruments)       

            For Jazz Ensemble indicate “big band” (10-20 players) or “combo” (2-8 players)

            For Chamber music indicate which type, i.e.

                        String quartet (2 violins, viola, cello)

                        Piano trio (violin, cello, piano)

                        Brass quintet (2 trumpets, French horn, trombone, tuba)

                        For unusual combinations just list all the instruments you can remember

            For solo recital indicate solo instrument and accompaniment, i.e.

                        solo violin and piano, or solo piano


            For Jazz concerts: big band (jazz ensemble, 15-20 players); jazz combo (3-8 players)


  • Papers that do not include all of this information will automatically receive a 75pts. or lower grade for that paper.



For Classical type performances, the following information is pertinent.  The printed program, if available, will give you some of these descriptions.  Be sure to distinguish between instrumental and vocal music.  Classical music for voice will likely fall into one of two categories: opera or art song.


Specifics to Include


Individual Compositions


It is best to list several individual works and describe them in detail.  Remember, most Classical music is divided into separate sections called movements which are usually distinguished by tempo or title, i.e.   I. Allegro    II. Andante    III. Allegro ma non tropo


The following points should be included:

     Musical styles-does the piece fit into any of the style categories studied in class, such as Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic,   

        Twentieth Century
Musical genre-is the piece a concerto, symphony, tone poem, mass, motet, or some other genre

     Musical forms-is it a binary, ternary, fugue, sonata-allegro, theme and variations, etc.


Program music or absolute music? 
If the piece is Classical in nature it will likely fall into one of these categories.  If the piece is written only for instruments (no voices) and is based on some literary work like a story or poem, or something non-musical like a painting or a scene from nature (tree, river or mountain), it would be considered program music.  If the piece has no non-musical    reference it is considered absolute music.  Remember, these characteristics are for instrumental music only.  Vocal music can be described by style period (i.e. Baroque), form (ABA), genre (art song, opera), etc.

NOTE: Jazz and Pop music do not fall into one of these categories. Jazz should be described by its historical perspective.  In other words, is it New Orleans style, Swing, Bebop, Cool or Fusion?  The jazz concert you attend should include mostly New Orleans, Swing, Bebop or Cool.  Jazz and Pop music will not be “absolute” or “programmatic.”

It is highly recommended that you read the section in your text book on Jazz music before attending a Jazz concert.  There are many terms and concepts (refer to your Test Reviews pgs. 30 and 35-40)

Memorable features
.  Did you notice anything about the tempo, rhythm, melody, texture, harmony?  Was the tempo fast, slow, moderate, or did the tempo change.   Was the melody lyrical or triumphant (or suggest any other mood)?  Was the melody Conjunct (smooth or mostly stepwise) or disjunct (choppy with wide melodic skips)?  Would you describe the melody as a “theme” (longer) or a “motive (short, perhaps just a few notes)?”  Was the texture monophonic, polyphonic or homophonic?  Was the harmony pleasing or dissonant, or some of both?  Did you hear any noticeable dynamic changes, such as forte to piano or vice versa?  Were any instruments featured or used in an unusual way?  Were there any interesting rhythmic features like dotted rhythms or syncopation?


When you compose your review  You may double-space or single-space your papers.  Remember that the more detail you include the better grade you'll receive.  Use good grammar, spelling and syntax.  Be sure that your ideas are stated clearly.  Use the same procedure you would for any English composition class.  Try to apply terms used in class or in your text, but remember you do not need to define the terms in your paper.  You can assume the instructor knows how the terms are defined.  Try to use terms in the proper context.  If you are uncertain as to a definition, refer to your text or ask your instructor.


Make an effort to use a more journalistic style of writing.  Do not try to be flamboyant or cute.  For ideas on how to write your reviews, read the Arts section of the Sunday Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Also, look for reviews of concerts written in newspapers or a magazines to get some ideas.  Have fun with the assignment.  Basically, your review should describe the music so the reader will feel as though he or she attended the concert.


In order to receive a satisfactory grade for your reviews the guidelines listed above should be followed.  In general, to receive an “A” you must include as much detail as possible about the performance you heard.  Pick three or four separate pieces and write about them.  Include titles of pieces, and separate movements if there are any.  Be specific!


This is more challenging with pop music, but it can be done.  If you cannot make written notes about a concert then you need to make a point to remember specific qualities about the music.  Taking notes at the concert is preferable.


It is recommended that you do not wait until the end of the term to hear all of your required concerts.  Also, t is best to write your reviews as soon as possible after you hear a concert so you will remember more about the music. You may e-mail your reviews to me at: .  E-mail is an easy way to turn in your reviews early.  Be sure to allow time for the reviews to reach me by the start of the last class period or as indicated in your syllabus.  If you e-mail your reviews, you will be required to show proof of attendance by the last class period.


Guidelines for Attending A Concert

These guidelines are intended to help the listener show respect for the performers and the music.  You are there to witness a musical event.  These suggestions are intended to make you more comfortable.

Of course, popular styles such as rock or jazz have less stringent etiquette, but you should still show respect for the performers and for your fellow audience members.  At a Jazz concert it is appropriate to applaud in the middle of a piece if you hear an “improvised” solo that you like.

  • Please be on time to the concert.  It’s best to arrive early, but if you can’t, make sure to enter the auditorium quietly between musical compositions.  Usually, you will not be allowed into the auditorium until the applause begins between individual pieces.  Arriving early also allows you the opportunity to read the program and learn something about the music before the performance begins.

  • If you must leave a performance early, you must wait until there is a break in the music, usually between pieces (during the applause).

  • You are expected to sit quietly while the music is playing: no talking, eating, shuffling paper, etc.  You will be expected to turn off any cellphones or pagers during the concert.  No food or drink will be allowed in the auditorium.

  • You will be asked not to take any flash photos of the performers.  It is a distraction to the performers and to the other audience members.  Also, use of recording devices is not allowed due to copyright restrictions.

  • If you bring young children to the concert you must make sure they follow the same guidelines. 

  • Remember that some pieces are divided into separate sections called movements.  The audience traditionally will applaud after the final movement of a work, not in between.

  • Attire for these concerts is usually formal, though this is not a requirement.  If you choose to “dress down,” dress respectfully.  In other words, no ripped or torn clothing; no clothes that have never seen a washing machine.  It is best to avoid overly provocative clothing.  You are there to see a show not be the show.



As a general rule, you can expect the grading to be as follows:

90-100 pts.  Review contains all required information, is well-written and includes many details about several works from the chosen concert.  Your review will 

                  apply terms and concepts learned in class to the music you hear in the live concert.  The review will give the reader a clear impression of what is

                  was like to attend the concert.  Only exceptional reviews may receive an A+.

80-89 pts.    Review contains all required information, is fairly well-written, but includes fewer    details about different works from the chosen concert.  The

                  review still lists several compositions performed, but gives little impression of what the concert was like.  The review still uses some concepts or

                  terms from the course.

75-79 pts.    Review contains all required information, is only moderately well-written and contains almost no details about the concert.  Only the general

                  impression about   the music is made apparent with no attempt to include terms or concepts learned in class.

70-74 pts.    Review contains all required information, but has no details or impressions about the music.  Basically, this is a poor effort.

The Marvin C. Cole Auditorium is where you can hear most of the concerts performed as a part of the GPC Fine Arts department.  These will include The DeKalb Symphony, The GPC Jazz Ensemble, The GPC Wind Ensemble and The GPC Chorale.  There will also be concerts and recitals by special guest artists and members of the GPC Fine Arts Faculty.  Some concerts are held at the Dunwoody

Taking Notes|Title Page|Specifics to Include|Guidelines for Attending a Concert|Grading|Directions to Cole Auditorium|Sample Reviews

Sample Concert Reviews

 Sample Concert Review No.1-Classical


MUSC 1301

Instructor:  Greg McLean

Classical Concert Review


Classical Concert


      On Thursday, May 6, 2004, at 8:00pm, I attended my first classical concert.  The classical music was performed at the Emerson Concert Hall, Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, by the Atlanta Youth Wind Symphony, with conductor Scott A. Stewart, and guest conductors, Eric Whitacre and Freddy Martin.  The featured pieces were Noisy Wheels of Joy, October, Ghost Train (I. Ghost Train, II. At The Station, and III. Revolution Motive), by Eric Whitacre, Elsa's Procession To The Cathedral from Lohengrin, by Richard Wagner, Cloudburst, by Eric Whitacre, and Pineapple Poll (I. Opening Number). by Arthur Sullivan.  The orchestra included approximately forty students from all over Atlanta.  I arrived early, and listened while the musicians began to tune and warm up their instruments.  At first, just a hand full of musicians were on the stage, and slowly more and more began to move to thier seats.  A cacophony of interesting sounds began to emerge from the stage in front of me, and I started feeling very excited as to what I was going to experience. 

      Once the orchestra completed their tuning, the first conductor, Scott A. Stewart walked onto the stage and without a word began to take the musicians through the first piece entitled Noisy Wheels of Joy, by Eric Whitacre.  The piece began very softly, with a brief clarinet solo.  The clarinet solo was very fluid, and the tone color was bright, with the exception of a very loud, and accidental, "squeak".  I had to remind myself that these were, indeed, just high school student, and not professionals.  In fact, this entire piece was very light, and cheery, with much use of the xylophone by the percussion section.  The composer for this piece, Eric Whitacre, described the circumstances to which he had written this piece to the audience.  As a member of the ASCAP, he, as well as other members, were asked to write down the name of a movie that they enjoyed and enter the name into a hat.  What they pulled out, was what they had to write a piece about.  Noisy Wheels of Joy was written because Mr. Whitacre pulled "101 Dalmatians" out of the hat, and hence the light and cheerful tone to the piece.

      The next piece the orchestra performed was entitled October.  This piece was a bit more melancholy, as it was a reminder of the fall season for it's composer, Eric Whitacre.  The piece began slowly with a mellow tone color played by chimes and the woodwind section.  Whitacre wanted this piece to sound light and breezy, yet still have a

melancholy quality to it.  Most of this piece was quiet and easy to listen to, but with all orchestral music, this piece would build in sound until it seemed the windows around us would break.  Music of this caliber is very interesting to listen to in person, because of the intense lows and highs of the instruments playing.  Once the piece quieted down again, a soft trilling of the clarinets was heard.  This was followed by solo by the clarinet section and the chimes of the percussion section.  The original light and airy theme followed this with the entire woodwind section accompanying them. The tubas, trombones, trumpets, and French horns then joined in with their own harmony, which brought a dark quality to the music.  After the brass section joined in, the tempo began to quicken, and the full orchestra joined in for a very loud and impressive sound, which quickly ended with the tuba playing softly.

      The third piece to be played was entitled Ghost Train.  I found this piece to be very interesting because the instruments were mimicking the sound of a train.  At times, they also sounded like the bells at a train crossing.  This piece was approximately twenty minutes long, with three separate movements.  The composer, Eric Whitacre, told the audience previous to hearing the piece, that if someone were to get bored listening to the music, they should just sit and watch the percussion section because they were going to be very busy.  He was certainly right.  The piece began with a soft flute that flattened out at the end of a note.  Probably to sound like a train whistle in the distance.  The flutist performed this act approximately three times before a great crash was heard from the timpani, and other instruments in the percussion section which I could not identify because it happened so quickly.  If someone was sleeping, they sure weren't after that.  As the "train" was approaching the "station" the tempo of the music got quicker and quicker, as well as, louder and louder.  The rhythm and tempo were fast, and the tone loud, however, the music stops abruptly.  At this time, the clarinets, oboe, and xylophone begin to play and light tune.  The tempo remains the same for a bit, but then slows down and the tuba begins to play very loudly.  The tuba then decrescendos and slows to silence.  Overall, this piece was interesting due to it's colorful timbres, complex rhythms, and quick and slow tempos.  The composer's use of the orchestra to describe the train was, in my opinion, brilliant.  This piece was done in a very different and interesting way from another piece I had heard, which was performed many years ago by the Glenn Miller Band.

       After intermission, the final three pieces were performed.  Wagner's Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral  from Lohengrin was the first of these three.  This piece was very pretty and had a slow tempo.  I am very fond of Wagner's works, however, I felt this piece lacked the interesting dynamic components of other works I have heard. 

       Cloudburst, was by far my favorite piece performed.  Whitacre described the circumstances to which he wrote the piece to the audience.  He describes a setting on a hill with a lake far below and a mountain view in the distance.  A tremendously ominous black cloud is coming toward him, and all woodland life seems to come to a halt.  Soon the black cloud begins to thunder, and soon after the rain begins.  The piece the audience heard was a description of this scene, with thunder and all!  A soft opening quickly turns into a very loud and full orchestra.  The composer uses the piano to mimic light raindrops, and the wind chimes sound as if a stormy wind is blowing through them.  The composer really uses wonderful tone color to perfectly describe the stormy scene, which he has witnessed.  Another interesting aspect to this piece is that the composer asked for audience participation.  For this piece, he had signified he would turn around and let us know what to do when the time came.  He wanted us to snap our fingers in a particular point in the piece.  This was to signify that the "rain" had finally come.  When the entire audience snapped their fingers all at once, it just made the piece all the more interesting.  It was actually "raining" inside the concert hall. 

       The final piece to be performed was entitled Pineapple Poll.  This piece was conducted by Scott A. Stewart.  The piece had a very upbeat and lively tempo, with most of it sounding like a marching band.  This tune was actually from a ballet, which was a spoof of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas using music from Arthur Sullivan.

        I had never seen a symphony in person, and I am thoroughly pleased with the experience.  Although most of the music performed was not actually classical in nature, I enjoyed it nonetheless.  The piece October was actually written in 1991 for a chorus, and had a new-age feel to it.  The concert lasted from 8:00pm to 9:45pm with every minute more intriguing than the next. 

Sample Concert Review No. 2-Jazz

Mr. McLean

MUSC 1301


I was very impressed with the performance by the Georgia Perimeter Jazz Ensemble I saw on May third. It was different than the live jazz I go to see around Atlanta (Apache Café, Churchill Grounds, etc) because it was big band swing music from the thirties and forties. I brought two of my friends, Michael and Adam, who don’t go to Perimeter and they were as impressed as I was. The band played several pieces by well-known jazz musicians and bandleaders, and had a group of four singers called the South City Voices join with them for eight songs. The auditorium at the Clarkston campus had wonderful acoustics, allowing me to adequately experience the full sound of this wonderful ensemble.


     The group opened with the song “I Mean You” by Thelonius Monk, whose innate sense of humor came through in this lively piece with a high pitched, dominant brass sound. There were improvisational solos by various instruments, including tenor sax, and piano, and the trumpet solo softened to a loud surprise finish. I wished I could have heard the piano more, since I’ve played piano for seventeen years and always strain my ears to hear it’s delicate sound.


      The next piece, “The Cat Walk” by Gerry Mulligan, sounded exactly like the title described- a cat walking across a fence at midnight. The composer was a baritone sax player and it shows through the song’s deeper tones and steady bass. I felt like I was in a 1962 James Bond film. A trumpet solo and a crazy winding soprano sax solo tied the piece together nicely.


      The next four pieces were performed with South City Voices. They had impressive musicality and intonation and I truly enjoyed hearing them. They opened with “It Don’t Mean a Thing” by Duke Ellington, which has always been one of my favorite songs to hear. The singers scatted a bit and hit some chillingly high notes, as did the rest of the band. They followed with “Nature Boy,” an old Nat King Cole classic that David Bowie recently covered in the Baz Lurhmann film Moulin Rouge. This was the first slow and soulful piece played, being in a flowing ¾ time and a minor key.


      The next song with South City Voices was one I was overjoyed in hearing- “Route 66” by Bobby Troup. This song is especially meaningful to me because in my hometown of Tucumcari, New Mexico, historic Route 66 runs right through the center of town and is dotted with establishments like La Cita and the Teepee Curious that have stood since the 1940’s, when the highway was at it’s prime. I thought this version was faster and had more swing

than the Nat King Cole version. This piece included alto sax, trombone, and trumpet solos, including an impressive one by Greg McLean with earth-shattering high notes.


       The last song they sang was a lively number called “Havana Medley.” The first piece in the medley was fast and light, followed by one with a darker sound and climbing trumpet clatter that led up to the third section, which was lighter than the first two. The fourth one was my favorite because it reminded me of something Ricky Ricardo would do on I Love Lucy.


       There was a brief intermission, which gave my friends and me a chance to ogle all the beautiful artwork lining the fine arts lobby. The band came back with “Groovin High” by the trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie, which was a truly swinging song. I didn’t see one still foot on stage. Featured was an alto sax solo and another striking McLean trumpet solo.


       The next song, “In Memory of Bix,” was a slow sad piece written by Steve Allen as a tribute to Bix Biderbeck. The newest member of the Georgia Perimeter Jazz Ensemble, Joey Waters, played a beautiful solo against the band’s subdued sounds. This piece seemed like something a guy would play on the rooftop after being dumped by his girlfriend. It was very film noir, I loved it.


       After the sobering trumpet solo, the South City Voices returned to liven things up again with “Sing, Sing, Sing” by a drummer named Gene Krupa. I could tell the composer was a drummer because the song opens with heavy pounding drums to give the piece a lively, massive sound. The singers scatted quite a lot and seemed more comfortable with their surroundings than before, like they were able to let loose a bit more. I also noticed the bassist counting his measures of rest- 5-2-3-4, 6-2-3-4….- a familiar sight because in my orchestra days, cello’s were rarely given the melody and were always counting rests.


       The next song, “Georgia On My Mind” by Hoagy Charmichael, opened with a snatch of trumpet by McLean. The piece was slow, not like the Vince Giordano version I’m accustomed to hearing. It was pleasant to hear a slow song to break up all the excitement a bit.


       For “Aint’ Misbehavin’,” the band stepped back and let the South City Voices sing this Broadway song a cappella. I was very impressed by their excellent intonation. I’m no singer, but I imagine it would be difficult to rely only on your own sense of pitch to keep things together.


       The final piece of the evening was “Caravan,” which was arranged by Greg McLean. It was a rich blend of jazz and Latin musical styles and it sounded like the deeper brass instruments had their turn in the spotlight. It featured several improvisational solos, including a call and response between McLean and the alto sax.

       I was glad I was able to attend this concert for the Georgia Perimeter Jazz Ensemble. It was a memorable experience that has made me want to hear big band music again!


 Taking Notes|Title Page|Specifics to Include|Guidelines for Attending a Concert|Directions to Cole Auditorium|Grading|Sample Reviews


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