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Tips for Choosing a Topic

Choosing a topic for a music assignment, or repertoire for a performance can be tricky, but here are some pointers to get you started:

  • Choose topics and repertoire that you're interested in! You will find it much easier to write about or perform something you care about
  • Avoid broad topics (e.g. Opera and femininity), or narrow ones (e.g. Femininity in Italian operas performed in London, 1690-91). A better topic might be: Femininity in 3 selected Italian operas of the late baroque period
  • Review your assignment guidelines, and follow instructions regarding topic selection

For more information on choosing a topic, see:

Get Background Information & Identify Search Terms

Get familiar with your topic by researching in general music information resources, including:

Make a list of search terms relevant to your topic, such as:

Search Term Examples
Performers, composers, contributors Lorde, Shostakovich, Arturo Toscanini 
Musical styles, genres, forms, traditions, works Renaissance motets, rockabilly, sonata-allegro form, Japanese gagaku (court music), Porgy & Bess
Geographic Locations Papua New Guinea, Louisiana,8th arrondissement of Paris, Florence, Boyle Street   
Time Periods Classical, 19th Century, 1939-45  
Approaches Gender studies, anthropological, cognitive, Schenkerian

Develop Research Questions & Adjust Your Topic

After doing background reading and identifying search terms, try to turn your terms into research questions.

You may find that:

  • There is too much or too little information on your topic
  • The topic you have chosen is too narrow or too broad

Adjust your topic accordingly.

Here are some examples:

Search Terms Example Research Questions Adjusted Topic
Rolling Stones, African American music, cultural appropriation, Let it Bleed (album) How did the Rolling Stones' appropriation of African American impact their musical style? Too broad How did the Rolling Stones' appropriation of gospel music singing on "Gimmie Shelter" from Let It Bleed impact their musical style going forward?
Glenn Gould, sound recording technology, Goldberg Variations How did Glenn Gould's extensive use of sound recording technology affect the authenticity of his performance? Too broad How did Glenn Gould's extensive use of sound recording technology on his recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations,  particularly the 6th variation,  affect the authenticity of his performance?
Carnatic music, theme and variations, Tyāgayya (composer), "Meru Semana" (piece) How did Tyāgayya's use of rhythmic theme & variation in the kriti "Meru Semana" compare with its use by other Carnatic composers of the same period? Too narrow How did  Tyāgayya use rhythmic theme & variation in the kriti "Meru Semana"?