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  • Elisabeth Eichmeyer

Writing a successful Music Extended Essay in the IB Diploma Programme

Updated: Jul 8

Once more this year, I had the opportunity to read and mark about 60 Music Extended Essays, in addition to supervising the essays of my own students. In this series of blogs, I will share some of my personal findings and point out those mistakes that could be easily avoided, costing the diploma students precious points. All findings are my personal opinion.

Each blog post will address one of the criteria, providing step-by-step guidance.

Let's get started with Criterion A.

In this section, focus and method are assessed. In particular, the research question and the methodology.

Some questions to ask are:

  • Is the topic related to music analysis? I cannot stress this question enough. So many extended essays deal with very interesting topics - from tunings to recording facts and social events tied to music. These are of great interest, but the Extended Essay is not the place for it. The guide is very clear that the basis of the investigation for an essay in music is music analysis

  • Which material is the student using for the essay? Do they have a proper score available to show their findings? If this is not the case, can they create a transcription in the limited time available? Using specific musical examples as evidence to illustrate their findings is of great importance. Essays that display few or no musical examples often tend to score lower.

  • Is the topic clearly defined? A broad topic does not allow more points than 4 marks! Very often, students need guidance on this aspect. Eager students are interested in many aspects of music. The role of the teacher is to help them narrow down their topic. E.g. Instead of the topic "film music" - it can be narrowed down to "The use of leitmotif in film music". The specific research question then narrows it down to a specific film, a specific section of it and the analysis of it.

  • Is my research focused? This means limiting the research question to a very specific piece or pieces. In bigger works, mentioning the sections that will be analysed. It also includes to stay on the research topic. Other aspects can be mentioned, but should not be discussed in detail. As an example - it is necessary to give a short overview of the content of the film (if discussing film music) but this should not take up too much of the word count. Three to four sentences should be enough to give the reader a quick overview.

  • Has the student defined the methodology? Did they justify the choice of their methodology? In this section, the student needs to justify which method was used. Did they follow a specific form or theory of analysis? Why was this method used? Which method was considered but then discarded? While the choice of methodology in other EE subjects is quite wide, in music, the focus is on music analysis. There are different ways of analysing, and the choice of these need to be discussed. The student also needs to justify why they have chosen a specific work or section of it.

  • Did the student discuss which sources they are using? Did they mention why they chose those? In this section, the validity of the score used needs to be explained. This is especially important when students analyse music from film or video games. Often, there is no reliable score available. Students can transcribe sections as well. Sometimes, using a piano reduction is also a good way to make the process of analysis easier. Students need to carefully balance Primary and Secondary sources. It is also good to check sources from different geographical areas - or using sources in English and (if applicable) in other languages. This is especially important when analysing music from musical genres which are not very common. With the help of students who speak the target language and translate programmes, students can access information from sources which are not available in a language they master.

  • Is the table of contents detailed and specific? A well thought through table of contents tells the examiner that the essay has been carefully structured. It also shows at a glance the detail of the research undertaken.

  • Does the student keep coming back to their research question, or are they discussing aspects that are interesting but not DIRECTLY connected to my research question? I am always surprised how many students include material that is related to the research topic, but not to the specific research question.

If the research question is not in form of a question, full points cannot be achieved in this Criterion. The same is the case, if the research question is too broad. The more specific (including composer, work name, and work number), the better.

Part two will follow shortly.

Musically yours,

Elisabeth Eichmeyer


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