GCSE A-Level

The Power of The Introduction

When you write something it is always wise to start with an introduction, and when written well, there is power in an introduction.

But we have all read and written intros that haven’t done us any favours. They are the kind that include a great deal of what I like to call – Waffle. Lots of words and no detail or direction, you know the type! Students are massively susceptible to waffle, particularly when they are writing an essay that they are not too sure about. What we need to do as music teachers is help them to shape and craft their introductions so that they are ready to approach any question in the exam. There is so much power in a good strong introduction that I thought it was worthy of a blog.

So let me get straight to the point. What is the introduction for?

In my opinion, the introduction is your way of telling the examiner what you are going to be discussing and covering in your essay. It is a little bit like the opening headlines on the news…stick with me, and imagine the “News at Five”


Bong (Big Ben)

This piece was composed in 1782 by Mozart.


This piece is a great example of music from the Classical Era.


It is also a great example of operatic music and how stories can be told with music.


This essay will consider how Mozart used Melody, Harmony & Tonality to create this piece.


I will be referring to other key works to help explain & evaluate this set work.


I think an introduction should include the things listed above and provide the main headlines for the essay. The rest of the essay will then unpack all of those things and then there will be a summary at the end – so a lot like the average news broadcast.

The introduction is something that can be worked on in advance and students should be encouraged to go into the exam with an almost memorised introduction. They need to know when the piece was composed, what genre it is and of course who composed it. I don’t think they can avoid that and I think knowing the year just sets a good tone for the essay. They then need to show that their essay is going to have a clear line of argument. I guess sometimes when you listen to the news or a radio show, you instantly pick up the theme or the tone of the programme. An essay introduction needs to help with that process and students can show what threads will be running through their essay.

An essay on Debussy for example might have the line of argument that it is a great example of Impressionist music that also includes elements of fusion. An essay on Defying Gravity would show a clear line of argument linked to it being a great example of the musical theatre genre and a great end to Act 1. If an introduction is going to have power, then it needs to pack a punch and this comes in the form of a line of argument.

This line of argument will then be linked to the elements of music that are referred to in the question, or if it is more open ended, then any elements of music that the student wishes to discuss. Rounding off the introduction with this will help to then lead into the essay:

“In this essay I am going to consider how Bernard Hermann used Melody, Instrumentation & Harmony to create his avant film score for Psycho”

A great revision approach would be for students to create paragraphs to go with each and every set work. They can work out what needs to be included, what the piece is about and work on setting the scene. They will then go into the exam with a clear idea of what they are going to write and this should help to calm their nerves and help them set up a great essay.

Let me give you an example of the kind of introduction I like to see from my students. You might disagree with the approach, it is just my opinion. But what I hope is that this might help you and your students prepare for the music essays or longer answer questions.

“Bernard Hermann composed the score for the black & white horror film Psycho in 1960. The trend in Hollywood had been to use a traditional symphonic orchestra, brining together lush string textures and wide use of brass and woodwind. Somewhat due to budget and also due to innovation, Hermann decided to opt for a string ensemble for his film score. In this essay I am going to consider & evaluate how Hermann used Melody, Rhythm & Instrumentation to create the perfect score for this classic Hitchcock Horror.”





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  1. Good stuff James. I think the key to Hermann’s use of strings only is that (alongside budget aspects) he wanted to challenge himself to see what could be done with just strings and nothing else – a sort of ‘bucket list’ element – and this seemed the perfect opportunity. There is also the black and white aspect – no colour in the film, so minimal colour/ timbre in the scoring. Did you see the recent Psycho shower scene documentary on BBC4? Lots about the music in that one…. may still be on iPlayer – have a look…

    1. Indeed! All stuff to unpack in the paragraph about instrumentation. Thanks for reading and sharing. I love film music!! New documentary called SCORE is amazing!!

      1. You are welcome – the documentary is called 78/52, an in depth look at the shower scene, sadly not on iPlayer at the moment but it will be repeated on BBC2/4 – all helps. Yes, I have heard about SCORE but not seen it – worth a look?

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