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Introduction: Writing Critically About Musical PerformancesWriter's Web
Content by Lauren Oddo
Adapted for Web by Amanda Haislip

(printable version here)

Critical Reaction Essay

A critical reaction essay is an informative study of a musical performance. An effective performance report:

  • Analytically captures how music is actualized in a concert setting
  • Incorporates technical musical vocabulary to succinctly examine the concert repertoire
  • Includes your own impression, as a member of the audience, of the performance

While a critical reaction involves disclosing your personal reflections of a concert, effective analyses infuse personal impressions with objective review. This combination of personal feed with critical study effectively develops a critical reaction essay because it avoids blanket, opinion-based, writing.

Following the collaborative effort from music students and faculty, this Writer's Web Writing in the Disciplines page about Music will help you develop meaningful reaction essays that embrace the unique discourse of music writing.


To begin, here is a quick overview of the importance of understanding the specific vocabulary related to music and writing about music. Effective music writing objectively captures musical content by employing technical musical terms.

"Music theorists and musicologists have a shared technical vocabulary that helps us understand one another; students need to learn and use this type of discourse, too." - Dr. Jesse Fillerup

"It's actually very difficult to write meaningfully about music without employing at least some terminology that is unique to our discipline." - Dr. Linda Fairtile

To avoid ascribing emotional content to your responses, and to maintain writing that is informative and succinct, stick to technical musical terms, rather than descriptive language. While any Google search for "music vocabulary" will provide some useful online music glossaries, below are some additional online and print vocabulary guides:

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