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This is the "Guidelines for Preparing Program Notes" page of the "Friedheim Music Library" guide.
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Last Updated: May 23, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Guidelines for Preparing Program Notes Print Page

Program Note Guidelines for DMA Students

DMA Guidelines: Policies and Procedures for Students in the Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) Degree at the Peabody Conservatory

Program Approval
Each program must be approved by the Office of Academic Affairs and the student’s Major Field Advisory Committee. If the student has not selected or been assigned a Major Field Advisory Committee, the student must obtain the approval of the department chair. An online copy of the approved program must be submitted to the Concert Office six weeks before the recital.

Program Notes
Each DMA student must write program notes of publishable quality for every recital. These should be approximately one page in length and must be approved by a representative of the musicology faculty before the recital program will be approved by the Office of Academic Affairs. Students are responsible for contacting the Academic Program Coordinator with an e-mail approval from their Musicology Advisor.  NOTE: Students who haven’t yet selected their Musicology Advisor can ask any member of the Musicology Department to approve their program notes.


Music Terminology and Usage

The rules in the chart address how different authors recommend handling titles and musical terms. These rules apply to writing only; for example, there are different rules for footnotes and bibliographic citations.


Books in the Library


Guidelines for Writing Program Notes

This guide is intended to help steer you through the process of preparing program notes, so you can make your own decisions about the style and content most appropriate for your performance. 

Length: The length of program notes varies, depending on factors such as number of pieces being performed, the total length of the program, available space in the printed program, budget, and audience.  A single work, such as a sonata, song cycle, or symphony, for example, might range from 250-350 words. For a longer program with multiple works, a range of 700-1,000 words may be more appropriate. For Peabody student recitals, notes should fit on one page (approximately 400 words).

Content: Your goal is to increase your audience's understanding and enjoyment of the music you are performing. Program notes should be as well researched as any other piece of writing you produce. You should consult standard music reference works in order to write an interesting and clear summary of your piece. Include note-worthy items, such as a dedication or an excerpt of a review that was published soon after the piece’s premiere to show how the work was received at that time.

Possible talking points:
Circumstances of composition Personal anecdotes
First performance Criticism
Historical context Footnotes and bibliography
Musical style Over-emoting
Scoring Musical examples
Things to listen for  Technical terminology


Also consider your audience and gear your notes toward their level of understanding. If, for example, you are performing for a very young audience, you would want to avoid overly technical language and advanced theoretical analysis.

Style: The chart on the left illustrates proper usage of music terminology. The following chart illustrates how different authors recommend handling titles and musical terms. These rules apply to writing only; for example, there are different rules for footnotes and bibliographic citations.


Resources for Preparing Program Notes


Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's Overture magazine

New York Philharmonic Program Notes

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Program Notes

San Francisco Symphony Program Notes

Program Notes Wiki

Silver Clef Music Public-domain Program Notes

Writing Concert Program Notes: A Guide for UWW Students by Prof. J. Michael Allsen


Bayne, Pauline Shaw.  "Program Notes."  In A Guide to Library Research in Music, 68-72.  Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008.  ML3797 .B29 2008 (on reserve)

Bellman, Jonathan.  "Program and Liner Notes."  In A Short Guide to Writing About Music, 52-62.  2nd ed.  New York, NY: Pearson, 2007.  ML3797 .B44 2007 (on reserve)

Irvine, Demar.  "Program Notes."  In Irvine’s Writing About Music, 190.  3rd rev. and enl. ed. by Mark Radice.  Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1999.  ML3797 .I7 1999 (on reserve)

Wingell, Richard.  "Program Notes."  In Writing About Music: An Introductory Guide, 91-97.  4th ed.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2009.  ML3797 .W5 2009 (on reserve)


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