music listening and writing

This first discussion topic has several goals:

1. To explore a song from a genre of music that is new to you, in addition to reflecting on a familiar one
2. To practice listening closely to recorded music, with special focus on timbre and the voice
3. To practice describing your experience with music in writing, through a comparison exercise


1. Identify a song that you are already familiar with, and that features a singer. Any style of music is fine, as long as it has a vocal part that is sung (rap is also fine), and one main vocalist (not many).

2. Next, with any streaming platform (Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, etc.) or other means, find another recorded song with a vocalist that is in a genre (type) of music that is entirely new to you. It can be any genre at all, as long as it’s one that you have never really listened to before. (If you think you’ve heard every genre of music, you haven’t looked hard enough! Try listening to genres from other countries, for example. It’s fine to choose a song with lyrics you don’t even understand, though you may want to have a translation in that case.)

Suggestion: Consider pairing songs so that you have 2 highly contrasting genres, such as an R&B song and a song from a classical opera, or a heavy metal song and a Mexican banda song.

Update: TA Alex Lough put together a great Spotify playlist (Links to an external site.) with many diverse suggestions, in case you want some interesting suggestions for tracks to pick! There should be plenty of ideas there for both new and familiar genres (especially if you need some that are unfamiliar).

3. Once you’ve chosen both songs, listen carefully to each track several times, with special attention to the timbre of the voices. How would you describe the qualities of each vocalist’s sound, if you were explaining it to someone who had never heard them? Does the vocal quality change over the track or is it relatively consistent? How does each vocalist’s sound relate to how you experience the feeling or message of the song overall? Do you think that the vocal sound is processed with electronic effects, or is it more intended to sound like a natural human voice? These are a few examples of questions you might consider as you listen, and you might discover others. The point overall is to reflect specifically on the vocal timbre of each track, and what it has to do with your experience of the song overall.

Suggestion: Don‘t worry about “right” answers to these questions! Our experience of music is highly subjective. Doworry about listening closely and revising your work to try to find the best way to explain what you are hearing.

4. After listening carefully and taking notes, compose a thoughtful paragraph of at least a few sentences comparing the way vocal timbre is used in each song. Your response may include more than one paragraph if needed, but length is not a substitute for quality.

Suggestion: You should ALWAYS take notes and compose your response in a separate word-processing program or googledoc, not directly in the Discussion text box, to avoid the possibility of losing your work while editing, and also to retain a copy of your response outside of Canvas.

Revise your writing for clarity and concision of expression, as well as grammar and spelling.

At the top of your post, provide links (Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, or other web based links) to both tracks, indicating which was familiar and unfamiliar, like this:

Familiar: <Title/artist here with link>
Unfamiliar: <Title/artist here with link>

When you’ve revised your post to ensure it is as well written as possible, post it below.

5. Finally, after posting your own response, you are also required to comment on at least one other student’s response, again posting a well-formed paragraph. You may comment on any other post you like, and it’s fine for multiple students to reply to the same post, or to create threaded responses.

To sum up, a complete assignment will include:

  • The song title and artist, and a link, for each of the 2 songs you chose, followed by your response of at least 1 paragraph
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