Concert Report FAQ

I have noticed that certain questions and issues come up frequently in relation to the concert report assignment. My responses to the following “frequently asked questions” (or “FAQ”) may address questions that you will have about the assignment. You should read this page before attending your concert and before/after you write the report.

The concert was very long. Do I have to report on the whole concert?

Yes. You must report on all movements of all pieced performed on the concert you attend. Reports that only cover part of the concert will receive a proportionally lower grade.

Note that many concerts include an intermission – a break midway through the event. (Although it is rare, there could be more than one intermission.) The concert is not over at this point, so you must return to your seat after intermission to hear and report on the rest of the performance.

Are there ever any exceptions to this rule?

Rarely, and only with advance permission from the instructor. If you feel that you cannot report on the whole concert, contact the instructor prior to the due date to discuss your situation. Never assume that it is OK to report on only part of the concert – your grade will be lowered.

Several groups performed on my concert. Can I just report on one of them?

You must report on the whole concert, even if there are several groups or performers. If you think that the number of performers caused your concert to be unusually long, you must discuss it with the instructor before leaving anything out of the report, and your grade will be lowered if you leave some performers out of your report without advance permission.

Do I have to use musical terminology in the report?

Not necessarily. I would rather you describe the music using words that you are comfortable with than have you misuse musical terms that you don’t quite understand. It is perfectly OK to write that “the music got faster” instead of that you heard an accelerando.

The pieces all sound the same to me. Do you really want me to keep writing the same kinds of descriptions?

Maybe there are differences you haven’t thought about. Did they really sound exactly the same? Could you tell one from the other? Why? Try to focus on how the pieces are different. For example, it is very unlikely that they all had the same tempo. Go back to the text and your notes and review the musical elements that cancreate differences.

If the pieces are really very similar, your descriptions may in fact be similar, but you still must describe each piece. It is virtually always a mistake to write something along the lines of “this movement was exactly like” some previous movement. There could be rare exceptions, but you should always check with me first before turning in a paper in which you do this.

How long should my concert report be?

There is no specific length requirement. In general,  reports tend to average between three and six double-spaced typewritten pages in length.

It may be possible to earn an A on a three-page paper about a short concert if the descriptions are accurate, complete, and concise, and if all other expectations and requirements are met.

There is no advantage in padding your report to make it longer. In fact, including a lot of irrelevant information, writing in an unnecessarily wordy style, or failure to make the paper concise through  careful editing may lower your grade.

If your report is much longer than six pages there is a good chance your paper needs more editing. Carefully re-read it to see if there is any less-important information that can be left, out and streamline your writing. (Although there is no strict length limit, excessively long papers may earn a lower grade, especially if the length seems unnecessary.)

Many short pieces were played on my concert. How long should my report be?

A report on a concert with many short pieces does not necessarily need to be much longer than one consisting of just a few pieces of greater length. The description of four five-minute pieces will probably take up about the same amount of paper as a description of one twenty-minute piece.

What are the features of good objective descriptions?

Effective objective description sections often have the following characteristics

  • They narrate the progression of the music, noting important features of how it evolves – rather than presenting a general overall summary.
  • They address a wide range of important aspects of the music, including dynamics, tempo, melody, instruments and voices, texture and more – rather than focusing obsessively on one or two characteristics.
  • They include details that are specific to the character of the piece – and not just vague generalizations that are common to many pieces.
  • They are based on what you hear as you listen carefully and attentively to the music – not on what you read in the text or the program notes and not on what others tell you.
  • They go beyond the most basic features to describe aspects that characterize the piece you heard.
  • They describe things – rather than just listing them. For example, when reporting that “the trumpet plays” they offer some description of what and how the trumpet plays. (Not doing this is like describing a person as “she has two legs, two arms, and a head.” That is not very useful!)
  • They save subjective reactions for the subjective reactions of the report – and avoid using subjective reaction material in objective descriptions.
  • They offer an appropriate level of detail, neither providing so little detail as to not appropriately describe the music nor offering an undifferentiated flood of scores of boring and insignificant details.
  • They use a concise and direct writing style – and avoid over-the-top, wordy, hyperactive, and other distracting types of writing.
  • They make sense to an attentive reader – related to the previous bullet and also the result of careful and appropriate attention to proofreading and editing over the course of several drafts of the paper.

This list of objective description features is not meant to be comprehensive, so consult the report format guidelines, the sample report, and other materials at this website.

What are some common problems with the concert reports?

  • Objective Descriptions of the music should not include subjective opinions; these go in the Subjective Reaction sections.
  • You must proofread carefully. Failing to do so makes it very difficult to understand what you are trying to communicate and that will lower your report grade, perhaps significantly in cases where little or no evidence of careful proofreading is found.
  • Report on all pieces performed on your concert. Your grade will be lowered proportionally if you only report on a portion of the concert you attended.
  • Include a ticket stub and the page of the concert program listing pieces that were performed. This is a requirement and failure to do this will lower your grade and may make your paper unacceptable. (Speak to the teacher individually well before the due date if your event did not provide a ticket and/or program.)
  • Be careful to read and follow all elements of the required report format. Leaving sections out or adding material that is not called for or placing the wrong type of material in a section will affect your grade.
  • Carefully review the concert report checklist page for more pointers. This list includes items that have proven to be important in the past, and is intended to help you avoid certain common problems.
  • Do not add sections to the report that are not part of the assignment — note, for example, that there should be no introductory paragraph before the first objective description.
  • Include the Quality of Performance section at the end of the report — for some reason a number of students leave it out. Don’t be one of them!

May I report on an event that is not included in the Weekly Concert List?

You may report on any concert that meets the assignment guidelines only if it is in my online list. If the concert is not on the list and you think it might be OK, you must obtain permission from the instructor before attending. If you report on a concert that is not on the list without checking with the instructor before you attend the event, you will not get credit for your report. If you wait until after you attend the event to ask if it is OK, anticipate that the answer will be “no.”

Keep in mind that all concerts on the list are acceptable.

I can’t come to school on the due date. May I hand my report in later?

The report must be turned in on time to avoid late penalties which will lower your grade. If you cannot come to De Anza on the due date, you have several options to avoid the late penalty.

  • You may turn your report in early.
  • You may email your report no later than the submission deadline. You can a) paste the text of your report into the body of your email message and/or include the original report file (Word or pdf) as an attachment.
  • You may mail the report, and it will not be considered late as long as there is a postal service cancellation on the envelope showing a time no later than the submission deadline.
  • If you are running late on the deadline date, you can make legible photographs of all pages of your report and email them no later than the start of class to avoid late penalties – in which case you must then turn in the paper copy of the report when you arrive at school
  • If you submit a report by one of these alternate methods you are required to deliver the printed copy of the report, the original ticket stub, and original program page(s) within one week or at the next class meeting, whichever comes first.

Should I research the music before the concert?

Doing some advance reading about the music and composers may help you to understand what you will hear. At least check the text for information. However…

The concert report is not a research paper. Do not paraphrase or quote the program notes or other resources. The assignment calls for your observations, not those of the program annotator or other experts. Papers in which students substitute ideas from outside sources (including uncredited quotes or paraphrases from the program notes, text, web, etc.) in place own personal observations may earn no credit for the report and may be subject to the syllabus Policy on Copying and Cheating.

There was information about the music in the program notes. Can I include this in my objective descriptions in the report?


As described above, the goal of this assignment is to write your own narrative of what you observed about the music as you listened. Replacing or enhancing your description with musical descriptions from any outside source including the program notes is not allowed and will have serious consequences as described in the syllabus Policy on Copying and Cheating. (If reading the program notes helped you to hear things in the music, you can and should describe what you heard.)

The object of the assignment is to record your observations, not those of the program annotator or other experts. Papers in which students substitute ideas from outside sources for their own personal observations may receive a failing grade and make you subject to the syllabus Policy on Copying and Cheating.

Can I work with another student?

You and other students may discuss in very general terms only the music you heard on the concert. However, be careful that your report reflects your personal observationsof the music, and not a group consensus. Your paper must consist entirely of your own unique and personal observations.

The concert report is not a collaborative projectYour paper must consist solely of your own observations of what happened at your concert. If other students’ observations and ideas are included in your report (including both identical papers and papers exhibiting excessive similarities) you may earn no credit for the report and be subject to serious consequences as described in the Policy on Copying and Cheating.

How important is it to follow the format guidelines?

It is very important that you read, understand, and follow the format guidelines. Failure to follow them may result in a lower grade on your paper,  and significant departures from the required format may result in your paper getting a failing grade, no credit, or being returned to you for a re-write.

How much of the paper should be objective description and how much should be subjective reaction?

The primary focus of the paper is on the narrative objective descriptions of pieces you heard on the concert. In general, the objective descriptions should comprise at least 75%-80% or so of the paper and more is fine. The subjective reactions should generally be rather short – a few sentences per piece may suffice.

I don’t think that I can follow the format guidelines in writing my report. What should I do?

You must follow the guidelines for the report unless you receive specific permission in advance to modify the format. Not following the format will lower your grade. If you don’t think you can follow the format, you should contact me before writing the report. I’ll help you find a way to use the standard format or else we’ll agree to an alternative. (In the past there have been a few unusual situations in which I agreed to modify the format for specific events.)

I’m unsure of my writing skills. What can I do about this?

I will be happy to review a draft copy of your report during the week prior to the due date. Bring it to one of my office hours. Appointments are not required, but I may be able to reserve more time for you if you let me know when you will be coming. We will go over the report together, and I will give you suggestions to improve the paper.

It is also useful to peer edit – e.g. work with other students to critique and improve your writing. (Do be careful to limit your collaboration to improving the writing and not go so far as to incorporate each others observations about the music into your reports – doing that latter would put you at risk for violating the copying/cheating policy of this class.)

There are also various on-campus resource that may be useful to you when it comes to developing your writing skills. These change from time to time, but as I write this, there is a Writing Center on campus that may helpful.

I don’t think I can fit a concert into my busy schedule. What should I do?

You must find a way to attend the concerts — it is a requirement for this class. Somewhere in the Bay Area there are concerts almost every day. If you can’t attend evening concerts, look for Sunday afternoon concerts. Check the weekly list of concerts as soon possible, and check for days and times that will work for you. The list often includes events for the next several weeks so you can make your plans early. If it is really impossible to attend a concert this term, you should consider taking this course at another time when your schedule is less busy.

Students who have complex and busy schedules, full-time jobs, family responsibilities, or who must attend local concerts only, daytime concerts only, or concerts accessible via public transit should understand that their options will be more limited. It is critical to find an event that works as soon as you possibly can. If you wait too long and your special requirements make it impossible to find a last-minute event, you may be unable to complete a report and this will lower your grade. Attend your concert well ahead of the deadline for the report.

I have seen video tapes of concerts. May I report on one of these instead of a live concert?


I don’t have a car. How can I get to a concert?

Your concert options will be somewhat limited if you cannot get to them by car. However, there are often a few concerts right on the De Anza College campus at the Flint Center and elsewhere. Concerts at San Jose State University, the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, Stanford University, and some Palo Alto locations can be reached using bus lines which pass by the college. One option may be to use public transportation to go to San Francisco for Sunday afternoon concerts. It may be possible to arrange a carpool with other students.

Be sure to plan your concert attendance well ahead of time if lack of transportation, a busy schedule, or any other factor limits the concerts you can attend.

How can I possibly write down everything that happens during the concert?

You can’t! :-)

Don’t even try to write down everything. Focus on listening to the music, rather than on writing. When you hear something significant, write it down and begin focusing on listening to the music again. If you try to write down everything, you will probably be so busy writing that you will not be able to pay attention to what you are hearing. The goal is to record what is significant about the performance, not to simply list everything that happens.

I don’t think that I captured enough detail in the notes I took at the concert. What should I do?

First of all, as mentioned above, you are not expected to capture everything that happens in the music at your live concert. That would actually be impossible, and even if it were possible it would be rather pointless. So consider the possibility that you may have enough detail. Ask me before turning in the paper if you have questions about this.

But it is possible that your really could end up with insufficient notes from the event. Some students make discreet use of a recorder during the concert; this way they can review what they heard later. (Be careful if you do this. Some performing groups do not allow recordings. Always be very careful that your use of a recorder does not disturb anyone else’s enjoyment of the concert.) It is also OK to obtain recordings of the pieces performed at the concert and listen to the music again while working on your paper – in fact, I think that it is a good thing for you to hear the music more than once! (However, it is not acceptable to just report on a recording; you must attend and report on the live event.) In some cases you may find that you just have to attend a second concert, but this is rare. In any case, discuss this with the instructor right away.

Where can I get recordings of the pieces on the concert?

First check to see if any of them are included in the recordings that accompany our text. Then you might try a public library. Main branches often have the largest collections of recordings. You could also purchase audio recordings. CDs are available from some retail shops and just about anything is available from one or another source on the web. Lots of great recordings are available for purchase at very low cost through services like Apple’s iTunes store. In some cases you may be able to find decent records on services such as

Will my grade be affected by poor grammar or spelling? 

College-level writing is expected, and I expect your report to be the product of multiple drafts and careful proofreading and editing.

I do not lower report grades for occasional minor spelling and grammar errors, although I may mark them to bring them to your attention. However, excessive errors and sloppiness suggesting insufficient or ineffective proofreading and or a slapdash, list-minute effort will affect your grade, and in serious cases the grade penalty can be significant. Papers that appear to have not been carefully edited may earn no higher than a C grade, regardless of the quality of the content.

I can help you with writing issues if you bring a draft copy of your report to me sufficiently in advance of the due date.

Always use the spell-checker in your word processor program. However, don’t just automatically accept its suggestions. The spell-checker is sometimes wrong, especially with names and musical terms. Failing to make use of your spell-checker will lower your grade – I will know when I see excessive spelling errors that the spell-checker would easily catch.

Why can’t I report on pop, rock, jazz, hip hop, country western, drum and bugle corps, reggae, Broadway musicals, lounge acts, street musicians, etc? Do you have a problem with this kind of music or something?

I think that virtually any kind of music can be great (or less-than-great). I have several reasons for limiting the types of concerts you can report on. I want you to experience different music than that which you probably experience in your day-to-day life. One way to do this is to “encourage” you to go to a performance of music that is different from what you usually listen to. I also want the report to be an opportunity to apply the knowledge gained in this course. Some other kinds of music also may not work with the concert report format that I use.

In addition, some of these other kinds of music are the subjects of other version of Music 1 — we have versions that focus on jazz, popular music, world music, and so forth.

Finally, wouldn’t you rather go enjoy these other kinds of music, instead of having to write a report on them!? (If you really feel strongly about attending and reporting on a concert that is not on my list, please talk to me about it. I have made exceptions in the past when a student offered a compelling reason.)

I am having problems writing the report. I’m not sure how to write about something, and I don’t know if I’m on the right track. Can I get help?


Start asking me for help and feedback as early as possible. Bring complete or partial early drafts to an office hour well before the deadline for the report. I’ll go over it with you, answer questions, reassure when the work is on the right track, show you places where there mighty be problems, and work with you to improve the paper.

I turned in my report and I earned a low grade because of problems in the paper. My I re-write the report and resubmit it for a higher grade.


As described above, I encourage you to come in for help, advice, feedback before the paper is due and while there is time to improve it before the deadline. However, your grade on the paper is based on my evaluation of the paper you submitted as your best work at the deadline. Once you submit your final paper on the due date, that is the paper that I grade. However, the next question may be relevant…

Since you won’t let me re-write my paper for a higher grade after the deadline, what can I do if I get a low grade?

You may chose to do the optional second concert report. You may apply lessons learned from the first paper, attend a second concert from my list, and turn in an improved second report. Your final overall concert report grade for the class will be a weighted average of the two grades, and if your grade is higher on the second report I give it twice as much weight as the first report! (If the second report grade is lower you will still retain your grade on the first report.)

I still have more questions. What should I do?

Ask for help right away! My office phone number and office hours are listed in your green sheet. Often the answer to your question is quite straightforward, but you must ask.

As someone once said, “The only dumb question is the question you don’t ask!” I promise that I’ll treat all questions seriously and with respect.

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Contact Info: Dan Mitchell

Office Hours

Monday & Wednesday
Room A11:
15 minutes before Music 1A
10 minutes after Music 1A
Room A91:
15 minutes before Music 51
10 minutes after Music 51
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