Music Extended Essay

Groups of fast musical notes with a large legato arch over them on a music sheet, as part of a classical piece

If there’s anything more annoying than not getting enough sleep during IB, it’s the multitude of questions that plague a HL Music + EE student. What do you do for your EE? Is it hard? Do you like COMPOSE a piece for your EE?? DO YOU PLAY PIANO FOR YOUR EE???

People, it’s an Extended ESSAY for crying out loud!

With this short post I hope to dispel as many myths as I can, as well as to guide all prospective IB students who are considering this highly exclusive choice of Extended Essay.

Some background information…

Exclusive? Indeed. On average, the number of Music EE students remains low, at about 2-4 per cohort. There was a spike in the Year 6 class of 2015, with a total of 9 EE students. Why the spike? I haven’t a clue… It must be that this batch of IB students are more musical than ever before! (Possibly more courageous and hardworking too?)

What are the pre-requisites to take this EE?

To be honest, none! You don’t even need to take HL Music to offer this EE subject. However, this is merely on paper. It is highly recommended that you have reasonable prior knowledge and instruction of music (MEP, O level music, NAFA, ABRSM etc.) before you undertake this EE, as you will soon see. A grade 5 in theory isn’t barely enough to do well… Typically, most HL Music students that I know actually do a Music EE as well, however there are always those that don’t.

Most importantly, and this is my personal opinion, you must have a genuine interest in the subject. You must be willing to commit to such a project because the research you undertake will be extensive. But fear not – with the passion for music AND for the topic you choose, your EE journey is already half complete!

What is the commitment level like?

I hope I’m not expected to give a number out of 10… I would say it really varies on the individual. As previously mentioned this EE requires a moderate theoretical and historical background of music, for example, the four periods of Classical Music (the composers, their works and general features of music in that period), and perhaps even other World Music genres. So naturally students who have a strong grasp of musical concepts (harmony, melody, texture, instrumentation, tone colour etc.) will find themselves more comfortable handling this EE. That is to say, no EE is ever easy.

What kind of topic will I get to choose?

There are two main parts to choosing a topic: interest and feasibility. Your Music EE topic has to be something that really interests you, and that you feel has potential for analysis and research. As a pianist and a singer, my interests lie in both the voice and keyboard as instruments, thus my search for a topic landed upon Schubert’s lieder (a genre which encompasses both these instruments). Such a genre has a large scope for discussion, and truly needs to be narrowed down.

Next, I can’t stress enough how important feasibility is for this EE. You might be passionate about how Carly Rae Jepson achieved worldwide fame from her one hit wonder “Call Me Maybe”, but if there’s really no palpable research you can do, please don’t do it. There must be sufficient depth in your analysis in order for your EE to work and for your arguments to be convincing. The ultimate goal is to find something in between that you both like, and are able (within your means) to carry out. However, you should be aware that certain composers are often overused (Mozart, Beethoven, Bach to name a few), so be selective over which composer and work you choose. A broad topic with a relatively obscure composer OR a narrow topic with a more ‘popular’ composer are possible choices!

Finally, the EE itself…

The content of the music EE has to focus on a MUSICAL aspect of a certain piece, or pieces, of music. You cannot do a historical account of Jazz music from the 1920s in New Orleans, for example. What this means is, your research question must have the MUSIC itself at the centre and not the CONTEXT of the piece. Of course, it is important to give a little context of the piece you will be analysing (in your introduction) to put the music into perspective, but ensure you have strong MUSICAL talking points. You might compare two different works from the same composer and track the evolution of his style, you could compare two different composers and see how they are similar or maybe even argue the possible influences that a certain tradition or composer might have had on another composer’s music.

The format of the Music EE roughly follows that of a typical EE:

Introduction (where you address the background of the composer/piece, RQ, scope of research)

Body (Several chapters addressing different musical elements of the piece. This is where your research comes in!)

Conclusion (Attempt to answer your RQ, and round up your arguments)


What are the keys to doing well for Music EE? (and common pitfalls)

If you are already considering this fabulous EE subject choice, then here are some tips here that apply to ALL EEs as well as music! Most of them are from my own experience as a chronic procrastinator and

  1. Finalise your topic and RQ early. Again, I can’t stress this enough. Nearly all the problems with an EE lie in an inappropriate topic that has little to no direction, is not focused enough or simply doesn’t focus on the MUSIC of a certain piece. The key here is to have a VERY clear outline of your EE (with all the main arguments and sub points, with musical examples)
  2. Badger and consult your supervisor endlessly. Not only will this aid with the crystallizing of a good RQ, but you wouldn’t want to finish 2000 words only to have half of it rejected because it does not address the RQ. Quite often as we write, we subconsciously get carried away and drift further from the RQ, or maybe we start to lose direction halfway. The initial stages of writing can be tedious and naturally more guidance is needed, but toward the end we’ve found that it gets easier and faster, because we become used to the style of writing and expression. It gets better guys!
  3. Go to the library. Know your resources. I disagree with people who say that everything is online now, because truly, all the gold can be found in the books. Have varied sources too! Consult JSTOR for scholarly articles, and Grove Music encyclopaedias for definitions!
  4. Get a good quality sound recording of your piece/pieces. You will be listening to your music so much you’ll eventually get sick of it, but it’s absolutely necessary… You can even cite it in your biblio!
  5. Be VERY organised during your research process. If you’re considering using JSTOR, have a research log that catalogues the search terms you used, on which day you retrieved them, and other citation information so doing up your biblio doesn’t become a pain (do not use an automated biblio website! If you want it to be presentable, it must be done manually )
  6. Photocopy your printed sources AND scores so you can highlight them, make notes on them, annotate and analyse them comprehensively. Use colours effectively to group certain points together, because these notes are yours and it’s your job to make them effective!

Like Ruth from B&M, I have also decided to leave my email address here if you wish to contact me with questions about the Music EE! No spam please!

To all Year Fives, all the best! #TBIYTB

P.S. If anyone asks me again what I do for music EE, I swear…

Enzo is from the graduating batch of 2014.

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