A Guide to Writing Programme Notes

Updated on June 12, 2018
HamishHutson-Hill profile image

Hamish J Hutson-Hill holds an LRSM Level 6 Diploma in Music Performance and has studied composition in various courses in the UK North West.

What Must Be Stated in a Programme Note?

There is one chief mission that must be accomplished in a program note. This is providing background. An audience often likes to read a bit about the programme outside of the introduction you give at the start of your performance, if you decide to give one. An audience likes accurate, easy to understand information about the composer; intentions, inspirations and their life at the time of writing the piece. Successful programme notes should be detailed and informative with occasional personal insights that add interest and character to the piece of writing.

Essays on Music
Essays on Music | Source

Programme Notes for Exam Purposes

A candidate for an exam such as a DipABRSM needs to include in their writing the following for each piece they play:

  • A paragraph dedicated to the composer; the reasons for writing the piece, who it was written for and when
  • A paragraph per movement detailing the form, texture, tonality, general melodic contour (the moods associated with it), how the instruments have been written to suit their capabilities and how they work together as an ensemble, if the piece is accompanied.

Programme notes should not be in first person, have grammatical errors or use of slang. It is a good idea to ask relatives or tutors to read through the programme notes, as they can tell you if they found it informative, interesting and easy to comprehend. For examinations, certain uses of technical language are required, however terms must either be explained or logical enough that non-musicians can inference their meanings. Overly complicated terminology is not recommended, e.g quavers/semiquavers as for ease of understanding can be described as fast/slow melodic passages instead. Terms such as exposition, modulation and tertiary are acceptable.

Remember, programme notes, whether for exams or concerts, must sound professional, informative and easy to read.

In an Exam, What Should Be in a Programme Note Rather Than Spoken?

A programme note is meant to be a general overview. In an exam, most details should come from speaking with the examiners, being as explicit and accurate as you can. Programme notes should only include brief mentions of facts, for example, this is good:

  • "Poulenc was a member of the school of modernist French composers known as 'Les Six'."

And this is not good:

  • "Poulenc, Milhaud, Honegger, Auric and Tailleferre together formed a group known as 'Les Six', which was a school of modernist composers active in the 20th century. 'Les Six' translates from French in to 'The Six' and is pronounced 'Ley Seece' in the standard Parisian dialect."

As you can see, the second one is overly informative and patronising, leading to deviation of the topic and becomes harder to read (disconnecting the audience from engaging to the writing style) hence rendering the writing boring.

Mention of other members of 'Les Six' should be reserved for the conversation with the examiners, where a good knowledge of related repertoire by composers within the group (i.e pieces written for the same instrument) is highly recommended to achieve a satisfactory mark for this section.

Programme Notes for Non-Exam Purposes

For a less judged event such as a concert, programme notes do not have to follow such a rigid structure, although it is advisable to use this as a basis to keep in mind what constitutes concise, easy to understand programme notes.

For an exam, programme notes must be of a certain word count. This is not necessary for a concert occasion. General trivia in a non-examined programme note is acceptable:

"Brahms was a very humorous person, who had a love of practical jokes. One time, he met up with some friends he had not seen in a while and since seeing them last had grown a beard. His friends had no idea who he was and so he proceeded to introduce himself as 'Herr Muller', to which his friends suddenly realised it was him and came to find his antics highly amusing"

This can be considered appropriate in a concert environment, as it provides the audience with appreciated humour, giving an added aspect of entertainment to the piece. This ought not be done constantly throughout, but on occasion where the writing might otherwise become boring.

I Hope This Article Helps!

It can be hard to find easy to access information on how to write good programme notes. This article has been written with the intention to provide a clearer understanding of what good programme notes should comprise of, for those who may be new to this style of writing. For any questions, or if you have programme notes for which you would like constructive criticism, please comment.

© 2018 HamishHutson-Hill


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, spinditty.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)