How to Write a Classification Essay in Music

Writing guide
Posted on September 9, 2019

Whatever discipline or subject you study, you are likely to encounter classification essays at some point, be it in high school or in college. Teachers, professors and tutors like this sort of writing because it gives them a handy tool for evaluating whether their students have a developed ability to think analytically, categorize things based on their properties and sometimes draw unobvious conclusions from the data they have. In classification essays, you have to either put a predetermined set of things into a number of categories, or take such a set and classify everything that belongs to it (e.g., styles of music, musical instruments, composers, etc.).

Music opens up a particularly fruitful venue for this kind of work, as classification plays an extremely large role here. For example, students are supposed to be able to analyze musical pieces and put them into proper categories based on a number of factors: musical styles, instruments and equipment used, periods they belong to, etc. One can classify the styles themselves because authorities often disagree on how to do it, and there is always space for ambiguity. In other words, if you study music, you should be ready to deal with categories and classifications – and in this guide, you will find everything you need to write top-notch essays of this type.

How to Write a Classification Essay in Music – Preparing for the Task

1. Choose an Interesting and Workable Topic

No doubt, the choice of topic is one of the primary factors of the success of any essay, and you should use every ounce of freedom you have in this respect to improve your overall chances. You can do so by following a few simple rules:

  • Stick to what is interesting to you – writing a classification essay presupposes a great deal of research and analysis – you have to carefully study every item and firmly put it into this or that category. It is easier to do when you are genuinely interested in what you write about;
  • Prepare the list of categories, features that characterize them and principles of your categorization beforehand. Also, make sure you can offer examples of each category (if you classify a type of things in general) or can put every item you are offered into one of your categories (if you have to classify a pre-determined set of things);
  • Ask yourself how much you know about the topic you have chosen. If you have to clarify some of its aspects to be sure your classification is correct, make sure you have access to the necessary sources of information before you commit to writing about it;
  • Ask yourself if you are competent enough to write about the topic, even if you chose to work on something genuinely interesting. If it is too complicated for you, it may be a good idea to either choose a simpler topic or simplify your current one.

If you follow these principles, eventually you will end up with a viable topic. Here are some examples, so that you know what to look out for:

  • Classification of American Music Styles Based on their Relations with Racial and Cultural Groups;
  • Classification of Musical Instruments in Relation to Their Complexity;
  • Classifying Renaissance Composers by the Schools They Belonged to:
  • Classification of Modern Musical Styles Depending on Their Relations with Folklore Music;
  • Categorizing Today’s Professional Composers by Their Areas of Activity.

Do not fall into the trap of choosing a simplistic and boring topic just because writing about it does not require any effort. The result will be an essay boring to both you and your readers.

2. Do Your Research

Even if you seemingly know everything about the topic, do some digging around. See if you can unearth additional interesting facts that can influence your classification. You can find most of the information that you may need in online databases or through academic search engines (Google Scholar, Academic Search by EBSCO and Microsoft Academic are probably the most important ones). Just run a few searches using the keywords related to your topic, and then check the bibliographies of the texts you find for potential additional sources.

3. Brainstorm and Choose Your Categories

Whatever you categorize, there are always principles of categorization and main criteria to choose from. Try to tweak your choices to make sure you will be able to work with them. For example, you do not want to use a classification with too many categories – depending on your word count, 3 to 5 should be enough. Division into categories should be definite – if you find that your classification allows for some items to fall into more than one category, modify it until you eliminate any ambiguities. In addition, make sure the basis for your classification remains the same throughout.

4. Write an Outline

In an outline you will present the structure of your future essay and its contents in an abridged form. That is, you write down every part and segment of your essay along with the notes on what will go into it: how to start the introduction, what examples to mention, which sources to refer to and so on.
Overall, an outline of a classification essay looks similar to what you have seen in other types of writing; the only thing that is noticeably different is the structure of an average body paragraph:

  • Introduction:
    • Hook the audience (grab their attention and lead up to the topic);
    • Introduce the topic of the essay: say what you intend to classify and point out the criteria you will use;
  • Body paragraphs:
    • First category:
      • Its characteristic features, what makes it distinct;
      • What it has in common with other categories (if anything);
      • Examples;
    • Second category etc.
  • Conclusion:
    • Sum up what you have said up to this moment;
    • Draw a conclusion.

5. Prepare a Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is a sentence that contains the main idea of your essay in a condensed form. Your audience should understand what you intend to say even without reading the rest of the paper. For now, you write it for yourself, to clarify what you intend to write about and focus on the ideas that are crucial for driving your point home. However, you will have to use it in your essay proper, so make sure you write the full version of it from the get-go.

How to Write a Classification Essay in Music – Streamlining the Process

1. Compare and Contrast Your Categories

It is not enough to simply enumerate the categories and describe them. If you write your essay like this, it will look like a collection of isolated descriptions, not a work dedicated to a single purpose. To add cohesion to your essay, find ways to evaluate and analyze categories in connection with each other. Single out what makes some of them similar and what sets them apart. Optionally, you can choose one of your classification criteria as the main one and primarily analyze categories based on how they relate to it. For example, if you classify types of rock music, you can pay special attention to the use of percussion instruments in each style.

2. Give Detailed Descriptions of Each Category

It may be difficult to decide how much details you should provide about each category. Try this rule: consider your audience to be aware of the basics but explain anything that goes beyond this. If you have reasons to believe that most people do not know enough about the subject matter, give additional explanations (for example, if you mention some obscure musical instrument or style).

3. Use the Most Characteristic Examples

When you illustrate a category with examples, do not pick them randomly. Either use the most characteristic examples for a category, or pick something that suits a specific need. For instance, if you want to juxtapose two musical styles, you can pick their representatives that make for the most complete and detailed comparison between them. Whenever possible, use the same number of examples for each category.

4. Arrange Categories Meaningfully

The order in which you introduce categories is just as important as what you write about them. It may be helpful for your overall argument to refer to the previous items when you discuss the later ones. For example, when you discuss different musical styles you can mention that one of them evolved from the other, and you should have already discussed the earlier style by that point. You may also want to arrange the categories in some overarching pattern: for example, going from the least popular music styles to the most popular.
When analyzing the points of each item, try keeping to the same order: e.g., when talking about musical instruments, mention their origins, music styles they are used in and prominent musicians who played them, in this order.

5. Use Proper Transition Words and Phrases

Transition expressions are used to logically connect parts of an essay. These are the words and phrases like ‘consequently’, ‘therefore’, ‘thus’, ‘so’, ‘firstly’, etc. However, not all of them are usable in all situations, and when poorly chosen, they can even be detrimental for the overall coherence of your essay. When you introduce such a phrase, reread the previous sentence and the one you use it in to make sure it looks and reads naturally.

How to Write a Classification Essay in Music – Making Finishing Touches

Proofreading and editing a classification essay requires more or less the same approach as any other type of writing, but there are some specifics.

1. Check Your Essay for Consistency

Did you deviate from your original organizing principle anywhere? Did you leave any ambiguities as to which items go to which categories? Did you pay equal attention to each category? Did you connect parts of your essay to each other logically? It is easy to diverge from your original intentions as you write – so make sure you reread the essay carefully, as if you were seeing it for the first time.

2. Clarify Your Message

Go back to your thesis statement and refresh the main idea of the essay in your memory. Reread the essay with it in mind and ask yourself whether everything you have written is necessary to prove your point and is related to the original topic of your paper. Have you added something simply because you wanted to show off your knowledge? Have you gone too deep into details? Remove everything that is not directly connected to the main idea.

3. Simplify

Almost any thought can be expressed using fewer and simpler words. See if you use overly long sentences and words. Break them apart, replace complex words with shorter and simpler alternatives. Students often believe that big words and compound multi-clause sentences make their writing more sophisticated and persuasive. In reality, professors prefer complex thoughts expressed via simple writing, not vice versa.

4. Proofread the Essay

Many students believe there is no need for a specific step dedicated to proofreading, as Microsoft Word and other word processors underline all grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes anyway. However, their effectiveness in this regard is grossly overestimated. MS Word only notices the most obvious mistakes and does not consider the context and topic of the text (e.g., it does not see anything out of the ordinary in expressions like “the United States”). Specialized proofreading tools like Grammarly or Pro Writing Aid are a little bit better, but both still either fail to see many mistakes or see them where everything is all right. So, proofread your texts manually, ask friends to do it for you or, better yet, hire an expert.

Writing a classification essay may seem like a lot of hassle to the one who is not used to this sort of work, but if you have a detailed guide to refer to, there is nothing to be afraid of. Whenever you encounter a difficulty, simply take a look at this manual and follow our instructions. We are sure you will be able to successfully complete any task!

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