Writing about music: tips and suggestions in Holoman’s book

Are you writing a paper and don’t know how to quote a symphony by Brahms? Have you doubts on how to cite a direction for dynamic nuance? Should it be Arlequin from “Carnaval” or “Arlequin” from Carnaval? Rachmaninov, Rachmaninoff or Rakhmaninov? Lyons or Lyon?


These are just a few of the questions that students bump into when they start writing papers, but no panic! Come and visit the Pendlebury Library to consult the just published third edition of Writing about music: a style sheet by D. Kern Holoman (Pen Rb.816.19B.H), a revised and handy-format book conceived, in the wake of The Chicago Manual of Style, for authors, students, editors and anyone who deals with music on a daily basis.

(Rule of thumb for students: if you have been given precise instructions by your Faculty or Department, follow them, even if they conflict with what is suggested in this book. In some cases more than one option is possible, but it’s important you choose the option you have been recommended!)

The book is subdivided into eight chapters and is equipped with several examples that clarify each topic. The first chapter dwells in particular on works’ titles, giving examples of generic titles, titles assigned by composers, popular names for works, and how to reference an extract; the correct form of a composer’s name, pitch names and dynamics are discussed as well. Other general topics such as special characters, musical symbols, dates, abbreviations, and capitalization find room in the second chapter.


© Pendlebury Library

Chapter three gives a detailed case study on how to cite different sources “first, to give appropriate credit to research and critical work done by others and, second, to refer the reader to material for further consultation” (p. 51). Examples are given of articles from The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, journal articles, articles taken from collections of essays, books, digital media (with some templates for blogs, Facebook and Twitter), and video recording resources. Suitable citation references are given for use both in notes and bibliographies.

There is not just one way to write a note or draw up a bibliography. There are many possibilities, all equally correct, depending on the context. At the same time there are some completely wrong ways to write it. After reading chapter three you should be aware of the rules to compile a consistent bibliography and in which sequence to show the data.

Another sore point: musical examples. Sometimes you need to accompany the text with musical examples, but where do you start? Do tables and illustrations keep you awake at night? Holoman gives some important recommendations for the proper DIY preparation of such materials and for reducing the time-consuming task.

A page of Deryck Cooke’s own copy of his programme note for Delius’s A Mass of Life – re-written for use in a talk or lecture.

A page of Deryck Cooke’s own copy of his programme note for Delius’s A Mass of Life – re-written for use in a talk or lecture.

Chapter six presents a comprehensive record of cases that’ll help you in writing a concert programme, along with suggestions and tips on how to compile reviews (be ready, sooner or later you’ll be asked to review a concert. Don’t get caught unawares!).

The penultimate chapter explains the requirements for submitting manuscripts or electronic files, and avoiding typos. The author underlines the importance to plan the job in advance, “choose one method for handling each convention […] and stick to it” (p. 109).

Holoman concludes the book with best practice for student writers, a sort of rulebook of what is best to do, and a problem words and sample style sheet.

Still having doubts? Maybe this book can help you!


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