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Hey all,


I am an IB Junior this year (In the US), so this is my first year in DP. This is also the first year that my school is offering IB Music SL. It's pretty sweet, but because my school administration is the worst administration on the planet, we can only actually meet once a week during lunch. :| Because of that we're not allowed to choose what we wanna do for our IA. I really wanted to do composition, but there's not gonna be enough teaching hours so we have to do solo performance. 



Bottom line, anyone have any tips for how to do good in IB Music, especially since we're not gonna be able to actually go to the class except for once  a week? Any good music theory books that will help me prep for exams? I play the violin by the way.



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I am so sorry that your administration is doing this to you. That is practically a crime against humanity. There are a couple of things that have been really helping me out this year in IB Music SL and that has been knowing all of my scales, arpeggios, and broken/stepwise thirds and having a solid background in piano. I'm a saxophonist who has had scales/arpeggios/thirds drilled into me since freshman year (senior year now) especially through jazz (ii-V-I chord progressions are everything). The main thing is know your scales. I cannot emphasize enough how vital scales are. The people in my class who are struggling are kids that don't know their scales backwards, forwards, and in all three minors. Arpeggios, thirds, piano, and jazz theory are nice bonuses if you have the time, but if you don't, then you must at least do scales. If you do have some time for jazz theory, get the Abersold ii-V-I book. It has that chord progression in every key and is the reason I can make chords without even thinking about it. But that's a nice extra. Scales first. You can do this.

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I definitely feel your pain. I am a senior in the diploma programme, doing IB Music SL. I have music performance every day (I play viola in my school's orchestra) but my IB music class only meets once every other Tuesday, after school, from 2:30 to 3:00 p.m. I can only give you tips from my own experience, at my own school, but hopefully you will find it useful. The areas where students at my school are usually weak are the external assessment written papers and the musical links investigation. Our performance assessments always do well. So what you need to focus on is being able to analyze music and write about it. To do this, you need to know some music theory. Ideally, you should have taken (or should take) a music theory course, if your school offers it. I didn't, and I regret it. I have tried to absorb as much music theory as possible from my teacher, my friends, and the internet. In addition to this, you need to listen to music as often as possible. Music of all genres. Exposing yourself to music and becoming familiar with different styles will be a great help. And practice writing about music. Learn to use musical terminology. I tend to think of writing music essays as similar to writing literature essays; don't just tell the reader what happens in the music, but what purpose these musical events serve. Why did the composer/musician choose these techniques? What do they do for the music? And honestly, just give it your best shot. I've done well enough through last year and this year, and I'm sure you will do fine as well.

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Alright, so I did Music (HL, which is both composition and performance) and did fairly well (most likely a 7). Here is what I suggest for each section:


Composition (if you're doing it):


  • Write to the markscheme. For instance, add bowing marks appropriately to violin parts, stacatto on piano, and appropriate techniques for all other instruments. The composition is, to some extent, showing off how well you know how all the instruments are used.
  • I recommend using Finale or Sibelius for non-electronic music. Your school should be able to provide you with a copy of one of those two. If not, MuseScore and Finale Notepad are good alternatives. Don't pay for Finale or Sibelius if you can't get a copy, they're not massively better than the free alternatives.
  • For electronic music, FL Studio, Cubase, Reaper (with Anvil as a midi editor), Reason, etc. are all good choices. You will have to pay for them; there are very little good free DAW's out there (or so I hear -- I don't actually do electronic music myself, I just asked a friend of mine).
  • If you have spare time, remake your sheet music using Lilypond. If you do this, you'll definitely get 100% on the notation part of the markscheme. 
  • For electronic music, don't stick to presets. The reflection is massively important here - you'll want to talk about the specific sounds you made and what settings (ADSR envelope, resonance, etc.) you used to achieve those effects; and what purpose that particular sound serves in your composition.
  • For standard compositions, I'd recommend sticking to one of the traditional forms (sonata, etc.) as a framework for your composition. Particularly if you're using a string quartet or something, it's easier just following one of the preexisting structures. For the reflection, I like making the music programmatic because it's easier to write a reflection with programmatic music (e.g. "I used arpeggios in the bass to represent the flowing water). 
  • For arrangements, if it's a piece with very little instruments, expand the piece to a full orchestra or some other large ensemble. If it's a piece with a lot of instruments, reduce the piece to a smaller set. Expanding it is more impressive, and I'd recommend expanding. If you're doing this, it's extremely helpful finding some experienced musicians who play the (violin, cello, viola, trumpet), etc. and ask them about their instrument and what kind of things they play in an orchestra. The arrangement is testing your knowledge of how to use the instruments.
  • For improvisation, it's more of a thing that you can do already if you're experienced enough. I wouldn't recommend doing this if you're not already confident you can. If you're set on doing it though, please don't stick to the same chords for the whole thing. At the very least, put a minor section in the middle or something. 
  • For stylistic techniques, don't do it. Stylistic techniques will suck out your soul.
  • Don't half-ass the reflection, it's a fifth of the mark. The reflection should include: your aim for the composition, what musical techniques you used in that aim, evaluation of those musical techniques, and what the experience of writing a composition has developed in you musically.


Performance (if you're doing it):

  • Keep the type of music you play varied. Try to explore a variety of genres (ancient, renaissance, baroque, classical, romantic, 20th century, jazz, swing, bebop, rock, pop, avant-garde, etc.) in your music. You will get marked down if you play almost entirely baroque, for instance.
  • You get to choose the order the examiner will listen to your pieces in. I recommend placing your best pieces last (to make a lasting impression on the examiner), and try to hide the weaker ones in the middle.
  • It's more important to play something slightly simpler with no mistakes then to play something complex with mistakes.
  • If possible, get a good recording environment. It'll make the timbre of your instrument sound nicer in the recording.
  • Do not use prerecorded accompaniment, it should be live. Even no accompaniment is sometimes better than a prerecorded one.
  • Stick to your best instrument. The IB won't mark you down for only using one instrument. Of course, if you're equally good in multiple instruments, then you change it up.


Exam Portion:

  • Immediately get a copy of the sheet music of both set works and get them binded. Then get a recording of both set works as well. Then do a score read. You do not get a recording of the music in the exam, so you should score read regularly to develop a 'visual ear' -- being able to realise what a part of the sheet music sounds like exactly even without the recording.
  • Annotate your copy with various musical devices you find. If it's a programmatic piece (e.g. An American in Paris) you will definitely try to see what aspect of Paris the musical device might be trying to invoke. Finding scholarly articles on these types of things may be a good idea. 
  • If it's a programmatic piece, they will usually ask a question revolving around the programmatic nature of the piece. So focus on that a lot - what parts of An American in Paris represent what parts of Paris. Maybe repetition of some motif is the walk of people on the streets, or a sudden burst of trumpets is the call of a stall owner trying to sell his wares (note: I have not listened to An American in Paris, so this is just speculation). But definitely look up the 'story' of An American in Paris and see what parts of the music correspond to what parts of the story.
  • They will also often ask questions revolving around the context of the set works. For instance, the Petite messe solennelle is a sacred work set on sacred text. It is a mass. I find it likely the IB would ask a question about how the Petite messe solennelle is a mass (or more specifically, they may ask a question on a specific aspect of a mass, e.g. the sacred text dictating the form of the movement). 
  • The Section B (unseen) cannot be prepared for so easily. However, there are some common things that the IB often do. Typically, they will have a vocal piece (often sacred), so you should familiarise yourself with the Gregorian Chant, Madrigal, Mass, art song, etc., the features of each of these things (e.g. Gregoriant Chant often has a drone harmony, art song usually consists of piano and voice that are both equally important, etc.). They will also have either world music, or rock/jazz. World music is difficult to prepare for. I'd recommend getting familiar with some Chinese / Japanese / Korean music (in particular, note the pentatonic scale), and Celtic music (instruments, melody). For rock/jazz, you can look at swing, bebop, big bands, scat, etc. More recently, the IB have been giving fusion pieces (In the 2014 Novemember exam, a fusion of Indian folk music and rock). You'll have to be prepared for this -- I made reference to the traditional Indian singing style and use of the traditional Indian instruments, but also noted the 4/4 time signature and use of electric guitar and synthesiser. In general, for the context marks (what is this piece?) you need to identify relevant musical devices and explain why that indicates that the piece is from this era or this culture.
  • Also try to familiarise yourself with some musical terms. You should be able to find lists of them online.
  • The important distinction between a music essay and a literature essay is that you are not required to interpret beyond a context sense. In a literature essay, you have to argue the purpose of the work. You do not need to do this in a music essay - in a music essay you can simply say that there is repetition of a motif in e minor with arpeggios in the bass and a drone accompaniment (or whatever the piece actually is), without having to argue about why the composer would do this. The only exception is the context - you cannot simply say a piece is a bebop piece (for instance), you'd have to point out the musical devices used (e.g. "at 0:24 you can hear a 'bomb' in the snare drum - a sudden, unexpected hit - which is indicative of bebop music") that show that it is bebop.

Musical Investigation:


  • The hardest part of this is finding the pieces in the first place. Two strong musical links from two distinct cultures isn't the easiest thing to do.
  • Once you find the two strong musical links it should be easier to write the actual investigation. I recommend not bothering about format at this point of the investigation; you will format it properly after you have finished writing it.
  • When picking pieces, you cannot use a piece that is in itself a fusion of two different cultures. For instance, you cannot compare some of the Beatles' Indian-inspired works and actual Indian music.
  • In general, by listening to lots of different types of music when preparing for Section B, you should be able to draw on that knowledge of what you have listened to to find the two pieces for the Musical Investigation.
  • After you have finished, I highly recommend formatting it in a magazine article. To do this, I used the free trial of Adobe Indesign. Other options include a web page or a radio interview

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To answer the specific questions:

Can any one give any tips for Roman Numeral Analysis in the specific finding wither it major,minor and diminished so on?

First of all, uppercase is major, lowercase is minor. Diminished usually has a little circle as a diacritic. Typically I will be the root position of the scale (so if the piece is in C major, I is C major, and if the piece is in C minor, i is C minor). If it's a major piece, you know that the only minors in there are ii, iii, and vi, the only diminished is vii(dim), and the rest are major. If it's a minor piece, you know the majors are III, VI, and VII, and the minors are i, iv, v, and the diminished are ii, and vii. 
Most likely you won't need roman numeral analysis unless you get rock/pop in your final, which in that case you can identify the progression. I'd recommend familiarising yourself with the basic progressions and how they sound (I V vi IV, I IV V, etc.) If you recognise one you can just write down what the progression is.

Also does anyone have knowledge of resources for Music IB besides musictheory.net ?

I've heard good things about the book Music: An Appreciation by Roger Kamien. Other then that, I don't know about any other online resources.

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Thank but my original Investigation is Mariachi and Italian cantata. I afraid that i can't link them, as an IB MUSIC 1-2 with your opinion would i be able to make a good Investigation of the two.

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