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MUS111N: Writing Program Notes

What are program notes?

The program note is a standard element of a concert where contemporary or classical music is being performed. Program notes serve two purposes: to provide historical and background information on the piece and, if necessary, the composer, and to give the audience some sense of what to expect when listening to the work.


Tips for writing program notes

Here are some examples of program notes: 

Here are some guides for writing program notes: 

What goes into program notes

Basic Notes

  • Information about the concert and its performers: date, time, place, names, instruments or voice types
  • Information on the works being performed: composer, title (including opus or work numbers, keys, etc), movement names


Detailed Notes

Basic information  and a combinations of items below

  • Description of the work
  • Definition of terms
  • What should the audience listen for? 
  • Context of the work (in relation to the composer's life and works, in music history, in world history)
  • Translations of non-English vocals