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History of a Musical Instrument

Pick an instrument from a musical culture other than Western classical or commercial music. Discuss the history and construction of the instrument.

You might consider some of the following questions:

Does the instrument have predecessors? If so, in what ways does it differ from them? Is the instrument used in more than one genre or musical tradition? What part does the instrument play the musical traditions it is used in? What effect has it had on those musical traditions?

Find a recording (from a CD or reliable internet source like Naxos, Smithsonian Global Sound, or iTunes) that features this instrument prominently, and analyze it. Is the piece credited to a composer? If so, who is it? Describe the timbre of the instrument. What is the function of the piece? Which other instruments do you hear, and how does your chosen instrument interact with them (is it the main instrument, or does it have an accompanying role?)? What is the form of the piece? Discuss the musical parameters (meter, texture, dynamics, tempo, rhythms, melody, and various timbres) that you hear using terms from class. For more guidance on analysis, see the document “Musical Terminology,” and section II “Talking About Music” in the Term Paper Writing Guide.

Place the recording in the broader context that you are writing about.

You can write about any traditional non-Western instrument you have an interest in; past papers on instruments have included: mbira, tabla, tonbak, mridangam, hurdy gurdy, saz, koto, ud, kayagum, xiao, and veena.


(see the document “Musical Terminology,” and section II “Talking About Music” in the Term Paper Writing Guide to help with this). 


Use at least four scholarly sources.

See Section I of the Term Paper Writing Guide for a more detailed description of sources, but possible starting sources (available through Ryerson’s library) include:

Grove Music Online (part of Oxford Music Online, focused on world musics)

The Garland Encyclopedia of Music (in-library, on reserve, and available online in a limited way for Ryerson Library’s access to Alexander Street).

Other sources may be found through electronic databases like JSTOR and the Music Index, where you can search for music articles in journals such as EthnomusicologyJournal of Music TheoryAsian MusicEarly MusicThe Galpin Society Journal, and the Journal of the American Musicological Society (JAMS). In addition, JSTOR also features entire e-books on relevant subjects.

For recordings, try CDs from Ryerson’s library, or one of Toronto’s public libraries; online services like Smithsonian Global Sound (part of Alexander Street) and Naxos Recordings are accessible through the Ryerson library website. Use of YouTube is strongly discouraged because, like Wikipedia, there is often no way to verify the accuracy of the information, particularly with unfamiliar musical genres. Recordings discussed in class, in readings, or listed on your listening lists are not permitted for discussion in your paper.

Students are expected to use reference materials in, or available through, the library (books, journals, music encyclopedias, on-line data bases, recordings). General interest websites will not be considered valid sources, as it is difficult to determine their validity. Wikipedia is invalid for the same reason. Encyclopedia Britannica, and other high school-level encyclopedia are not to be used; while the information found in them may be correct, it is often simplified to a level below university standards.

Students should use a minimum of four scholarly sources in addition to recordings, and must cite all directly or indirectly quoted and paraphrased material, including the professor’s notes or lectures (If you are unsure what constitutes a scholarly source, see:

Book reviews, even those found in scholarly journals, are not generally substantial enough to be included among your four scholarly sources. The textbook and class notes will not be counted among the four required written scholarly sources. In addition, no more than two of these sources can be from Oxford Music Online and The Garland Encyclopedia of Music.

Bibliographic, and Citation Requirements

Papers with citations, bibliographies, and discographies that do not follow the Chicago formatting for music will lose up to 10% (see Section III “In-Text Citation, Proper Bibliographic Formatting, and Sample Reference Page and Discography” of the Term Paper Writing Guide for specifics). Bibliographies and discographies must be single-spaced, with second and subsequent lines of each entry indented and all punctuation in the correct place. For this paper you must use the author-date-page format for in-text citations (again, Section III of the Term Paper Writing Guide). You may put your written references and discography on the same page, but make sure that your discography has a separate heading, as in the above-mentioned document. Be sure that that the entries in your reference page and discography are in alphabetical order (by author whenever possible), and free of spelling mistakes and other errors, as this part of the paper is worth a full 10% of the mark.

Papers that do not use the minimum four scholarly sources will lose 5% per missing source.

It is possible to lose a total of 30% of the paper grade with a combination of no peer-reviewed sources and an incorrectly formatted reference page or citations. Please use valid sources, and take care in all of your citation practices.

Late papers will be penalized at a rate of 5% per business day for the first week after the due date, counted from midnight each day. An electronic copy must be submitted to the “Assignments” folder in the “Assessment” drop-down window on D2L. Exemptions from the penalty will only be granted with appropriate written documentation and in-person consultation with the professor within one week of the submission deadline.