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Program Notes

Guide for Writing Program Notes

What are Program Notes?

The goal is to increase the audience's understanding and enjoyment of the music preformed. Program notes should be well researched.  Consult standard reference works to provide a clear summary of the piece. Include some interesting items, such as a dedication or review to show how the work was received at the piece's premiere. Consider the audience and their level of understanding. For example, for a very young audience avoid advanced theoretical analysis and technical language.


While program notes are intended to give the audience a sense of the composition's history and its place in the history of music, you can shape your program notes to have a larger point or tell your audience what you want them to get from your performance. This is your chance to educate and inform your audience, so make the most of it!

Questions to Consider

Unsure how to get started? Compile a list of questions:

  • Who wrote the composition?
  • What is the composition? What genre is it? 
  • Where was the composition first performed?
  • Why was it composed? Why was it premiered when and where it was?
  • How was it composed? 
  • How does the piece relate to 
    • Other compositions of the same genre?
    • Compositions from the same time period?
    • Compositions by the same composer?
  • Add your own questions!

Your program notes do not need to answer ALL of these questions. These are starting points for your research and for crafting a clear point or narrative for your program notes.


Here's a quick guide to things to include and avoid:

Include Avoid
Circumstances of composition Personal anecdotes
First performance Criticism
Historical context Footnotes and bibliography
Musical style Over-emoting

Musical examples

Things to listen for Technical terminology