How to Do the Reading for MUS 113

(Lady Reading, Gwen John, 1909-1911.)

First of all, let’s talk about why to do the reading.

Instructors assign reading so that everyone comes into the next class knowing the same information about the topic for the day. The reading assignments for this class are not all about music. Many of them are about the Big Picture: the social and historical context that led to the music, and which the music itself influenced. You should expect to apply the knowledge you have gained from the reading to the music we listen together, to your in-class writing assignments, to our class discussions, and to your final project.

So, how do you do the reading?

I don’t use a textbook in the class, which can be either a blessing or a curse. One big plus of textbooks is their visual design, with important points and summaries pulled out of the body of the text and highlighted for easy memorization.

Nevertheless, a lot of the readings for this class are from the popular press, which uses a similar formatting, with boldface type, pull quotes, and headings to divide and organize the text.

These strategies work with both textbook and article/chapter reading.

  • For every reading assignment, IF there are headings or pull quotes – phrases set off from the text in large fonts – read those first. This will give you a map to anticipate what you’re going to read in the body of the article or chapter.
  • If the reading assignment is from a standard textbook, read the chapter summary/conclusion at the end of the chapter first. It will state the chapter’s main ideas.  Keep these ideas in mind as you read, so you don’t get too hung up on all the details at first.
  • Take notes! Including questions you have, ideas for a paper, interesting ideas in the text, things you’d like to discuss further in class.
  • Think about how what you’re reading is similar to, contrasts with, contradicts, or resonates with what we’ve already read or talked about in class (you will find lots of resonances between readings).
  • RULE OF THUMB: For every hour spent in class, you should expect to do TWO hours of work (reading, listening, and writing) outside of class.
  • This blog post from a history professor is ostensibly about reading history textbooks, but his tips are very good, and can be applied to everything you will read in this class, too. I highly recommend it:

    “How to Study a History Textbook,”
    Jonathan Williams

Here’s a sample plan to get you through the week and help you feel prepared for each class. Like Jonathan Williams, I suggest that you do the reading three times–what he calls pre-reading, reading, and post-reading. This routine will help with your Reading Logs (downloadable here).

  • Friday: Pre-read/skim through all of the assigned reading for Tuesday and Thursday of the coming week. Start with the titles of the articles and/or chapters, and section headings or pull quotes if there are any, so you will have a sense of what topics will be covered.
  • Saturday: Read the text closely, in small sections (between section headings or chapter headings in a textbook, even by paragraph). Look up and define words you’re unfamiliar with. Summarize each section (or paragraph) into one sentence of your own words in your Reading Log.
  • Sunday: Continue your close reading if you didn’t finish it yesterday. Make a list of the main ideas in your Reading Log. Also, reread your notes from class/reading from the past week to see if there are any common ideas between the new material and what you’ve already studied. Jot down some questions that you have about the reading in your Reading Log.
  • Monday: Take a day off!
  • Tuesday: Read through your notes/Reading Log before class. You should feel like you are familiar with all the terms used, know what’s coming next, and have specific questions about any big ideas introduced. In class, ask questions in class about anything that’s still unclear.
  • Wednesday: Finish up any reading you didn’t do for Thursday’s class. Read through your notes taken in Tuesday’s class.
  • Thursday: Apply your new knowledge from the reading to assignments, activities, and music listened to in class!

Think of reading as an active activity rather than a passive one — you’re not just absorbing information; you are in a conversation with the author. You can ask the author questions in your Reading Log, argue with them, think of ways that their ideas might be true in some situations and false in others.

How to Take Notes

I HIGHLY recommend that you consider using the Cornell Strategy for taking notes. An explanation of this simple but effective system is here.

Manage your time

You have multiple assignments with multiple due dates across multiple classes. To be successful in all of them, here are some things I recommend:

  • Use a paper planner or calendar to write down all your due dates.
  • Start projects well before they’re due. Give yourself enough time to attempt the project, make mistakes, let your brain work out new solutions (usually 24-48 hours), create a new version, revise it, and double-check it. This is a lot, which means you should give yourself a 7-10 days for a big project (more if there’s research involved!).
  • Be aware of all your due dates for ALL your classes, not just this one. Chances are good that you will have exams, papers, or large assignments due at the same time in multiple courses.  The good news is that you will know about these dates ahead of time, and can plan accordingly.
  • Do a little bit of work every day rather than trying to do everything all at once before it’s due.
  • Take breaks! It’s better to work 30-50 minutes and take a 10-minute break than to force yourself to keep working for hours on end. Your brain needs time to process the information you’re cramming in there!

More resources

Here’s a great resource from UC Berkeley with tips for studying, managing time, and preparing for tests.

More ideas from Rasmussen College on how to study.

Tips for taking notes from a blog on college survival.

I highly recommend following Pens & Machine on tumblr. It’s written by a mechanical engineering student who has great tips for studying, organizing, and note-taking.

(Adapted from Dr. Jones’ Music Classes.)