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Recital Diploma – Programme Notes

Within the numerous Trinity music exams there are several which require Programme Notes:

  • ATCL (400 – 700 words)
  • LTCL (800 – 1100 words)
  • FTCL (1200 – 1600 words)

Why does Trinity expect you to go to the trouble of submitting these and what does each exam require?

Why give your audience a sneak preview?

Audiences like to be impressed and setting out the thinking behind your programme and your investigation into the pieces adds another dimension to the audience’s expectations of your performance – no bad thing if you approach this task with diligence and in pursuit of enlightenment and enrichment.

Let’s look at your approach to the research for your Programme Notes.

Having chosen the pieces you are going to play in your recital (Balance of Programme Content and Timings are covered in another blog post), it’s now time to think both about the bigger picture and the more intimate details.

The themes of context, structure and musical substance will apply to all the pieces you are playing/singing.  Areas within these topics may be:

  • Context – this is the ‘who, where, why, what, when’ element relating to the composer and the composition. You may want to address the musical conventions and developments of the day and the historical performance practices depending on the level of qualification you are taking;
  • Structure – ternary form, sonata form, rondo, fugue are a few examples;
  • Musical elements – keys, figuration, ornamentation, recurring themes, word painting, personification – again, just a few examples of what you might like to consider.

If you limit the learning process of your pieces to your own practice and teacher modelling, you will be missing out on different perspectives. LISTEN to:

  • Recordings and performances of your chosen pieces by different artists;
  • Other works by the same composers;
  • Other works of the periods.

Personal input into your Programme Notes is especially welcome, it may be helpful to think about what you’d like to know, if you were listening to music in a performance. Think of it as a bit like a map; you’re about to take your audience on a journey through your concert programme, these notes are a way to describe a little more of the detail around the picture you’ll be painting.


When it comes to finding the information you require, the sources available in today’s internet age are extraordinary.  A word of warning though, it’s as easy for an examiner to type text into an internet search engine as it is you, so ‘cutting and pasting’ is really not advisable.  Below, the topic of ‘plagiarism’ is addressed.

Good sources are:

  • Libraries – head straight to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
  • CD sleeve notes – if the performance is by a well-known artist, these are likely to be well written
  • Online – look for reliable sources such as those from educational establishments
  • Other concert programmes – especially if the performance has taken place in a reputable venue
  • Introductions in your scores – many scores have introductory material although this can be too overly analytical for the purposes of Programme Notes

So, you can easily see why writing Programme Notes will be helpful to your performance:

  • You gain historical, analytical and interpretative context for your pieces;
  • You relate the works to other repertoire, finding connections and contrasts in areas such as mood, colour and key;
  • You develop musical language skills by reading others’ words and thus increase your ability to write fluently and perceptively about your pieces;
  • Your capacity to express and articulate your reactions to and feelings about the music will also evolve.

And, you can easily see why copying someone else’s work will not give you anything in return.  Plagiarism is the theft of the words and ideas of others by portraying them as your own.  This is not to say you cannot use quotations and short extracts from other sources but you MUST credit the author and cite the source.

Once you have decided the contents of your notes, it’s time to think about how to present them.

In the same way you want to look good on stage, the appearance of the Programme Notes should support this.  Although Trinity prescribes no other requirement than the printed programme look professional, being creative with format in order to communicate the information is something to explore.

  • Trinity recommends a document of A5 dimensions: several loose leaves, no matter how informative, are irksome to deal with and the compact shape of an A5 booklet allows for the information to be more readily ordered and ‘scan-able’;
  • Pictures of composers may be appropriate for a Foundation Level Certificate exam whereas highlighted quotations or citations from credited sources more suitable for higher level diplomas;
  • Think about fonts, indentations, alignment, punctuation, uniformity – these all have an impact on how your information comes across. Work out what you want to stand out and how to make this happen.

Which important elements should you include on your printed programme?

  1. The title of the examination
  2. The name(s) and instrument(s) of the performer(s)
  3. The date and time of the performance
  4. The running order
  5. The notes on each work
  6. The timings of your pieces
  7. The texts and translations of songs (these are not included in the word count)

Above all, take time to enjoy putting together your Programme Notes – if you think of this as a chore, then that is what it will be.  Allow yourself the time to produce something of which you can be proud.

To find out more about Trinity’s recital diploma click here.

Blog post written by: Helen Templeton, diploma examiner for Trinity College London