ASEM 2547: Writing about Music in the 21st Century

Delfeayo Marsalis Quintet

Delfeayo Marsalis Quintet, Sept 20, 2021, Denver, CO (at Dazzle)

“Music writing in the twenty-first century is more adventurous, more idiosyncratic, and more personal than at any point in the last thirty years.” –Rick Moody 

“Writing about music is like dancing to architecture.” –attributed to Elvis Costello

Instructor: Brad Benz, PhD                                                                                                    

Email: bradley dot benz at du dot edu

Texts and Materials:

  • Online readings and videos (in Canvas)
  • An active blog

Course Description:

Do you go to Denver venues like the Hi DiveSummit Music Hall, the Bluebird, Dazzle, or Swallow Hill to see live music? Do you curate mixtapes – or Ipod playlists –  for any number of reasons? Can you create a top 10 list of your favorite artist’s songs and then justify the selections to other diehards? Do you read books from the 33 1/3 series of music criticism? If so, this ASEM might be for you. This course asks students to write about music in a variety of genres ranging from album reviews, profiles of musicians and music scenes, personal essays, liner notes, music blogs, to performance reviews. Students can expect to read nonfiction about music, to review concerts, to research musicians, their music, and musical communities, and then – with an eye toward broader publication – to share these findings to public audiences on their music blog. Note: this is an online, asynchronous class.  We will not meet as a whole class.

ASEM Learning Goals:

Students will:

  1. Demonstrate the ability to integrate and apply content from multiple perspectives to an appropriate intellectual topic or issue.
  2. Write effectively, providing appropriate evidence and reasoning for assertions.
  3. Utilize qualitative research methods to gather data, including participant-observation and possibly interviews.
  4. Utilize secondary research methods to gather data.
  5. Write in established music-related genres, including online blogs, for public audiences.


  • Online Learning:

This course will be conducted entirely online; we will not have any face-to-face class meetings. We will use the course blog and Canvas. Each week, I will send an announcement through Canvas, which will include the weekly overview. I expect you to read the overiew and then to work your way through that week’s Canvas module. The course blog will house the syllabus, schedule, major assignments, and links to student blogs and local music venues. Canvas will contain weekly announcements, each week’s module, the discussion posts, course readings (and links), and I will use the grade book.

Obviously, it is critical you have a reliable internet connection and a good grasp of how to navigate Canvas and the web. Online writing courses possess numerous strengths, including the relative flexibility to work at your own pace each week, as well as the fact that almost of your work will be conducted in writing. Online courses also require considerable self-discipline on the student’s part. That is, I hope you will take advantage of the flexibility that online learning offers, while also staying on top of your work.

  • Writing Projects and Writing Process

Excluding rough drafts for peer feedback, each student will submit to the instructor roughly 20 pages of revised, edited prose. Students will complete four major writing projects in the course, as well as a series of writing to learn exercises. We will follow a process approach to writing, so for each writing project, you will complete a rough draft and receive feedback in a peer review activity. After the peer review, you will revise and edit your projects before submitting them to me. For each peer review, you are expected to have a complete draft. Failure to meet the draft deadlines will lower that project’s final grade by 20%. Similarly, late projects will be penalized 10% for each day the paper is late and they will not receive written feedback. For each writing project, you will complete a self-evaluation that discusses the project itself, including the revisions you made, the rationale for those revisions, and the strengths and weaknesses of the writing project. The self-evaluation will account for 5% of the project’s grade.

  • Late Work

With the exception of your one optional no-penalty/no feedback extension*, assignments are due when they are due. Writing Projects submitted late are subject to a 10% reduction in grade, per day late, and will receive a grade only (no instructor feedback). Work more than three days late will be recorded as a zero. Writing Projects and the (e)portfolio should be submitted and available to be evaluated on your WordPress blog.

*Each student is granted one no-penalty/no feedback two-day extension (NP/NF-e). You may use this extension on any major Writing Project. If you choose to use the NP/NF-e option, you will receive a grade only (no written feedback). If you use the NP/NF-e, you will not need to submit a rough draft of that WP, but you will need to complete peer review, and you get a two-day extension for the final submission. For peer review, reply to the initial discussion post, noting that you’ll use the NP/NF-e in Canvas, and then give your peers feedback by the peer review deadline. Please include the submission note NP/NF-e in Canvas when you upload your assignment.

Follow the individual links to see the Major Writing Projects:

  • Course Readings:

The course readings will examine music from multiple perspectives, (e.g. historical, ethnographic, sociological, and political approaches). The readings will also expose students to common genres of music writing, ones that the students themselves will be asked to compose. If you don’t see a reading in that week’s Canvas Module, look in Canvas/Files.

  • Essential Listening: Weekly Soundtracks

Since it would be a bummer to take a Writing about Music class without listening to music, one of the goals is for each of us to hear and appreciate music that’s new to us. Each week’s Canvas Module will contain your Essential Listening: Weekly Soundtrack. Generally, these songs are links to Youtube, and the songs connect to each week’s readings (e.g. it’s hard to fully grasp Lester Bangs’ personal essay about Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks without hearing Cypress Avenue). Enjoy!

  • Canvas Discussion Posts:

Students will complete three Canvas discussion posts, which will address the assigned readings and other materials from the course. Your audience will be your classmates, and I will assess your posts on their relevance, thoughtfulness, and polish. Discussion posts can be submitted two days late but they will receive up to half credit.

  • Peer Review

I will assemble students into small groups; your group members will be your writing partners. Students will provide peer feedback to their writing partners throughout the term. There will be three peer review sessions (one for each Writing Project), when you will read and respond to your writing partners’ rough drafts. Students will post their rough drafts in the appropriate Canvas discussion forum, and then read and respond to their writing partners’ drafts, answering the peer review questions that I provide. When I evaluate the quality of your feedback, I will use the following grading criteria:

  • 10 points: Excellent

Feedback generated in peer review is thoughtful and thorough in addressing all the relevant peer review questions. Suggestions for revision are specific in scope and constructive in tone.

  • 8-9: Good

Feedback generated in peer review is thoughtful, but doesn’t address all the peer review questions. Some suggestions for revision are given, but suggestions lack explanation and/or specificity.

  • 6-7: Adequate

Feedback generated in the peer review addresses many of the relevant questions in the workshop handout, but is not particularly thoughtful or helpful for revision (e.g., “I liked it”). Suggestions for revision lack specificity.

  • 0-5: Lacking or Missing 

Feedback provided for the workshop is superficial. No specific suggestions for revision are given.


Policies & Procedures

  • Grading: The course will use a +/- grading system, and your final grade will be calculated as follows:
  • Portfolio                                                             90
  • Writing Project #1                                           80
  • Writing Project #2                                           90
  • Writing Project #3:                                          50
  • Peer Review (3 @ 10)                                      30
  • Discussion Posts (3 @ 20)                              60
  • Total Points                                                     400 points.
Grading Scale
B+ 352-357 C+ 312-319 D+ 272-279
A 376-400 B 332-351 C 292-311 D 252-271 F 0-250
A- 358-375 B- 320-331 C- 280-291 D- 240-251
  • The class will use Canvas, an online course management system, in a number of ways, including links to the course blog, where you can find the syllabus and schedule as well as the major assignments. Canvas will also house handouts, readings, and other materials. I will also use the gradebook function.
  • Blogs: The course blog houses the syllabus, schedule, and major assignments. It will also contain weekly posts that offer an overview for each week of class. Additionally, students will also use to publish their work written for class, using WordPress’ free blog option and free themes. To find the free option in WordPress, please read the instructions closely. Once you’ve set up your WordPress blog, email me the address. Plan to spend time learning WordPress, particularly in terms of embedding images, links, and videos. The student samples linked from the course blog will be useful examples.
  • Plagiarism and the Honor Code: I follow the Council of Writing Program Administrators definition of plagiarism, which states, “In an instructional setting, plagiarism occurs when a writer deliberately uses someone else’s language, ideas, or other original (not common-knowledge) material without acknowledging its source.” For more information about this definition, go to’s Honor Code also maintains that all members of the university must use the work of others in good faith.  Students who have plagiarized an assignment will receive an F on that assignment, and the instructor will inform the Office of Community and Citizenship Standards.  As a result of these communications, further action may be taken.  Any subsequent documented acts of plagiarism may be subject to more severe actions, including suspension or dismissal from the university.  For more information, go to
  • University Writing Center: The Writing Center provides writing support for students at all levels of study–first-year to graduate. To make an appointment, call 303-871-7456, or go to MyWeb / Student / Writing Center. In free, 45-minute consultations, graduate and advanced undergraduate consultants work with writers on any piece of writing, for any purpose, at any stage of the process. Consultants take a collaborative and non-evaluative approach: they work with you to help you develop strategies for improving your writing in light of your specific assignments, goals, and needs. Consultations are available at the Writing Center (located in Anderson Academic Commons 280), Sunday through Monday, including evening hours on many days, from the first day of classes through the second day of. Please visit our website at   for hours and additional information.
  • Students with Disabilities: If you have a documented disability that will impact your performance in this class, please inform me during the first two weeks of the course and provide documentation from DU’s Disability Services Program. I will make every reasonable accommodation for you so that you are able to succeed in this course. For more information, go to
  • Out of Class Assistance: Please contact me via email if you have any questions or concerns. I will respond within 48 hours, and usually much sooner.

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