Viva Voce Music 1 Topics For Persuasive Essays

Viva Voce Tips from a Music 1 Encore Student

By Jamon Windeyer in Study
10th of August 2016

I want to start by saying I love writing stuff to help you guys with Music. Given that it’s a less popular subject than others, there really isn’t that much out there for support. This is especially true for a Musicology Viva Voce. An unpopular choice in a small course: Not exactly something that attracts a lot of attention. For that reason, I love writing stuff about it, because I love helping out in the areas that don’t always get the most attention.

I did a Viva Voce for Music 1 because, frankly, I was better at music theory than performance (the opposite problem to what most people experience). I did my guitar performance for core and it went really well (anyone looking for a good piece for guitar, John Butler’s Ocean is a fantastic choice). But the theory just came naturally to me, and part of that was learning about different styles of music. A Viva Voce was a great way to channel those interests.

In my opinion, a Viva Voce is more daunting than a performance. 10 minutes face to face with a marker, and they can press you on pretty much anything they like. They are, to a degree, in control! That is completely different to a performance where you are in complete control. It’s not something to take lightly.

That said, a Viva Voce can be really enjoyable, and doesn’t take any more time than a performance would to practice and perfect. My Viva is on the Encore Honour Roll for the 2014 HSC, recognized as one of the best in the state. Here are my tips on preparing and delivering a fantastic Musicology Viva Voce.

1.   Don’t Rush the Viva Voce Summary Sheet

The Summary Sheet plays a very important role in the Musicology elective. The HSC markers come in and they don’t even know your name! They have no idea about you as a student, your pace, your ability, or any idea about what you will be talking about. Your Summary Sheet is the only thing they have to go off of. That sheet is what they will use to guide your discussion and frame the questions they ask you. For that reason, don’t rush it the morning before. Give it some proper thought.

On one hand, don’t give too much detail. If you put absolutely every aspect of your discussion on the sheet, then the marker thinks they have the whole thing figured out before you begin. They have no need to ask questions!

On the other hand, don’t give them nothing. Don’t just write loose words or piece names with no clear direction or structure; they won’t know where to go with that!

What you want is a basic level of detail; lay out the foundations of the discussion. Give the markers some direction, but don’t give them the whole story. Make it clear where your examples will be and how you want the discussion to be structured. They will go with whatever flow you want to establish.

For some examples on what a good summary sheet could look like, check out these examples.

2.   Be Prepared for Any Question

Let me share a story about my Viva Voce.

I was chatting about the use of guitar in one of the pieces I had chosen, and explained the use of “power chords” as a typical aspect of rock music. I played a progression randomly on my guitar to demonstrate, and they stopped me and said: “What was that?” And I said, oh, it was just a I-IV-V progression in the key of A, and they were like “Major or minor,” and then I explained how it was neither, linked to the atonality of power chords, etc. I think I mentioned that they are very popular in rock music, and they asked why! Over a minute of discussion, completely off track from what I was discussing. You need to be ready for anything!

Your summary sheet should lay the foundation of the discussion, and you should direct it. However, the markers can and will press you on things you may not expect, and you must be ready for that. Know your examples inside and out so that no question will take you off guard. Know your concepts of music and terminology extremely well.

3. Show, Don’t Tell

It is very much a tip out of one of Elyse’s creative writing guides: Show, don’t tell.

This advice applies equally well to a Viva Voce. Showing your markers examples of what you are discussing is very important (and indeed, required in the criteria). Usually, this takes the form of playing your chosen excerpts, but it doesn’t have to (and it shouldn’t) stop there.

If you want to talk about the riff in your excerpt, don’t play it again. Play it on guitar.

Talking about a syncopated rhythm? Drum it on the table.

Describing how tone colour is affected by falsetto? Show them what falsetto is! My markers were probably divided between appreciating my demonstration of vocal techniques, and lamenting the fact that they didn’t wear earplugs.

The point being, practical examples are your best friend. Don’t restrict yourself to excerpts, hell, don’t restrict yourself to your instrument! Anyone can drum a rhythm on a table, or sing a rough melody. Do those things, and you’ll be more impressive to a Viva Voce marker than just describing what you hear.

4.   Maintain Your Main Idea

Ensure that your main idea is sustained through your Viva Voce. Don’t fall into the trap of turning this into an Aural Exam. There must be a reason for what you are discussing. Usually, this is set up immediately in the title. Mine was something very similar to:

Exploring polystylism as a mechanism of musical interest in Progressive Rock Music.

So, my main idea was that styles are blended by Progressive Rock Musicians in order to differentiate from ordinary rock music. In my introduction, I give some social context (British roots, talk about Pink Floyd and The Who, yada yada), and then link to Muse as my modern example. Throughout my whole discussion, I link back to this idea of musical interest, that is what sustains my discussion! Ensure everything has a proper rationale, don’t just spew concepts of music.

5.   All About Presentation

Although the focus is of course on your musical knowledge and the content of your discussion, you don’t want to be staring at your shoes the whole time, or come in with your Excerpt CD still burning in your laptops CD drive. Set positive prejudices from the start, and it will definitely work in your favour.

Enjoy your Viva Voce. You should be discussing something you are interested in, make that obvious to the markers. Be enthusiastic!

Answer questions clearly and methodically. Try not to go off on tangents (something I significantly struggled with). Be confident with your answers.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly; this is your discussion. You are the leader. If you want to move on to the next excerpt, be assertive about that.

“Okay, if it’s alright with you both I’ll move on to the next excerpt now, it’s one of Muse’s later works…”

Don’t let the markers lead your discussion. Of course, answer their questions and abide by their assistive cues, but it is up to you to take control.

6.   What If They Ask Me Something I Don’t Know?

The big Viva Voce question I always get goes something like this:

Jamon, what if they ask me a question I can’t answer?

Look, this could very well happen. You can’t have the answer to absolutely everything, though of course that should be the main goal. You have two options here. If you think you know the answer with some level of confidence, go for it. Take a shot. The markers aren’t going to stop the discussion and bully your answer if it is incorrect.

If you do answer, or even if you don’t, be upfront: You aren’t sure. If they ask you a question that completely stumps, be honest:

“Hmm, that’s an interesting question! To be completely honest, I’m not sure, but ________.”

Then, fill in that blank with either an attempted answer or a redirection. That is okay! Absolutely, not being able to answer a question doesn’t ruin the Viva Voce in any sense. Further, the markers will appreciate your honest (but confident) response.

Do you have any last minute questions for your Viva? Want to chat with me about your topic, your excerpts, your structure, or any other part of Music 1? Come ask me here!

Are you debating whether or not to take the optional ACT essay? Some schools require it, so we highly recommend that you take it (make sure to register for ACT with Writing).

But no need to stress! The essay follows a predictable format, which means you can practice and prepare beforehand. Take a look at a sample ACT writing prompt and learn five key steps to penning a high-scoring essay.

ACT Writing Prompt

This example writing prompt comes straight from our book Cracking the ACT:

Education and the Workplace

Many colleges and universities have cut their humanities departments, and high schools have started to shift their attention much more definitively toward STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and away from ELA (English, Language Arts). Representatives from both school boards and government organizations suggest that the move toward STEM is necessary in helping students to participate in a meaningful way in the American workplace. Given the urgency of this debate for the future of education and society as a whole, it is worth examining the potential consequences of this shift in how students are educated in the United States.

Read and carefully consider these perspectives. Each suggests a particular way of thinking about the shift in American education.

Perspective 1 Perspective 2 Perspective 3
ELA programs should be emphasized over STEM programs. Education is not merely a means to employment: ELA education helps students to live more meaningful lives. In addition, an exclusively STEM-based program cannot help but limit students’ creativity and lead them to overemphasize the importance of money and other tangible gains. ELA programs should be eradicated entirely, except to establish the basic literacy necessary to engage in the hard sciences, mathematics, and business. Reading and writing are activities that are best saved for the leisure of students who enjoy them. ELA and STEM programs should always be in equal balance with one another. Both are necessary to providing a student with a well-rounded education. Moreover, equal emphasis will allow the fullest possible exposure to many subjects before students choose their majors and careers

Essay Task

Write a unified, coherent essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives on the issue of how schools should balance STEM and ELA subjects. In your essay, be sure to:

  • analyze and evaluate the perspectives given
  • state and develop your own perspective on the issue
  • explain the relationship between your perspective and those given

Your perspective may be in full agreement with any of the others, in partial agreement, or wholly different. Whatever the case, support your ideas with logical reasoning and detailed, persuasive examples.

How to Write the ACT Essay

Your job is to write an essay in which you take some sort of position on the prompt, all while assessing the three perspectives provided in the boxes. Find a way to anchor your essay with a unique perspective of your own that can be defended and debated, and you are already in the upper echelon of scorers.

Step 1: Work the Prompt

What in the prompt requires you to weigh in? Why is this issue still the subject of debate and not a done deal?

Step 2: Work the Perspectives

Typically, the three perspectives will be split: one for, one against, and one in the middle. Your goal in Step 2 is to figure out where each perspective stands and then identify at least one shortcoming of each perspective. For the example above, ask yourself: 

  • What does each perspective consider?
  • What does each perspective overlook?

Step 3: Generate Your Own Perspective

Now it's time to come up with your own perspective! If you merely restate one of the three given perspectives, you won’t be able to get into the highest scoring ranges. You’ll draw from each of the perspectives, and you may side with one of them, but your perspective should have something unique about it.

Step 4: Put It All Together

Now that you have your ideas in order, here's a blueprint for how to organize the ACT essay. This blueprint works no matter what your prompt is.


  • Start with a topic sentence the restates the central issue
  • Clearly state your position on the issue

Body Paragraph (1)

  • Start with a transition/topic sentence that discusses the OPPOSING SIDE of your argument
  • Discuss the given perspective(s) that would support the opposing argument
  • Give a specific example that could be used to support the opposing perspective
  • Explain why you disagree with the opposing perspective
Body Paragraph (2)
  • Start with a transition/topic sentence that discusses YOUR POSITION on the central issue
  • Explain your position including any of the given perspectives that support your position
  • Give an example that supports your position
  • End the paragraph by restating your position
  • Recap your discussion
  • Restate your perspective and arguments
  • Provide a final overarching thought on the topic

Step 5: (If There's Time): Proofread

Spend one or two minutes on proofreading your essay if you have time. You’re looking for big, glaring errors. If you find one, erase it completely or cross it out neatly. Though neatness doesn’t necessarily affect your grade, it does make for a happy grader.

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