Detecting tone can be the key to understanding an author’s writing. In standardized tests, such as the SAT, AP Tests, or high school entrance exams, grasping the author’s tone can make or break a student’s interpretation.
Consider the question of tone in the area from which it takes its name: music. How would you describe the tone of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, compared to the tone of another work by Beethoven, Für Elise?
Beethoven clearly felt strongly about both subjects. Für Elise has a sweet, caring melody that gives way to a more playful theme in the middle, only to return with a deep sense of melancholy. The Fifth Symphony is also strongly worded. Beethoven hammers his subject home with strong, short statements, alternating between loud and soft for emphasis, like a great politician.
Try This: Play a musical work for your students, asking them to see the work from the composer’s point of view. How does the composer feel about his work? Is he giving an historical account, like Tchaikovsky in his 1812 Overture? Providing a haunting and personal account of the brevity of life, as Mozart in his Requiem? These things are for your students to decide!