Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0: Citing Songs and Other Musical Works


Every Wednesday, Editing for Grammarphobes 2.0 features handy tips to enhance all of our writing, from daily emails to articles to books. After all, everyone needs to write, right?

When I was in high school, the musical my senior year was to be Carousel, an interesting choice considering its secondary storyline of spousal abuse and crime, particularly the song, “What’s the Use of Wonderin’,” in which Julie Jordan seems to rationalize why her husband, Billy Bigelow, hits her. But he’s her feller, so you love him and that’s that, which certainly does not sit well with adult me.

Carousel debuted on Broadway in 1945, and just like other Rodgers and Hammerstein works, such as parts of South Pacific and The King and I, it is a product of its time period. Although I grew up singing show tunes, I have a hard time getting past some of the overtly racist and sexist songs and themes. Out of all the Rodgers and Hammerstein collaborations, I think The Sound of Music probably held up the best.

However, the show also contains the gorgeous “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” as well as a song that keeps creeping up in my subconscious, “June is Bustin’ Out All Over.” No matter how hard I try, I can’t help but hear it’s happy tune every time I write the date on anything from checks to this blog.

So on this first June Editing for Grammarphobes, let’s talk about music in all of its forms.

Are musical works italicized or encased in quotes? 

Depends which style you are using. I use mostly AP Style when editing Bibliophilic Blather because that’s the one I have used more often during my eons in the writing business, but in this case, I prefer Chicago Style. I think it’s more precise and visually separates the whole work from its parts.

AP puts all composition titles in quotes. That goes for books, reference works, computer and video games, movies, operas, plays, songs, albums, radio and television programs, speeches, and works of art.

For classical music titles, AP states to “use quotation marks around the composition’s nickname, but not compositions identified by sequence.”


Dvorak’s “New World Symphony”
Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9

But, for those who use Chicago Manual of Style, books, magazines, blogs, and journals, are italicized, but not musical works unless they are longer pieces, such as Rhapsody in Blue and Handel’s Messiah. Otherwise, use quotation marks like AP does. The official title of an album, symphony, musical, or opera is italicized, but specific movements or songs are in quotes.


“When I Marry Mr. Snow” from Carousel
“The Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah

What’s capitalized?

Capitalize the principal words, including prepositions and conjunctions of four or more letters. AP states to “capitalize an article—the, a, an—or words fewer than four letters if it is the first or last word in the title.”

CMS capitalizes the “first and last words in titles and subtitles,” as well as all other major words. It also puts articles in lowercase, along with prepositions.

What about instrumental works?

CMS states that pieces known by their generic names, such as nocturne, quartet, and symphony, are capitalized, but not italicized.


Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor
Bach’s Mass in B Minor

What do you think? Which style looks better to you?

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These five books are on my desk at all times. Maybe they'll help you as well.

The Associated Press Stylebook, 2016 edition
The Chicago Manual of Style
Strunk and White's The Elements of Style
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition
The Bugaboo Review: A lighthearted guide to exterminating confusion about words, spelling, and grammar


A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of three contemporary women's fiction novels and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit www.karenberner.com.


Anonymous said…
Italics are prettier. :)
Mel Parish said…
Interesting, I always wondered why sometimes book titles were in quotes and other times in italics. I think I prefer italics.
Are you going to publish a book with all these? Just a thought. ;)

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