Stylistically, Paper Moon is typical Dave Brubeck cool jazz, varying only slightly from past Brubeck recordings. The tracks on this album are less hurried than those on Time Out, Brubeck's best known recording. Paper Moon is a highly accessible recording; it flows seamlessly with the bass and drums providing a steady accompaniment.
The title track, "It’s Only a Paper Moon", begins with Dave Brubeck's piano, backed by the drummer's fast but light rhythm and the bassist's syncopated plucking. About forty seconds into the track the piano switches to stride style, and at 0:52 the saxophone enters on the melody as Dave Brubeck comps. At 2:38 Dave Brubeck begins his piano solo using block chords. His solo continues until 3:31 when bass player Chris Brubeck, now on bass trombone, takes over. His improvisation dips into the lowest registers, giving the piece a fuller and rougher tone. His solo ends the piece with a repeat of the chorus.