And Now We Begin—A Survey of Recent Theory Texts

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The 1960s were a time for reexamination of the aims, contents and methods of college courses designed to teach music theory, and, as a corollary, of the texts intended for those courses. Several factors contributed to the creation of a "crisis in the teaching of music theory" if one can judge by the pages of this journal alone. These factors include (1) changes in the discipline of music itself; (2) a reexamination of the role of the music theorist; (3) new theories about how people learn; and (4) the changing student population. This was heavy artillery to turn on a single portion of our discipline; no wonder that it was considered a crisis by the editors of College Music Symposium in 1965.

The so-called "music theory" course is a crucial one, just because it is traditionally the first required of all music majors. With the exception of Hindemith,1 few before the 1960s had challenged the traditional content and order of subjects included under the theory "umbrella." Let us look at the changes one at a time.

In the '60s, if memory serves, students were demanding relevance, whatever that means. My own recollection of a first-year theory class is that I was never asked to hear or sing anything, just to write. For how many classes in the 1960s had this changed? Texts explained the major-minor system, accounted for little else, ignoring early and late music, to say nothing of music outside of the western art tradition. What a vulnerable target the music theory course was to a generation of student activists demanding relevance! To judge from the journals, many theorists and teachers of music believed that the students had a valid grievance.

The first problem has to do with the rapidly receding horizons of music. The flood of music and of information on early theory and practice made available as a result of the work of historical musicologists, and the increasing separation of contemporary music from the common practice of the tonal period, have made it imperative that a new theory of music be developed that can illuminate a broader swath of music history. David Kraehenbuehl, in a sharp attack on traditional theory, wrote: "If the profession of music theory is to regain any of its lost status, it must ruthlessly weed out the incompetents, the purveyors of 'inert idea' and academic poppycock who have brought it to its present sorry condition. On the positive side, music theory and theoretical instruction must be centered in the present, deal with the music of the present, and, most important of all, deal with the music it seeks to explain."2

A. Tillman Merritt agreed with this statement only in part. He pointed out that what is usually called music theory is really half practice. The subject as a whole "concerns itself with the anatomy itself of music, the understanding of which involves not only the intellectual comprehension of the principles upon which music is founded, but also the actual practice in writing notes—many notes—for the sake of acquiring a personal grasp of these principles, both past and present."3 However, in contrast to Kraehenbuehl's prescription for a theory of contemporary common practice, Merritt stated that, because modern music is not a unified practice, models for students must come from the tonal period for harmony and counterpoint, and possibly the modal period for counterpoint as well. Milton Babbitt argued for a Schenkerian theory of tonal music,4 Leo Kraft for that plus Fux's species counterpoint,5 and William Thomson for the inclusion of the insights of Hindemith.6 And, in company with a number of other colleagues, these gentlemen argued for a comprehensive, integrated curriculum which would eliminate the traditional compartmentalization of subjects subsumed under the term theory. The reasons for this are twofold: the economical use of time, and the belief that the old divisions of the curriculum are artificial and to an extent unproductive.

If the base be broadened to include both early and contemporary music, then the traditional and leisurely plan of a year of theory, a year of harmony, and a year of counterpoint, plus the other required courses such as analysis, orchestration and composition, would all have to be condensed. Howard Boatwright proposed that "what we very much need at this time is a synthesized method giving the student (within the two or three years now devoted to harmony and counterpoint) a knowledge and some command of the full range of tonally organized music, up to . . . 1950. In addition he should receive a proportionate introduction to the serial methods. . . . What has been done before 1950 . . . he should have a right to expect to find woven into the main fabric of his theory courses."7 A number of proposals involved the reordering of the entire curriculum beginning with the "basic concepts in music: tone, rhythm, melody, harmony, tonality, texture, and form."8 These are presented in an order from the simple to the complex, from melody (analyzed in Schenkerian terms) to two-voice framework (via species counterpoint) to harmony, as an example. In addition to this, a number of critics have proposed the integration of theory, history, and analysis, and the illumination of all these by means of performance. William Thomson, for one, suggested that "theory and history be looked at as companion approaches to the same body of works," the theory "to provide an analytical framework, the history the synthesis of the same concepts."9

From another point of view, Howard Boatwright suggested that tonal material be studied in terms of the science of acoustics rather than the imprecise science of earlier theorists, in order to provide a theoretical base for electronic music.10

Still another sort of integration has been suggested. Warren Benson, writing in a publication of the Contemporary Music Project, argued that the training of future teachers be the same as for composers, performers, historians and theorists. One can no longer justify, in his opinion, a watered-down curriculum for music education majors, particularly considering the sorry state that music education is reported to be in.11

Much of the controversy about music theory has been about this second aspect of the problem, the organization and content of the curriculum. Any attempt to summarize the statements made on this topic is bound to be highly selective, and to give short shrift to many cogent arguments. But the very difficulty of making such a summary is testimony to the concern of many about this problem.

The third area of controversy has involved the development of curricula that take seriously the recent findings of Bruner, Piaget and others regarding the learning process. Two projects in particular were launched during the past fifteen years with these ideas in mind, the Comprehensive Musicianship Program and the Manhattanville Music Curriculum Project. Both began by concentrating on curricula for younger students, in an attempt to improve the quality of music education in primary and secondary schools. One of the conclusions drawn from these experimental programs is that "the basic approach to music instruction is the same at first-grade level as it is in college."12 Therefore, although MMCP Synthesis was designed for high school students, it is also being used in several colleges at present.13 Similarly, the concept of "comprehensive musicianship" originated in the Contemporary Music Project, the first program of which was to place composers in schools in order to bring students in direct contact with working composers. Later CMP's interest expanded to include, among other matters, first and second year college courses; and comprehensive musicianship became the basis of CMP's educational philosophy.

In the opinion of many connected with both projects, the most effective way to encourage insight into the compositional processes of other's works is to have the student himself act like a composer.14 Thus the student is encouraged to use the materials of music for his own personal discovery at the same time that he hears, performs, and analyzes music drawn from all periods.

It is obvious that this is a more student-centered approach than is found in the traditional theory text. Such a curriculum is a reflection of and response to the fourth element of the crisis, the recent change in the student population. Because of the democratic ideal of education for all, our universities are now populated by numerous students of modest gifts. Only a few are exceptionally talented and highly motivated. It may be that it was with the latter type of student in mind that the more traditional curriculum was shaped. However, it is the contention of some that all types of students will benefit from an integrated curriculum. But the approaches so far discussed—the traditional approach, the middle-of-the-road approach that preserves some of the traditional discipline while reorganizing the curriculum into one continuous, integrated course, and the more radical approach that emphasizes student discovery and manipulation of materials in a spiral curriculum—all may be useful depending on the needs of the student and the predilection of the instructor. However, the text is not synonymous with the course; the simultaneous development of eye, ear, hand and brain can go on in any classroom, traditional or not.

As the list of texts at the end of this article shows, the number of new texts that has appeared since 1960 is not a large one. Furthermore, the number of texts that reflect the innovative thinking of the 1960's is even smaller, the result of an understandable time lag.

Included in the list are those texts described by their authors as first-year theory texts or their equivalent. Texts which deal with one segment of the curriculum, such as sight-singing or ear-training, are not included, but rather those designed by their authors to be the sole text for a music theory class. Texts which are intended for music education classes at the same level, or for classes where the emphasis is also on instrumental performance, are included, but are so marked. Several of the texts are for a course which begins with the first year, and extends to the second or even third year of training in theory. On the other hand, harmony and counterpoint texts have been omitted, precisely because they were not intended for first-year students.

One of the earliest of the texts in the list is also the first included which has an integrated curriculum, that by Ellis Kohs. It proceeds from melody to two-part work to harmony in the first volume, and deals with chromaticism and modulation in the second. It was called "one of the significant new theory texts influenced by Schenker,"15 and Kohs placed a considerable emphasis on written work to be done in a series of well-conceived exercises.

A second text, also designed for a two-year course, is even more innovative in its approach, reflecting in part the thinking of those connected with the Comprehensive Musicianship Program. Materials and Structure of Music is the work of five men: Christ, DeLone, Kliewer, Rowell and Thomson. The authors acknowledge their debt to Hindemith and Schenker, among others, and the ordering of materials and tasks makes this clear. A typical assignment at the end of a chapter dealing with melodic structure requires the student to (1) reduce a series of melodies to their basic structure, (2) compose a series of basic melodies, and (3) improvise and then write elaborations on these basic melodies. This is a comprehensive text, requiring sight-singing, ear-training, and a significant amount of original work. Theory is regularly presented after practice, and as an abstraction from that practice. The first half of the first volume is devoted to melody, the second half to two-voice, three-voice and homophonic textures. This is in most respects an excellent text, although treatment of rhythm is less adequate than it might be and the details of editing are occasionally less than meticulous. Like the two texts to be discussed next, this has an excellent range of musical examples, from ethnic and medieval to contemporary.

Two other new texts have integrated several aspects of the curriculum, although each has a slightly different emphasis. Winold and Rehm's Introduction to Music Theory works from "the small parts to the larger whole," as explained in the Preface, and emphasizes hearing, writing, and analysis, that is, the development of skills. It is particularly fine in its treatment of rhythm, in the ordering of materials and the careful and lucid explanations. Thomson's Introduction to Music as Structure, has a "whole-ist" approach, beginning with complete melodies with an emphasis on large design and progressing to more complex textures and organizations, including serial. Although there is much space devoted to ear-training and drill in rhythmic notation, the emphasis in this text is on analysis and the integration of theory and history. Copious musical examples are provided, to be played or heard on recording, and space is provided in the book for descriptions written by the student after guided listening. Both of these texts incorporate the thinking of Schenker and Hindemith.

A number of programmed texts have appeared, some with the express purpose of speeding up the learning process and of making individual study more fruitful. Among those devoted exclusively to material presented in the program format, many are limited to the promotion of "symbol-verbal" facility16 and are intended as supplemental drill. In some cases, there is implicit in the program the idea that there is but one correct answer to every question, a notion that some might find educationally objectionable. On the other hand, the combination of programmed drill with other approaches can be most effective for reinforcement of learning achieved by other methods, an amalgam used successfully in Winold and Rehm's text.

Two texts which have not yet been published are of particular interest. One, which I have not seen, is by Leo Kraft, who described it as a comprehensive, two-to three-year program, integrating harmony, counterpoint, and analysis in a historical frame of reference. The text is designed to cover the first year of theory as well, and to emphasize both writing skills and analysis. It is a self-contained text which includes workbook and anthology.

The second text by Peter Westergaard, I have had the opportunity to examine.17 According to the introduction, this is a first-year text which assumes no previous training in music theory but does assume a fairly high level of technical skill as well as intellectual capacity on the part of the student. The author mentions as direct influences Schenker, Fux, and Bernhardt. This work is a theory text in the original sense, because it proposes a set of theories to explain relationships and phenomena in tonal music, beginning in Chapter I with the scientific aspects of production and audition of sounds. Westergaard works with basic structures, explains them, then asks the student to repeat or reverse the process. It seems an original and impressive work, but one to reserve for an extremely capable first-year class or to save for more advanced students.


(Those texts which I have not examined are marked with an asterisk.)

Adams, Ethel G. An Introduction to Musical Understanding and Musicianship. Belmont, CA.: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1966. vii, 229. (Traditional, well-organized high school or college text).

Andrews, Jay Austin, William L. Maxson and George W. Lotzenhiser. Music 200: Beginning Music Theory; Principles and Applications. A Programmed Text. New York: American Book Co., 1967. 229. Workbook 112. (Music education text. Emphasis on written symbol).

Ashford, Theodore H. A Programmed Introduction to the Fundamentals of Music. Dubuque, Iowa: W.C. Brown & Co., 1969. Paper. (Explanatory material more inclusive than programmed material for student work. Emphasis on written symbol).

Barnes, Robert A. Fundamentals of Music: A Program for Self-Instruction. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1964. 171. Paper. (Workbook only, for music education or beginning theory. Emphasis on written symbol).

Baxter, William Hubbard. Basic Studies in Music. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, Inc., 1968. viii, 264. Review: J Mus Th, XII (Winter 1968), 300-308. (Encyclopedic survey of material).

Brye, Joseph. Basic Principles of Music Theory. New York: Ronald Press Co., 1965. 278. Review: J Mus Th, X (1966), 173. (Traditional approach, well organized, emphasis on melodic structure and on sight-sound. More appropriate as harmony text).

Castellini, John Edward. Rudiments of Music: A New Approach with Application to the Keyboard. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1962. 239. (Emphasis on piano for music education majors; includes piano instruction and songs for children).

Chapham, Roger E. Essentials of Music. New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1967. 509. Review: J Res Mus Ed, XVIII (1970), 187-88. (Programmed text, traditional organization of material, emphasis on written symbol).

Christ, William; Richard DeLone; Vernon Kliewer; Lewis Rowell and William Thomson. Materials and Structure of Music, 2 Vols. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., (1st edition: Vol. I, 1966; Vol. II, 1967. 2nd edition: Vol. I, 1970; Vol. II, 1972). Review: Notes, XIII (1967), 536-37. Mus Ed J, LIV (1967), 91-92. J Mus Th, XII (1968), 289-300. J Res Mus Ed, XVI (1968), 77-79. J Res Mus Ed, XVIII (1970), 89-90.

Dallin, Leon. Foundations in Music Theory, Second edition, with Programmed Exercises. Belmont, CA.: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1967. 165. Review of 1st edition only: Mus Ed J, XLIX (1963), 154. Am Mus Tchr, XIII (1964), 40. Notes, XXI (1964), 377-78.

DeLone, Richard P. Music: Patterns and Style. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1971. xii, 436. Review: Mus in Ed, XXXV (1971), 597. (Combination theory, history, and analysis with wide range of musical examples and opportunity for directed practice).

*Douglas, Charles E. Basic Music Theory. Athens, GA.: McKenzie Publishing Co., 1967.

Elliott, Raymond. Fundamentals of Music, 2nd edition. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965. 237. 1st edition, 1955. Review: Notes, XXXIII (1967), 539-40. (Traditional arrangement, with emphasis on singing, playing, and hearing).

Harder, Paul O. Basic Materials in Music Theory: A Programmed Course, 2nd edition. Boston: Allyn & Bacon Inc., 1970. 255. 1st edition, 1965. Review: J Mus Th, IX (1965), 330-31. J Res Mus Ed, XIV (Spring 1966), 59-60. Mus Ed J, LIII (1966), 92-93. Mus Ed J, LIII (1966), 64-65. Notes, XXIII (1966), 62.

*Horacek, Leo and Gerald Lefkoff. Programmed Music Theory, Vol. V: Written Theory, Part I. Morgantown, West Virginia: West Virginia University, 1967. 321.

Howard, Bertrand. Fundamentals of Music Theory: A Program. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1966. x, 166. (Workbook: emphasis on written symbols).

Husted, Benjamin F. The Function Concept in Music Theory. Mansfield, PA.: n.p., 1961. 101. (Specialized harmony text).

Kohs, Ellis B. Music Theory: A Syllabus for Teacher and Student. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961. (Three-semester or two-year course).

*Kraft, Leo. Gradus (proposed title). To be published, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., early 1975. (Two or three-year integrated, comprehensive course).

Laycock, Harold R. and Quentin R. Nordgren. First-Year Theory. New York: Appleton & Crofts, Inc., 1962. (More properly called a harmony text; traditional approach).

*Lesemann, Frederick. Comprehensive Musicianship Training. Los Angeles: School of Music, University of Southern California, 1969. (Developed for course in Institutes for Music in Continuing Education. Reference: CMP 6, 42-51).

Martin, Gary M. Basic Concepts in Music. Belmont, CA.: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1966. 399. (Programmed text; emphasis on written symbols).

Ottman, Robert W. and Frank Mainous. Rudiments of Music. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1970. 312. Review: Mus Ed J, LVII (1970), 89. NATS Bul, XXVI (1970), 42. (First-year theory through intervals; includes worksheets, ear-training, sight-singing, and explanatory text).

Pace, Robert Lee. Music Essentials. Belmont, CA.: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1969. xv, 229. (Designed to teach fundamentals for non-professional; emphasis on piano).

*Putnik, Edwin V. and Robert C. Lamm. Music Theory in Outline Form, 2nd edition. Tempe, AZ.: Arizona State University, 1965. 236.

Thomas, Ronald B. MMCP Synthesis: A Structure for Music Education. Bardonia, New York: Media Materials, Inc., P.O. Box 533, n.d. See article: CM Symp, XII (1972), 20-28.

Thomson, William. An Introduction to Music as Structure. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1971. ix, 242. Review: J Res Mus Ed, XIX (1971), 383-84.

Thostenson, Marvin S. Fundamentals, Harmony and Musicianship. Dubuque, Iowa: W.C. Brown & Co., 1963. 479. Workbook, 186. Review: J Res Mus Ed, XII (1964), 116-17.

*Vazzana, Anthony G. Projects in Musicianship, 3 vols. Los Angeles: University of Southern California Press, Vol. I, 1966; Vol. II, 1966; Vol. III, 1969; Vol. IV, 1971. (Used by one school in Institute for Music in Continuing Education Program).

*Verrall, John W. Basic Theory of Music; Programmed Instruction in Intervals, Scales and Modes. Palo Alto, CA.: Pacific Books, 1970. 63. Review: Mus in Ed, XXXV (1971), 544.

Westergaard, Peter. An Introduction to Tonal Theory. To be published, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1974.

Winold, Allen and John Rehm. Introduction to Music Theory: An Integrated Approach to Notation, Music Reading and Ear Training. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1971. Review: J Res Mus Ed, XX (1972), 514-16.

 

Additional Related Literature, exclusive of reviews and
material already cited in this article:

Benson, Warren, ed. Creative Projects in Musicianship: A Report of the Pilot Projects Sponsored by the Contemporary Music Project at Ithaca College and Interlochen Arts Academy: CMP 4. Washington, D.C.: Contemporary Music Project, MENC, 1967.

Clifton, Thomas. "Training in Music Theory: Process and Product," Journal of Music Theory, XIII (1969), 38-65.

College Music Society. Report of the Sixth Annual Meeting: "The Teaching of Music Theory in the University," College Music Symposium, IV (1964), 103-12.

Forte, Allen. "The Role of the Study of Music Theory in the Development of Musical Understanding," CMP 2. Washington, D.C.: CMP, M.E.N.C., 1965, 37-41.

Imbrie, Andrew. "A Grain of Salt," College Music Symposium, V (1965), 36-41.

Kraehenbuehl, David, et al. "The Professional Music Theorist: A Forum," Journal of Music Theory, IV (1960), 62-84.

Lawrence, Vera Brodsky, ed. Contemporary Music Project for Creativity in Music Education: The CMP Library, 2nd edition. Washington, D.C.: M.E.N.C., 1969. 3 vols.

—————. "CMP: An Innovative Force in American Music," Notes, XXVI (1970), 482-86.

Lieberman, Ira. "The 'Music Theory' Teacher and the 'Elements of Music,'" College Music Symposium, XII (1972), 20-28. (A discussion of MMCP).

Moevs, Robert. "Some Observations on Instruction in Music Theory," College Music Symposium, VI (1966), 69-71.

Palisca, Claude V. Music in Our Schools: A Search for Improvement. Washington, D.C.: US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Office of Education, 1964.

Poland, William. "Theories of Music and Musical Behavior," Journal of Music Theory, VII (1963), 150-67.

Shifrin, Seymour. "Tomorrow's Theory Study," College Music Symposium, VI (1966), 41-44.

Spohn, Charles L. "Programming the Basic Materials for Self-Instructional Development of Aural Skills," Journal of Research in Music Education, XI (1963), 91-98.

Thompson, E.D. "A Philosophy of Teaching Music Theory," Music Educators Journal, L (1964), 72-73.

Willoughby, David, ed. Comprehensive Musicianship and Undergraduate Music Curricula: CMP 6. Washington, D.C.: CMP, M.E.N.C., 1971.


1See the Preface to his Elementary Training for Musicians, 2nd edition, rev. (New York, 1949).

2"On the Nature and Value of Theoretical Training: A Forum," Journal of Music Theory, II (1959), 32.

3"Undergraduate Training in Music Theory," College Music Symposium, V (1965), 23.

4"The Structure and Function of Musical Theory," College Music Symposium, V (1965), 49-60.

5"In Search of a New Pedagogy," College Music Symposium, VIII (1968), 109-16.

6"Hindemith's Contribution to Music Theory," Journal of Music Theory, XI (1965), 64.

7"The Crisis in Theory Teaching," College Music Symposium, V (1965), 46.

8William Thomson, "The Core Commitment in Theory and Literature for Tomorrow's Musician," College Music Symposium, X (1970), 41.

9Ibid., p. 42.

10Op. cit., p. 46.

11Creative Projects in Musicianship: CMP 4 (Washington, D.C., 1967).

12Wiley Housewright, "Comprehensive Musicianship and Undergraduate Music Curricula," Comprehensive Musicianship: An Anthology of Evolving Thought: CMP 5 (Washington, D.C., 1971), p. 58.

13Ronald G. Thomas, MMCP Synthesis (Bardonia, New York, n.d.).

14A number of cautionary comments have been made on this matter of creative work. A. Tilman Merritt, in the article previously cited (p. 32), would like to discourage students from the belief that "early and undisciplined attempts at composition" can replace "solid theoretical training." One writer of a textbook regularly placed the word composition in quotes, when using it to refer to a specific student assignment. On the other hand, Leo Kraft ("Reflections on CMP 6," in this journal, XII [1972], 86) in a discussion of the stress placed on creative work by various adherents of CMP, states that he believes that CMP "offers as good an opportunity for structured study as any other point of view."

15Robert Trotter, "Contemporary Contributions Toward Reconciliation," College Music Symposium, I (1961), 39.

16James C. Carlsen, "The Role of Programmed Instruction in the Development of Musical Skills," CMP 2: A Report of the Seminar Sponsored by the Contemporary Music Project at Northwestern University, April 1965 (Washington, D.C., 1965), p. 33.

17I wish to thank Claire Brook of W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., for making it possible for me to examine the copy of Peter Westergaard's text.

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