The College Music Society Music Theory Undergraduate Core Curriculum Survey - 2000

  • PDF: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40374423

Introduction

A few years ago, Pamela L. Poulin, College Music Society Executive Board Member for Music Theory and Chair of the Music Theory Advisory Committee, asked me, as a member of the Committee, to conduct a survey of undergraduate music theory curricula. With input from members of the Committee, an instrument took shape that addressed issues concerning faculty and curriculum, teaching loads, course content, textbooks, placement exams, and the like.

The Survey was posted on the Cleveland Institute of Music internet site and was advertised through CMS mailings and list-serve announcements. Regrettably, it was not possible to process paper mailings and submissions. Responses were received from 248 institutions. Every attempt was made to tabulate data in an accurate and consistent manner. In many cases, some questions were left unanswered, and in others more than one response was selected. Therefore, in spite of the fact that some 248 persons replied, the total responses for each question will not always add up to 248.

This endeavor turned out to be far from scientific. In retrospect, some items were clumsily or inappropriately presented, thereby rendering the responses to those items of little use to this Survey. In a few cases, two colleagues from the same institution answered the Survey, complete with conflicting responses (which were reconciled). And, of course, responses from another 248 schools might yield entirely different results.

In spite of its shortcomings, the 2000 CMS Music Theory Survey—the first of its kind—does reveal much useful information to the music theorist, the administrator, and to collegiate music faculty in general. The entire Survey is not reproduced here, but may be viewed on the CMS website at:

http://www.collegemusicsociety.org/redir.idc?url=/profactiv/forums/MusicTheory/MusicTheoryhome.idc.

What is seen below is a summary of prevailing tendencies, as attributed to the hypothetical music theorist whose responses appear most of the time in the Survey. Scientific statistical analysis is not attempted here. Following that, certain aspects of the Survey will be discussed which point out noteworthy trends and concerns.

 

The "Typical" Survey Response

According to the Survey's results, the "typical" music theory faculty member characteristically teaches in a four-year university or liberal arts college which enrolls about as many performance majors as music education majors. The average number of undergraduate music majors per institution is 119, and the average number of full-time music faculty is 13. The average number of persons teaching music theory is 4, with an average of one individual who teaches music theory only. Graduate teaching assistants are used in only about 15% of the responding schools, and they teach primarily in first-year courses.

Most music theory faculty teach 3 courses per term, or 6 courses per year, with 12 contact hours per week. And the overwhelming number of theory faculty teach the same number of courses and contact hours as their music history colleagues. A bit more than one-third of the time the distribution of faculty loads takes into account administrative duties, but research-related activities are factored into music theory faculty loads only about one-fifth of the time. Sabbatical leaves are possible every 7 years at almost half of the schools represented; another 40 consider sabbaticals more often.

The majority of schools require two years of music theory instruction; however, one-third of the reporting schools require more than two years. Harmony usually is taught for two years (one year for diatonic harmony, one year for chromatic harmony), meeting three times per week for fifty-minute sessions. Kostka/Payne's Tonal Harmony is the textbook of choice, with Benward/White's Music in Theory & Practice being the second favorite. There generally are about 15 students in a class. Written theory is taught separately from aural training and keyboard 65% of the time.

Most schools require two years of Aural Training and Sight Singing. For these two disciplines, which are usually taught together, two fifty-minute classes per week is the norm, with 15 students per class. The prevailing type of solmization is moveable do with do-based minor (see below for the prevalence of other solmization).

The typical music unit requires two years of Keyboard Harmony, but in this case the meaning of "typical" is tempered, for only 85 of the responding 248 schools expect its students to complete two years of instruction in this area. Additionally, 41 institutions require one year, and an astonishing 52 colleges mandate no instruction in keyboard harmony at all. When they do meet, the classes occur twice per week for fifty minutes each, with less than eight students in a class. Overwhelmingly, keyboard harmony is taught as part of piano class instead of in the theory curriculum.

Form and Analysis, as a one-term course which meets three times per week, is required by only 103 of the institutions involved in the Survey. Among the most used texts and anthologies are Burkhart's Anthology for Musical Analysis, Benward/White's Music in Theory & Practice (various chapters in a comprehensive music theory textbook), Green's Form in Tonal Music, and Spencer/Temko's A Practical Approach to the Study of Form in Music.

Tonal Counterpoint (eighteenth century) seems to be a struggling breed, with only approximately one-third of the responding schools requiring one or more terms with three class meetings per week. Popular texts are Kennan's Counterpoint and Gauldin's A Practical Approach To Eighteenth-Century Counterpoint.

If tonal counterpoint represents a struggling breed, then Modal Counterpoint (sixteenth century) must be practically a museum piece, with only 15% of the responding schools requiring one term with three meetings per week. Preferred textbooks include Benward/White's Music in Theory & Practice (a curious choice, as there is only one relevant chapter of about twenty pages), Gauldin's A Practical Approach to 16th Century Counterpoint, and Owen's Modal & Tonal Counterpoint.

Surprisingly, Twentieth-Century Music fares only a bit better than Form and Analysis, with 111 schools requiring one term. As in the harmony realm, Kostka again leads the pack in this area with his Materials and Techniques of Twentieth-Century Music.

Entering first-year students can expect to take Placement Exams at 147 schools before their studies commence. These exams will stress fundamentals, and the written activities will include part writing and Roman numeral analysis. About half of these schools will test for aural skills at this point, and the ones which do will incorporate intervals, triad types, and melodic dictation into their exams. Also included, but to a slightly lesser degree, are harmonic and rhythmic dictation. And about half again as many schools will test for sight singing at the entering level.

Fundamentals are covered or reviewed during the first term of music theory instruction at nearly all colleges, most often for two, three, or four weeks. Topics included are sight singing (116 schools), dictation (108 schools), and keyboard (87 schools). In about half of the responding schools there is a separate remedial course in fundamentals for music majors who have had little background in music theory. This course usually is not for credit and does not count toward the music degree. Such a course results in an out-of-phase music theory sequence at 60 institutions. Summer remedial theory courses are offered at 43 schools. Textbooks which were mentioned the most are Duckworth's A Creative Approach to Music Fundamentals and Ottman's Rudiments of Music.

Accelerated music theory for students with substantial background in music theory is offered in only 25 schools. However, it is possible for students to exempt out of first-year music theory by taking a placement exam at 172 institutions. In the vast majority of cases, the successful students begin immediately with second-year instruction, and they almost always take fewer total years or credits of music theory.

MENC National Standards are fulfilled at116 institutions as part of the theory curriculum, with improvisation and world music being those mentioned.

 

Trends and Concerns

As we all know, one person's element of concern might be another's point of security. Realizing therefore that many persons could disagree with some or all of the dilemmas listed below, a few aspects of the Survey will be mentioned which may seem troubling with regard to music theory instruction. At the very least, these issues might serve as topics for continued conversation among theorists, administrators, and other faculty.

One primary frustration is the relatively low amount of emphasis that is placed upon keyboard harmony (not to be confused with keyboard studies, functional piano, and the like). Understanding that students often bring little or no background in playing keyboard instruments to the collegiate setting, and also recognizing that keyboard harmony can be a difficult and apprehensive discipline to teach, the point also may be made that this is the very area which can crystallize much of what takes place in the two-year music theory core curriculum where so many theory faculty spend a tremendous amount of time and energy. In fact, if pressed, some would point out keyboard harmony as the single most important part of the curriculum. It is here that the student can synthesize such elements as voice leading, harmonic progression, rhythmic stability, and improvisation in a fashion that is at once auditory, tactile, visual, and cognitive. It must be stressed that the issue at hand here is the inclusion of keyboard as a tool for the study of harmony rather than the pursuit of the keyboard as an applied instrument.

At the Cleveland Institute, we use keyboard harmony "idioms" as the basis for many parts of the music theory curriculum. Idioms are brief, standard progressions which are based upon scale-step melodic patterns (such as 3-2-1, 3-4-5, etc.). After being memorized, these idioms serve as building blocks which can be used to harmonize segments of chorale melodies at the keyboard. The students also have these idioms available to use in similar written contexts. Additionally, a secure knowledge of idioms can be helpful to the sight singer. Finally, the idioms are also employed to assist those who are weak in the fundamentals of harmonic dictation, since many dictation examples usually include such patterns. Therefore, the often-lodged complaint of students not being able to practice aural training outside of the classroom is addressed (in addition to CAI, tutoring, etc.) by the students' practice of idioms at the keyboard, the success rate of which has been remarkable.

And so it is daunting that so many schools (52 in this Survey) do not require any keyboard harmony at all! Likewise, another 41 require only one year, leaving 85 institutions which require two years. Contrasted with requirements for harmony, sight singing, and aural training, there is a formidable difference in the limited amount of instruction of keyboard harmony. Furthermore, those institutions which provide a course in fundamentals put less emphasis on keyboard harmony than on other elements such as sight singing and dictation. And finally, the Survey's findings report that, overwhelmingly, keyboard harmony is taught as part of piano class instead of in the theory curriculum. Therefore, this topic usually is instructed in a setting where the main focus might not necessarily be on voice leading and other aspects of the music theory classroom, but possibly on elements which are more related to playing the instrument.

Some may argue that such keyboard skills are initially beyond the grasp of many music students. While the performance level of our students is quite high, one may be assured that their keyboard abilities usually are not in the same league as that of their major instruments. Keyboard harmony is a priority in our curriculum, and with regard to that emphasis, we provide the students with a very structured and gradual approach so that they may attain success.

Another area of concern is the declining amount of instruction in counterpoint. Long considered to be one of the fundamental aspects of tutelage for musicians, this realm now seems to receive less emphasis than such topics as form and analysis and twentieth-century music. This trend has been borne out in the Survey and also anecdotally in two ways to me recently. First, as part of our entrance examinations for prospective graduate students, an increasing number each year state that they have not had a course in tonal (eighteenth-century) counterpoint on the undergraduate level. Secondly, the eighteenth-century counterpoint textbook which we have used for years is now out of print. The publisher's representative (Schirmer Books) has stated that there simply was no longer enough of a demand for this text to remain viable. As frightening as this decline of tonal counterpoint might be, it is even more so for modal, or sixteenth-century counterpoint. Aside from being required for theory and/or composition majors, this field is now almost unknown to today's young musician.

This concern with the shrinking number of counterpoint courses leads to another worry, namely, the predilection for the two-year basic theory sequence to cover all aspects of theoretical discourse. It is not unusual, as the Survey suggests, for the two years to include not only fundamentals, harmony, sight singing, aural training, and keyboard harmony, but also whatever instruction a department or school might provide in terms of form and analysis, counterpoint, and twentieth-century music. Clearly, this trend, as justifiable as it may seem to some, does not provide the student with the best environment to learn all of these complex and time-dependent realms.

 

The Survey

As stated above, the entire Survey will not be reprinted here; please see the CMS website for this information. Some of the pertinent sections to the above discussion are provided below.

 

COLLEGE MUSIC SOCIETY
ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON MUSIC THEORY
MUSIC THEORY UNDERGRADUATE CORE CURRICULUM SURVEY - 2000

 

Institutions - 248 responded

2-year institution 42
4-year institution 174
Master's degree offered 84
Doctoral degree offered 39

Music theory faculty

Is the typical teaching load for music theory faculty the same as that for music history professors?   179
More courses   45
Less courses   9

Are administrative duties and/or research-related activities factored into music theory faculty loads?  
47 (administrative)
  95 (research)

How often are sabbatical leaves offered at your school?

none - 19
less than every 7 years - 40
every 7 years - 115
greater than every 7 years - 18


Do your graduate students teach music theory in your program?

Yes 32   No 161

Requirements for undergraduate music theory

How many years of music theory does your school require?

1 year 11
1.5 years 9
2 years 125
2.5 years 29
3 years 35
>3 years 16

Written music theory:

How many years are required?

1 year 14
1.5 years 12
2 years 147
2.5 years 21
3 years 22
>3 years 11

Written music theory taught separately from aural training and keyboard - 161

Aural skills:

How many years are required?

1 year 18
1.5 years 15
2 years 163
2.5 years 6
3 years 3
>3 years 6

Sight singing:

How many years are required?

1 year 19
1.5 years 11
2 years 143
2.5 years 2
3 years 0
>3 years 7

What type of solmization is used for sight singing?

Fixed do - 37 Moveable do, la-based minor - 68
Numbers - 72 Moveable do, do-based minor - 107
Letter names - 35 No system - 13

Keyboard harmony:

How many years are required?

0 years 52 52
1 year 41
1.5 years 3
2 years 85
2.5 years 2
3 years 4
>3 years 0

Average class size is _____.

<8 students 42
8 students 13
10 students 27
12 students 22
15 students 18
20 students 5
>30 students 32

Is keyboard harmony taught separately from piano class? 75
Or is keyboard harmony a part of piano class? 129


Placement Exams

Do you have Freshman placement exams for written music theory? 147

If so, what topics are included on the exam?

Fundamentals 147   Partwriting 48
Roman numeral analysis 73   Counterpoint 10

Do you have Freshman placement exams for aural skills? 78

If so, what topics are included on the exam?

Intervals 69   Melodic dictation 62
Triad types 62   Harmonic dictation 32
7th chord types 19   Rhythmic dictation 54

Do you have Freshman placement exams for sight singing? 46


Music Theory Curriculum

Diatonic harmony

Number of semesters/quarters

1 term 34
1.5 terms 21
2 terms 97
2.5 6
3 26
4 19

Author(s) of textbooks:

Aldwell/Schachter 18
Benjamin/Horvit/Nelson 6
Benward/White 45
Gauldin 10
Kostka/Payne 55
Ottman 20
Spencer 15
Turek 12

Chromatic harmony

Number of semesters/quarters

0 terms 9
0.5 terms 15
1 term 70
1.5 terms 26
2 terms 63
3 8
4 2

Author(s) of textbooks:

Aldwell/Schachter 11
Benjamin/Horvit/Nelson 5
Benward/White 39
Gauldin 10
Kostka/Payne 53
Ottman 16
Spencer 12
Turek 12

Form and Analysis

Number of semesters/quarters

0 terms 23
1 term 103
2 terms 27
3 2
4 6

Author(s) of textbooks and anthologies:

Benward/White 17
Berry 4
Burkhart 29
Green 15
Kostka/Payne 4
Spencer/Temko 15
Spring/Hutcheson 13
Stein 4
Turek 11

Tonal counterpoint

Number of semesters/quarters

0 terms 49
>0, <1 term 37
1 term 87
2 terms 7

Author(s) of textbooks:

Benjamin 4
Benward/White 10
Gauldin 15
Kennan 32
Owen 8

Twentieth century music

Number of semesters/quarters

0 terms 27
>0, <1 term 54
1 term 111
2 terms 7

Author(s) of textbooks:

Benward/White 21
Burkhart 12
Kostka 23
Kostka/Payne 7
Lester 2
Morgan 3
Simms 5
Spencer 5
Straus 14
Turek 11

Modal (Renaissance) counterpoint

Number of semesters/quarters

0 terms 107
>0, <1 term 24
1 term 33

Author(s) of textbooks and anthologies:

Benward/White 9
Gauldin 8
Owen 7

Fundamentals

Are fundamentals covered/reviewed in first semester/quarter of music theory for all music majors? 214

Is there a separate remedial course in fundamentals for music majors who have had little background in music theory? 136

If yes, does this result in an out-of-phase music theory sequence? 60

Author(s) of textbooks:

Duckworth 7
Ottman 7
Henry 4
Hill 4
Lynn 4
Nelson 4
White 4

If students in need of remediation are required to take Fundamentals before the regular core sequence, is it therefore a non-credit course that does not count toward the degree? 60

Does the Music Fundamentals class include sightsinging?   116
dictation?   108
keyboard?   87

Also, does your school offer summer remedial theory for students who need it, so that these students can enter "regular" freshman theory in the fall with the rest of the class? 43


Accelerated Music Theory

Can students exempt out of first-year Music Theory by taking a placement exam? 172

If so, how do the students proceed with music theory studies?

Begin immediately with second-year music theory   128
Wait one semester   27
Wait one year before taking second-year music theory   15
Place into appropriate semester   17

Do such students take fewer total years or credits of Music Theory? 132

Or do they make up for the exemption by taking more upper division music theory electives? 30



Appendix

Textbooks cited in the Survey

 

Diatonic and Chromatic Harmony

Aldwell, Edward and Carl Schachter. Harmony and Voice Leading, 2nd ed. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989.

Benjamin, Thomas, Michael Horvit, and Robert Nelson. Techniques and Materials of Tonal Music: With an Introduction to Twentieth-Century Techniques, 5th ed. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1998.

Benward, Bruce, and Gary White. Music in Theory and Practice, 6th ed. Madison,Wisconsin: WCB Brown & Benchmark, 1997.

Gauldin, Robert. Harmonic Practice in Tonal Music. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1997.

Kostka, Stefan, and Dorothy Payne. Tonal Harmony, with an Introduction to Twentieth-Century Music, 4th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2000.

Ottman, Robert W. Elementary Harmony and Advanced Harmony, 4th ed. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall Inc., 1989.

Spencer, Peter. The Practice of Harmony, 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall, Inc., 2000.

Turek, Ralph. The Elements of Music. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.

 

Form and Analysis

Benward, Bruce, and Gary White. Music in Theory and Practice, 6th ed. Madison,Wisconsin: WCB Brown & Benchmark, 1997.

Berry, Wallace. Form in Music, 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1986.

Burkhart, Charles, Anthology for Musical Analysis, 5th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1994.

Green, Douglass M. Form in Tonal Music, 2nd ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979.

Kostka, Stefan, and Dorothy Payne. Tonal Harmony, with an Introduction to Twentieth-Century Music, 4th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2000.

Spencer, Peter and Peter M. Temko. A Practical Approach to The Study of Form in Music. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1988.

Spring, Glenn and Jere Hutcheson. Musical Form and Analysis. Madison, Wisconsin: Brown & Benchmark, 1995.

Stein, Leon. Structure and Style: The Study and Analysis of Musical Forms. Evanston: Summy-Birchard, 1962.

Turek , Ralph. Analytical Anthology of Music, 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1992.

 

Tonal Counterpoint

Benjamin, Thomas. Counterpoint in the Style of J. S. Bach. New York: Schirmer Books, 1986.

Benward, Bruce, and Gary White. Music in Theory and Practice, 6th ed. Madison,Wisconsin: WCB Brown & Benchmark, 1997.

Gauldin, Robert. A Practical Approach to Eighteenth-Century Counterpoint. Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc., 1995.

Kennan, Kent. Counterpoint Based on Eighteenth-Century Practice, 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1999.

Owen, Harold. Modal and Tonal Counterpoint: from Josquin to Stravinsky. New York: Schirmer Books, 1992.

 

Twentieth-Century Music

Benward, Bruce, and Gary White. Music in Theory and Practice, 6th ed. Madison,Wisconsin: WCB Brown & Benchmark, 1997.

Burkhart, Charles, Anthology for Musical Analysis. 5th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1994.

Kostka, Stefan. Materials and Techniques of Twentieth-Century Music, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1999.

Kostka, Stefan, and Dorothy Payne. Tonal Harmony, with an Introduction to Twentieth-Century Music, 4th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2000.

Lester, Joel. Analytic Approaches to Twentieth-Century Music. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1989.

Morgan, Robert P. Twentieth-Century Music. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1991.

Simms, Bryan R. Music of the Twentieth Century, 2nd ed. New York: Schirmer Books, 1996.

Spencer, Peter. The Practice of Harmony, 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall, Inc., 2000.

Straus, Joseph N. Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 2000.

Turek, Ralph. The Elements of Music. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.

 

Modal (Renaissance) Counterpoint

Benward, Bruce, and Gary White. Music in Theory and Practice, 6th ed. Madison,Wisconsin: WCB Brown & Benchmark, 1997.

Gauldin, Robert. A Practical Approach to Sixteenth-Century Counterpoint. Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc., 1995.

Owen, Harold. Modal and Tonal Counterpoint: from Josquin to Stravinsky. New York: Schirmer Books, 1992.

 

Fundamentals

Duckworth, William. A Creative Approach to Music Fundamentals, 6th ed. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1998.

Henry, Earl. Fundamentals of Music, 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1999.

Hill, Frank W., and Roland Searight, revised by Dorothy Searight Hendrickson. Study Outline and Workbook in the Elements of Music, 8th ed. Dubuque, Iowa: W.C. Brown Co., 1984.

Lynn, Theodore A. Introductory Musicianship, 5th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1997.

Nelson, Robert and Carl J. Christensen. Foundations of Music: A Computer-Assisted Introduction, 4th ed. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 2000.

Ottman, Robert W., and Frank D. Mainous. Rudiments of Music, 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1995.

White, Gary C. Music First!, 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Company, 1995.

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Richard B. Nelson

Richard Nelson is Professor and Head of Music Theory at the Cleveland Institute of Music.  He received a Bachelor of Music degree, cum laude, and a Master of Music degree from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and a Ph.D. from Eastman School of Music. He studied harmony and Solf├Ęge with Nadia Boulanger, Conservatoire Americaine, Fontainebleau, France. He is former associate professor of music at Mercer University and former instructor at Eastman School of Music. His articles have appeared in the Journal of Music Theory, Gamut, Journal of Musicological Research and College Music Symposium. He has presented papers at regional and national meetings of the Society for Music Theory, American Musicological Society, The College Music Society, and others. He is former president of the Georgia Association of Music Theorists and Music Theory Southeast, and a published composer. He is a reader for the Graduate Record Examination in Music and for the Advanced Placement Test in Music for the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, New Jersey. He is a member of the Association of Anglican Musicians, Society for Music Theory, and the American Guild of Organists. He was appointed to the CIM faculty in 1996.

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