CMS Forums Monthly Discussion: December Survey Summary

The topic for the CMS Forums Monthly Discussion for December focused on applied music courses and how they are managed at various institutions. Running these courses smoothly has been an issue for my institution for several years now. This is primarily due to the software system that we use, which impacts how instructor contracts are processed, grades are entered, and registration for the courses. While discussing separate matters with colleagues from other institutions it came to my attention that ours is not the only school to face challenges with these courses, and so it seemed best to ask the membership of the College Music Society to weigh in on the matter.

The number of responses was small, only eleven people completed the survey, but the feedback was helpful nonetheless. There were eight questions asked, seven of which were about the number of people involved and the procedures followed at the respondent’s institution. The last question asked what other insight the individual might have regarding applied music courses.

Responses for the first three questions were as follows:

1. The number of students enrolled in applied music courses on average:

6 – 100 or more
3 – 50-99
1 – 25-49
1 – Fewer than 25

2. The number of instructors teaching applied music:

5 – 20 or more
2 – 15-19
3 – 10-14
1 – Fewer than 10

3. The number of applied music levels (one year of instruction being equal to one level):1

6 – More than four
4 – Four
1 – Two
0 – Fewer than two

The next four questions were focused on the procedures followed. Full-time faculty at all of the respondents’ institutions teach applied music students as part of their teaching load and not for overtime. This is contrary to my school, where we are only allowed to teach applied music students for overtime.

There was great similarity in how students register for these courses and how instructors and grades are assigned. For registration, students sign up for a particular course (which for some schools has a specific instructor assigned to it), requiring special consent. If an instructor is not already assigned to a section, many schools assign students to a “senior teacher”, filling their schedule first and then moving on to someone of a more “junior” status. There are some schools that allow students to request a particular instructor, which the respondents felt was beneficial as it ensured a good working relationship between the two. In either case, faculty are allowed to have a final say in whether a student is accepted into their studio. One response indicated that the studio assignment is done by the department head. The methodology for assigning grades was consistent throughout, each instructor submits their own grades, there are no sections that contain more than one instructor.2

Other suggestions discussed matters from weekly master classes to how allowing students to request their instructors has been an effective recruiting tool for these courses to emphasizing that the instruction must be of a high quality (i.e., someone should not teach lessons just because they can play well). There was a focus overall of assigning the right instructor to a student. One comment even stated that this should be prioritized over providing a balanced studio load amongst the various instructors.

The responses to this survey, though few in number, have been helpful. Applied music courses sometimes need to be explained to administrators who are not musicians, and it is often necessary to present information regarding what is common practice for a given task (or class). This survey has helped to do that, and will be added to the conversation surrounding applied music courses at our school and, hopefully, other institutions as well.


1The options for this question were selected to accommodate all institutions, from two-year schools to those offering graduate degrees.

2Again, this is a little different from my institution, where some sections do wind up having more than one instructor listed, a result of the software system used to manage the registration and contract process.

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Last modified on Monday, 29/02/2016

Matthew Shevitz

Matthew Shevitz is the Chair of the Humanities and Music Department and professor of music at Harold Washington College in Chicago, Illinois. He is the editor of the CMS Forums component of  College Music Symposium and a regular contributor to DownBeat Magazine. In addition to teaching, writing, editing, and administrative work, he actively performs jazz and popular music throughout the Midwest. 

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