[Smt-talk] Advice re: analytical literature précis

gzar at mail2.gis.net gzar at mail2.gis.net
Thu Aug 19 05:56:09 PDT 2010

Dear Jeff,

Two strategies come to mind, which I no doubt 
learned from my own colleagues over the years.

In one, students are encouraged to have a 
personal response to the essay, of pretty much 
any kind -- from liking some aspect of it, being 
impressed with how it is written or explained, 
discovering some "paradigm-shifting" knowledge or 
approach, finding it boring, disliking its style 
or "attitude", finding one of its main points 
counter-intuitive -- or suspecting or even 
knowing it is wrong... In short, the students now 
has something to say about the article. That's 
the "hook"; the precis itself arises when the 
student is encouraged, in the interests of a 
providing his or her personal response with a 
more full context, or even simply in the interest 
of "fair play", to summarize the original 
author's writing -- indeed, to make the author's 
best, most persuasive case for him or her. The 
student likely will be motivated to do this, 
through both his or her personal interest and the 
"rightness" of giving the original writing a 
persuasive presentation. While this goes beyond 
what you mean to assign the students, at least 
the precis is included, and the more personal 
side of the assignment might be an interesting 
offshoot for the course.

In the other strategy, students are asked to 
write about the original article as if needing to 
describe it to a classmate, who knows the lingo 
but not the specific subject of the article -- 
either as if to help the classmate be better 
prepared later to read the article him- or 
herself, or as if the classmate never will read 
it but needs to know about it (ie, some living 
"Cliff-Notes"). Again, there will be motivation 
to communicate and persuade one's peers about the 
article, which may come naturally enough that the 
instructor may find it already a good 
starting-point for future precis advice.

Perhaps relatively short book reviews (or at 
least the "precis" parts of them -- including 
maybe the challenge of the student finding what 
part of a review might actually illustrate a 
precis) and relatively-long abstracts (and the 
student discovering (as you mention) why most 
short (normal) ones might not really be a precis) 
might provide further samples and engagement with 
the subject.

I hope these recollections from my own teaching might be helpful.



Gerald Zaritzky
Faculty, Department of Music Theory
New England Conservatory of Music
290 Huntington Avenue (Room JH 325)
Boston, Massachusetts 02115  USA
617-585-1373; fax: 617-585-1301
gerald.zaritzky at necmusic.edu
617-492-5493 (home)

At 20:47 -0500 8/18/10, Jeffrey Perry wrote:
>To the collective wisdom--
>     I'm hoping that some of you may have 
>pedagogic advice (or even language that I could 
>plunder outright). I want to require students in 
>a graduate course entitled "The Analysis of 
>Tonal Music" to submit a meaningful summary or 
>précis (longer than a RILM abstract but shorter 
>than the article itself) of one or more articles 
>or essays from relevant analytical literature, 
>the article itself to be selected by mutual 
>agreement between instructor and student.
>     Prior attempts to describe what I mean by 
>"meaningful summary" in the past have often led 
>to mutual frustration. Has anyone found a way of 
>framing such an assignment that elicits 
>thoughtful, engaged, critical (in the best 
>sense) results? The students are a very 
>heterogeneous group of M.M. and doctoral 
>students, mostly performers, with some 
>conductors and even a few theory majors in the 
>Many thanks,
>Jeff Perry
>Professor of Music Theory
>275 Music and Dramatic Arts
>School of Music, College of Music & Dramatic Arts
>Louisiana State University
>jperry at lsu.edu / (225) 578-3556 (voice) / (225) 578-2562 (fax)
>Smt-talk mailing list
>Smt-talk at societymusictheory.org

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