[Smt-talk] remedial theory question

Zae Munn zmunn at saintmarys.edu
Thu Oct 14 07:18:25 PDT 2010


I teach theory and composition at Saint Mary's College where we have BA and BMEd degrees.  A good number of years ago we "bit the bullet" and admitted that the vast majority of our majors needed a fundamentals theory course, even those with some background.  For instance, they might be good at one clef, but no others; they certainly wouldn't know and octave designation system; they would have a few favorite major key signatures but not all; they would have a sense of whatever minor scale form they might have studied in lessons, but not all 3; and so forth.

It seemed more thoroughgoing and, in the end, more efficient to enroll them all in theory fundamentals (which we call Theory 1), but treat it like a real college level course, so it moves from assuming no knowledge to a decent level of comprehensive (not selective) knowledge.  This then saves lots of time as they move through the later parts of theory--less strange holes in their knowledge.  

I am currently covering the first 4 chapters of Benward in Theory 1.  I don't love this book but it has less of a baby-steps look than actual fundamentals books, and the students can see where they will go in Theory 2.  

I know many schools now begin with a fundamentals course, and begin Theory 1 (my Theory 2) in 2nd semester, and the fundamentals course is a prereq which does not count for the degree.  This has always seemed to me to be a smoke and mirrors numbers game.  If virtually all of them need this fundamentals training, it seems dishonest to not count it towards the degree and the actual number of credits you are requiring.  

Of course you need an option for the occasional student to place out of it, but, in my program, this rarely happens.  We really do cover a lot of territory that is then needed to succeed in the second semester.

Zae Munn
Saint Mary's College


On Oct 10, 2010, at 2:22 PM, Timothy Cutler wrote:

As the years go by, here at the Cleveland Institute of Music we find ourselves placing more and more incoming freshman into remedial theory classes. Our expectations for Theory 101 are not outrageous—a decent knowledge of major and minor scales, key signatures, intervals, and minimal (and I stress minimal) aural and keyboard skills are all we expect. Yet, a growing number of freshmen enter their first year with no clue of these basic concepts and skills. Is this a growing trend nationally? Are other schools experiencing the same issues? We are seeking suggestions for ways to help more freshmen place into Theory 101 rather than remedial courses. We have made a pedagogical video accessible to all incoming freshmen as soon as they are accepted at CIM, but so far it has had little impact. We are also considering online tutorials, theory workshops during orientation week, and attaching scholarship bonuses/penalties to theory placement. What other ideas should we consider? Thanks very much!
Dr. Tim Cutler
Professor of Music Theory
Cleveland Institute of Music
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