[Smt-talk] remedial theory question

Larry Barnes lbarnes at transy.edu
Thu Oct 14 09:42:01 PDT 2010

I graduated from the Institute (1972, 1973) and was placed in sophomore
theory when I arrived, because:

1.       I was lucky enough to have an Oberlin grad for a choir director at
Lakewood High School who taught a year of music theory. I twisted her arm
into letting me continue my senior year into chromatic harmony and form, and
advanced era-training. So when I entered the Institute they placed me in
sophomore theory, which was so slowly paced that I continually asked my
teachers for additional work.

2.       I also PICKED MUSIC OUT AT THE PIANO when I was young (age 3 and
beyond, I'm told.) Just one-finger, one-note melodies. So when I hear music
I see a keyboard. As much as we would love it otherwise, music is as visual
as it is aural, and aural memory requires attaching a visual "tag" to a
sound. Alvaretta West (bless her heart) required piano-to-piano dictation in
her classes, which gives you that visual image. High/low errors get

It was not until my doctoral degree at Eastman that I finally received
serious, advanced theory training.


So my suggestion is to get students into a keyboard lab ASAP repeating
simple melodies, scales, chords, intervals, and go from there. Hunt and peck
IS the way I learned ear-training.


Regarding the bookwork, that's all it is. My experience at the institute was
that applied teachers didn't care at all if their students learned theory -
they were preparing them for a world of orchestral and operatic performance,
and actually complained to the theory faculty when homework took a precious
hour away from practice time. My hope is that this attitude is a distant

But this may be the reason Tim has had little impact with his pedagogy. Do
you have student login records for the teacher, showing the work done and
scores earned? Do you pair up students with high and low skills in keyboard
classes? Do you have the support of the applied faculty? They should be
pouncing on students with low theory scores. I hope that is now the case.


Larry Barnes, professor of music

Transylvania University





From: smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org
[mailto:smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org] On Behalf Of Timothy
Sent: Sunday, October 10, 2010 2:23 PM
To: Smt-talk at societymusictheory.org
Subject: [Smt-talk] remedial theory question


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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