[Smt-talk] remedial theory question

Holm-Hudson, Kevin J kjholm2 at email.uky.edu
Fri Oct 15 09:10:03 PDT 2010

This is fantastic! I am putting a copy on my office door (duly credited to you, of course!).

All best regards,

Kevin Holm-Hudson
Associate Professor, Music Theory
University of Kentucky
From: smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org [smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org] On Behalf Of Stephen Jablonsky [jablonsky at optimum.net]
Sent: Thursday, October 14, 2010 10:07 PM
To: Timothy Cutler
Cc: Smt-talk at societymusictheory.org
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] remedial theory question

Every fall we run three sections of our basic music literacy class and accompanying piano lab for 48 students. In the spring we run two sections. Half of those people do not finish the semester because they did not realize that what they see on TV and at concerts takes many years of preparation. These highly trained musicians make it look so easy that our unwashed believe they can do it too by taking a couple of classes at a good school. I got so tired of saying the same thing over and over to these musically naive people that I wrote the following advice for all prospective music majors.

Thinking of Majoring in Music?
In the past several years an increasing number of students have entered our college with no particular major in mind. When asked by advisors at the school to choose a subject they would like to study many of them opt for music without realizing what that entails. If you are of college age and you still cannot read music or play an instrument proficiently it will be very hard for you to succeed as a music major without a great deal of time and effort invested in the remediation your deficiencies.  At this critical moment in your career you have to ask yourself if you want to be a music student or a musician. A music student takes a bunch of courses and hopes for the best. A musician is someone who devotes many hours each day to his or her personal growth and development. They do this every day of the week, every week of the year. There are no vacations or holidays from this regimen. You must constantly be learning new things and overcoming increasingly difficult challenges. Being a musician is a calling, not an avocation. It involves the relentless pursuit of truth and beauty. It is an endeavor where one is never satisfied with one’s achievements because the ultimate goal (though unachievable) is perfection.
Musicians make music. At the very least, they do this in two ways: they sing and they play an instrument. The singing they do because there is an impulse within them that drives them to vocalize. They play an instrument because they want to be able to use beautiful sounds to communicate something significant to other human beings. The magic and mystery of music intrigues and entrances them, and they hope some day to be able to say something special using the techniques they have been taught.
Success in music is dependent on three things: talent, training, and hard work. Talent is something you are born with; it cannot be acquired or learned. Some people are greatly talented; others are less so. Training is crucial because without the guidance of a professional giving you regular lessons, at least every other week, you have almost no chance of success. “He who has himself for a teacher, has a fool for a student.” Only a professional can help you correct your mistakes and overcome the challenges your instrument presents. Hard work is what you do as you practice every single day to incorporate the guidance your teacher has given you. It is a well-known fact that a talented student with the proper teachers needs ten years to master an instrument. This mastery means that you are prepared to practice and perform the great works written for your instrument. It also means that you can perform with proficiency and musicality in ensembles with other equally skillful musicians.
It is hoped that you will eventually become an informed performer. That means you must also study music theory and history.  These will help you understand the compositional process, appreciate how music is constructed, give you a sense of style and context, and explain the reasons WHY the music you perform or hear was composed to sound the way it does.  All of these tools will help you in your interpretation and realization of the works you study.
If you are truly a rank beginner, and are not musically literate, you will need to take Elementary Musicianship (Music 13100) and Beginning Keyboard Techniques (Music 16100) along with Introduction to Music (Music 10100). If you get at least a B in all three courses you have a fair chance of eventually graduating as a Music Major. It won’t be easy, but it will be an exciting adventure. It is only fair to warn you that music may well be even harder than mathematics. In math you have to get the right answer or fail. In music you not only have to play the right notes at the right time, but it must be done with great skill, care, and sensitivity. It is not enough to be right; it must also be beautiful! This will be a lifelong journey. Are you ready to begin?
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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Prof. Stephen Jablonsky, Ph.D.
Music Department Chair
The City College of New York
160 Convent Avenue S-72
New York NY 10031
(212) 650-7663

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