David K Feurzeig mozojo at gmail.com
Thu Apr 26 06:58:09 PDT 2012

I too am attracted to concision in exposition, and sometimes use in- 
house materials largely for this reason.

There *is* a nicely done outline-form textbook on the market. However,  
it's priced comparably to much larger textbooks--it saves paper and  
weight but not much money.

Benjamin, Horvit, Nelson: Techniques and Materials of Tonal Music

David Feurzeig
University of Vermont

On Apr 25, 2012, at 2:42 PM, Stephen Jablonsky wrote:

> I think we can all agree that cleaning up one’s workspace has great  
> merit. Today I was organizing the books in my professional library  
> and decided to address my sizable collection of music theory texts.  
> In doing so I came across Tchaikovsky’s Guide to the Practical Study  
> of Harmony and was struck by the thinness of the book relative to  
> the other volumes on the same shelf. It gave me pause to reflect on  
> the very nature of music theory instruction and I wondered whether  
> anyone ever really learned music theory from a textbook. These days  
> our esteemed college textbook publishers are offering us weighty  
> tomes that very often range between 600 to more than 900 pages. They  
> are certainly impressively complete but I wonder whether they make  
> better reference sources than practical manuals. I know if I were a  
> student I wouldn’t want to have to carry around a hard cover book  
> that weighs several pounds and seems to contain more information  
> than I really need. I wonder why it was that Tchaikovsky felt that  
> 137 pages of instruction was sufficient for his conservatory  
> students when today’s authors burden the musical neophyte with five  
> times that many pages.
> Back in the 1970s three of the members of our theory faculty (David  
> Bushler, Joel Lester, and Stan Persky) cobbled together a 50-page  
> guide they called The Materials of Harmonic Analysis that was  
> published in-house. Its humble goal was to merely introduce the  
> materials and concepts of music theory and it served us well for  
> many years. Each of the instructors in the department added their  
> own supplements at each level of instruction. Joel went on to expand  
> that book into his own 660-page two-volume set. Years later I did  
> the same thing but limited my attempt to 235 pages. I have always  
> felt that our trio of professors, Tchaikovsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov  
> (Practical Manual of Harmony, 128 pages) were on the right track.  
> Beginning music theory students need a kind of Michelin Guide that  
> is compendious rather than encyclopedic because they need something  
> they can comfortably carry with them as they go through their day.  
> Hopefully it won’t cost an arm and a leg. In contrast, I believe the  
> important, monumental reference works serve best sitting on a shelf  
> at home not far from my desk.
> A great deal of the weight and expense in the average book is caused  
> by the inclusion of hundreds of examples that are merely fragments  
> from larger works. Looking at a 4, 8, or 12-measure snippet taken  
> from the middle of some famous piece may not be the best way to get  
> students to really understand anything significant about the  
> construction of music. Taken out of context these examples always  
> remind me of a leopard in a cage at the zoo, and, like the boy in  
> the Ives song, I wonder whether real music is anything like that.
> I would love to know what you think and have experienced in your  
> career as music student and teacher. Personally, I find that reading  
> theory textbooks is a narcoleptic experience. I suspect that the  
> most effective instruction comes from the analysis of complete  
> scores and from the challenges of a properly sequenced workbook.
> 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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