Michael Luxner mluxner at mail.millikin.edu
Thu Apr 26 07:31:23 PDT 2012

This thoughtful post provoked reflection, and nostalgia for the days
before comprehensive multi-volume theory "systems."  
My first "text" (Washington University 1967) was the very slim
Practical Manual of Hindemith, and it certainly did the trick as far as
the principles of partwriting were concerned.  The teacher was William
Schatzkamer.  At the Eastman School a few years later, their old McHose
system had just recently been dropped, and no theory text was in use,
while two of the faculty (Bob Gauldin and Darrell Scott) were writing
their own (we TA's later used their drafts as teaching texts). The first
edition of the Burkhart Anthology was the only required course material,
mostly for the Form component of the core.  
In all these cases, excellent classroom teaching and detailed
correction of exercises by such inestimably superb pedagogues as Dorothy
Payne provided a foundation of expertise on which I'm still drawing
today.  I admire and use Kostka-Payne, but what our students hang on to
is the distillation into essential principals that we do in class.
Michael Luxner, Ph.D. Theory
Professor of Music
Director of Orchestral Activities
Millikin University

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>>> Stephen Jablonsky <jablonsky at optimum.net> 4/25/2012 1:42 PM >>>

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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