Salley, Keith ksalley at su.edu
Thu Apr 26 11:30:11 PDT 2012

Interesting post. I'd like to share several thoughts on this.

1) On one hand, I agree that textbooks have gotten too large. For this
reason, our undergrads use the Benjamin, Horvitt, Nelson 'Techniques and
Materials of Music.' It's quite thin. It basically reads like well-written
lecture notes, and the students seem to be getting the gist rather well. We
have a separate anthology for analysis (regular music majors use the B.H.N.
'Music for Analysis,' and our musical theatre students use a selection of
Hal Leonard Anthologies). Instructors have the freedom to choose the
excerpts that they feel best represent the topics.

2) Regarding excerpts: My own undergraduate experience was at the
University of Memphis (then Memphis State), where we used John Bauer's
'Music Theory Through Literature.' Like the Paul Cooper text, it had a
historical approach. Unlike the Cooper text, each chapter focused on two or
three complete works. It took us from plainchant and organum through
Penderecki and Crumb in two years. We generally learned through analysis.
Part writing was done, but not emphasized. It occurred more often in the
form of harmonic dictations in Aural Skills class, if I remember correctly.

3) Stephen, I regret that I'm unfamiliar with the Tchaik text. But judging
from the title, I'd bet that it focuses solely on harmony. Does it begin at
the beginning, or assume that the student already knows counterpoint? Any
talk of form? Motivic development? It is tempting to construct our courses
solely around harmonic concepts, but shouldn't there be more to teach in
today's music theory course than simply harmony?

4) Dmitri, I suppose many of us have considered writing our own books. I've
often wished that texts had a chapter on basic analysis (guidelines,
general principles). Too often, I encounter students who can do the
part-writing, but still cannot decipher a score.

This is really too interesting a post for this time in the term! I must
return to grading...

On Wed, Apr 25, 2012 at 2:42 PM, Stephen Jablonsky <jablonsky at optimum.net>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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Keith Salley
Coordinator of Music Theory
the Shenandoah Conservatory
Shenandoah University
Winchester, VA
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