[Smt-talk] Theory textbooks

Peter Schubert, Prof. peter.schubert at mcgill.ca
Fri Apr 27 08:36:08 PDT 2012

Dimitar Ninov’s concern for the VI chord illustrates the problem that triggered my radical change in basic harmony teaching (described in more detail in my recent JMTP article).  It’s about what you focus on at what stage in the student’s evolution. If you were teaching a figure-drawing class, the VI chord could be likened to the arm. In that context, studying one appendage is meaningful because the student already knows what the whole body is. Kids draw the whole body (as a stick figure at least) from the beginning. But this is not the case in music (people are always complaining that kids nowadays don’t know any repertoire). So my conclusion is we should start with good stick-figure pieces (like those in Nannerl Mozart’s book) and, if we must single out an appendage, we can say “look closely at this phrase ending, why does it sound incomplete? Oh, that’s a VI chord. We call this a deceptive cadence. That’s why the repetition of the last phrase is necessary.” The first question Nadia Boulanger asked her new students was “Do you know a lot of music by heart?” We must start with the students’ grasp of some whole thing. Then later we can have textbooks that have separate chapters on the toes, the nose, etc. And which textbook won't matter so much.

Peter Schubert
Schulich School of Music
McGill University
555 Sherbrooke St. W.
Montreal, QC  H3A 1E3
(514) 398-4535 x00281

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