[Smt-talk] Simplifying theory books--comment

Bennighof, James James_Bennighof at baylor.edu
Fri Apr 27 08:58:52 PDT 2012

Although I've been in full-time administration for awhile, I was thinking along these same lines while reading this thread-there's certainly some room, at least, for using our class setting to help students to learn to learn in various ways, even if they're unaccustomed to some of these ways "these days."  When I was teaching theory I-IV, we happened to be using Kostka-Payne, and I would open the discussion of each chapter with a quiz on the reading-not necessarily hitting all the fine points, but definitely the basics (such as being able to part-write into and/or out of the "chord of the week," if that was the basic issue for the chapter).  I would tell the students that they only got one shot at my presentation of the material (although of course they were welcome to consult with me individually in addition), and I wanted them to be able to make the most of that by becoming familiar with it before the in-class discussion.  They could also, of course, return to the book later.  Each quiz was worth ten points as compared to a couple of hundred-point exams and a somewhat larger final exam, and lots of other assignments ranging from ten to fifty or more points, as I recall (maybe 600 or 700 total points for the semester, I guess), so totally bombing one or two quizzes wasn't the end of the world.

--Jim Bennighof
James Bennighof
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Policy
One Bear Place, #97014
Baylor University
Waco, TX  76798-7014
(254) 710-6500 (office)
(254) 710-3600 (fax)

From: Paul Siskind <siskinpa at potsdam.edu>
Date: Thu, 26 Apr 2012 18:33:02 -0500
To: <smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org>
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Simplifying theory books--comment

Hello Colleagues:  I'd like to comment on one point that has been raised
in the discussion about theory textbooks.

As Zae Munn pointed out in her comment (below), most students today don't
bother reading their textbooks, and wait for the teacher to explain it all
to them.  In fact, I dare say that many of today's students might never
have been expected to actually learn something on their own simply by
reading about it (and some might feel themselves incapable of doing so).

However, I disagree that this is an argument to forgo textbooks.  Rather,
I would argue that this indicates all the more reason why we SHOULD
require students to buy, read, and learn from books.

Beyond the content of whatever course we are teaching, part of what many
college teachers profess to be doing (and indeed, should be doing) is to
be "teaching critical thinking and lifelong learning skills."  There's
nothing more fundamental to this than the ability to read and learn on
one's own.  And, in the case of Theory texts, part of "reading" the text
is being able to look at the printed examples and actually find in the
examples what the verbiage is telling them to notice (i.e. the purple
boxes that K&P thankfully added to the past two editions!).

To this end, I incorporate at least one "Reading Quiz" into my Theory II
and III courses.  For these, I assign some short topic that students must
read about in the text without me discussing it in class, and I tell them
that they will be quizzed on it the next class.  Of course, there is much
groaning and gnashing of teeth.  However, I have prepped them for this in
the previous weeks by having different students in class read a paragraph
aloud, who then talks the rest of the class through the example, pointing
out the important info to be gleaned.

When I first started teaching, I was shocked when students would complain:
"We don't think that it's fair that you gave us homework on something that
you hadn't yet taught us in class."  I then gave them a lecture/pep-talk
about being now adults in college.  Over the years, I've noticed that if
one introduces the expectation for reading and self-learning early in a
course (with suitable types of accountability assessment), many students
will rise to the challenge and become more self-reliant and take more
ownership/responsibility for their own learning.  To me, that's probably
more important than learning how to resolve a V7 chord properly.


> In my diatonic harmony class this semester, I am trying this: I
> provide my students with a less-than-one-page summary of a Kostka and
> Payne chapter, I present briefly (usually in C or a) and then we go
> right to the K and P workbook for applications, musical contexts, and
> thinking of the material in different keys. So they will end up with
> maybe a dozen pages of "text" and most of their work will be contained
> in the workbook. They are not required to own the textbook itself.
> I have personally learned lots from the K and P textbook, esp. the
> detailed examples of standard and exceptional uses. But, in my
> experience, students are less and less able to process written words
> in relation to musical examples, esp. when keys change from example to
> example. The result is that they usually gloss over them and hope I
> will tell them what they really need to know in class.  The summaries
> I have given them are really what I used to end up telling them
> anyways after struggling to help them process the assigned text. This
> way they have it, in writing, at the outset, and it's simple and clear
> enough that I can really insist that they know that material well.
> Best, Zae Munn
> Saint Mary's College
> www.zaemunn.com
> On Apr 26, 2012, at 9:17 AM, Nicholas Baragwanath wrote:
>> In response to Stephen Jablonsky's comments on the seemingly inverse
>> proportion between the length of a harmony textbook and its
>> efficiency in providing practical training, it might be interesting
>> to note that Nicola Porpora, the principal teacher of Farinelli and
>> Haydn, used a single page as the basis for five or six years' of
>> training in singing and bel canto improvisation. The thoroughbass
>> manuals that formed the cornerstone of musical education in the 17th
>> and 18th centuries usually contained around 50 pages or less. The 55
>> pages of Fenaroli (1775) would fit onto approximately 15 pages of a
>> modern textbook.
>> Less is more?
>> Nicholas Baragwanath
>> University of Nottingham
>> nicholas.baragwanath at nottingham.ac.uk
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Dr. Paul A. Siskind                        Home:
Professor of Composition and Theory        Sweet Child Music
The Crane School of Music, SUNY-Potsdam    69 N. Main Street
Potsdam, NY  13676                         Norwood, NY  13668
(315) 267-3241                             (315) 353-2389

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