Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Sun Apr 29 13:21:41 PDT 2012

Dear Steve,

I appreciate your thought: "I think all students are potential composers and should be treated as such.", and I cannot help paraphrasing it as "I think genuine theorists are potential composers and should be treated as such."
A true music theorist must possess both theoretical and practical knowledge in the fundamental discipline of their choice. Practical knowledge can be gained through dealing with the subject in a creative manner, for example through composing, harmonizing, or arranging. Genuine insights arise from solving problems in the field – they develop one’s proficiency and analytical skills, and make one’s teaching and research authentic and enjoyable.

The thickness of the books is a small problem compared to the sad realization that the level of theory studies is decreasing globally (Nicholas Cook expressed this opinion in an email to me, and I could not agree more). I will repeat what I think the two main reasons for this unfortunate situation are:

1. The manner most undergraduate theory curricula are organized: instead of studying in-depth harmony, counterpoint and form as separate courses, an indifferent and uniform music theory I-IV sequence is imposed in most schools.
2. The lack of professionalism, creativity and critical thinking in a big army of "pure" theorists who are hired to teach in colleges and even conservatoires. Of course, the books those pure theorists publish reflect all the gaps they have had in their own education and are thus of no real use.

Examples of published incompetence are so many, that one can throw one's hands in the air with desperation. In one book they explain to the students that, when looking for available diatonic common chords between two different keys - for the purpose of modulation - they should consider harmonic minor (if one or both keys are minor). Following this "enlightening" direction, some students concluded that there was no common diatonic chord between A minor and B minor! When I used the two purely diatonic triads available between A minor and B minor - G and the E minor - to smoothly modulate back and forth between A minor and B minor, they were startled, and said: "But they told us that the subtopic VII and the minor V do not make good common chords! "Who told you this non-sense?" "Here in this book it reads so...", etc. When I suggested that, in order to find the purely diatonic common chords between the two keys, we should only look at their key signatures, everything fell in place. Then they understood that the harmonic and melodic versions of major and minor (modal mixture chords) only enhance the possibilities to modulate, but do not replace or override the legitimate diatonic chords in a key. 

In another "illuminating" book, the author states with conviction something like this:"The major mediant does not make a convincing common chord for modulation, because it cannot evoke the atmosphere of a minor key!" I thought if I gathered a collection of similar statements, I could publish them under the title "Illuminating Thoughts of Prominent Music Scholars and Pedagogues" for posterity to laugh.

The worst of all is that students have to face such teaching and reading on a daily basis. They deserve much better.

Best regards,


Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
School of Music
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, Texas 78666

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