[Smt-talk] Clarification of previous post

Eric Knechtges eric.t.knechtges at gmail.com
Thu Jul 5 13:54:06 PDT 2012

I have already gotten some fantastic replies both publicly and privately to
my previous post -- thank you!!  Perhaps I need to clarify what I'm looking
for and why.

Within my courseload is an undergraduate course titled "Form and
Analysis."  All undergrad music majors are required to take it after four
semesters of theory (our theory sequence at Northern Kentucky University
primarily uses the Kostka-Payne Tonal Harmony textbook, which I supplement
with other materials dealing more with prolongation, larger-scale
composition, other pedagogical tools like the Rule of the Octave, etc.).
Form and Analysis is meant to tie together all of the tools acquired in
those first four semesters by using them to describe and analyze larger
pieces from the ground up.

In my own experience (and I can only speak for myself here), having a
theoretical understanding of a piece of music is beyond an academic
exercise (not that academic exercises aren't wonderful in their own
right).  It's about palpably understanding why the composer made the
choices he/she made, and making expressive and informed decisions about
what those choices mean (especially things that go against the contemporary
stylistic "norms" -- unexpected dissonances/consonances, deceptive/evasive
harmonic/melodic motion, alteration of normative phrase lengths, formal
ambiguities, etc.)  However, explaining the richness of this way of
listening to a classroom of undergrads tends to be an exercise in futility
-- for the most part, while they may have an academic understanding of the
norms of the common-practice period, it's not yet entirely intuitive, and
it won't be for several years yet.  Many of them are apathetic, if not
somewhat resistant, to learning music theory, because it doesn't mean
anything to them yet other than a series of labels and vocabulary words.
Thus, there's still a certain amount of shameless "salesmanship" that has
to happen in order to get them to buy into why analysis is important.
While I don't want to turn the course into a series of sales pitches, it
would be helpful to have some activities that are extremely powerful in
demonstrating the impact that analysis can have on interpretation.
Discussing WHY, from an analytically-grounded standpoint that goes beyond
sheer "feeling": a performer might slow at the end of one particular phrase
more than another, choose to make one particular forte louder than another,
linger on certain pitches, slightly accelerate through others... and why
some performers may make decisions differently from others... these are
incredibly potent discussions to have, even in an undergraduate classroom,
and to me they are examples of the "refined intuition" that a thorough
understanding of music theory can foster.

I never meant to imply that all music theory must be immediately practical,
nor did I mean to imply that "pure theorists" (whatever that means) should
not teach theory.  There's a place for everyone at the table, in my humble

Eric Knechtges, DM
Assistant Professor, Coordinator of Composition/Theory
Northern Kentucky University
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