[Smt-talk] Teaching outside of the book limitations

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Wed Sep 19 18:25:27 PDT 2012

Dear Colleagues,

In the process of reviewing the diatonic triads in major and minor with my theory II students, I once more became astounded by the lack of basic, let alone comprehensive information in this regard, when it comes to some highly acclaimed theory books.  

Do you know how much space and information is devoted on the submediant in Tonal Harmony by Kostka/Payne? Half a page. Not a word on the different applications of this chord as a tonic substitute, subdominant substitute or a typical mediant. No four-part choral format examples; no melodies and basses for harmonization. The same is the case with the  upper mediant chord.

In contrast, in at least two other books I found seven to eight pages devoted to each VI and III, including a comprehensive review of their harmonic applications as mediant chords and substitutes, examples in four parts, melodies and basses for harmonization.

Now imagine that I teacher is teaching harmonic functions from Kostka/Payne (we use this book at Texas State) and he or she is completely satisfied by the amount of information devoted to each function. Their students will receive half a page of theoretical knowledge and no practical illustrations of the usage of these triads – illustrations that reveal different sides of their functionality, doubling, and fine exceptions of typical situations.

The poor students will keep reproducing the “graph” (which is incomplete by all means) and will repeat loudly several speculative clichés, some of which only concern a portion of the common practice period, and others are downright theoretically incorrect. For example: “the minor v chord is not a dominant”; or “ do not use the iii in minor – instead of it, use I6” How could the student know that if she applies I6 below a descending scale degree 7, she will end up with I6-5, before having studied seventh chords? Talking about seventh chords; how could the student know that there is such thing as “free resolution of a dominant seventh chord” when this concept does not exist in the mind-set of many teachers, although classical and romantic music offer numerous illustrations of this procedure?

I am sure that teachers who are passionate about their subject do offer more information than any single textbook contains on a particular topic; that they encourage their students to think critically, to assess different concepts and to develop creativity in the process of studying and part-writing. But how many are such teachers among pedagogues who seem completely satisfied by a single textbook and show no ambition to learn more and to offer more? I think that music theory and our students do not need uniformity, but they need diversity that opens horizons and leads to continuous improvement.

Thank you.

Best regards,

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

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list