Michael Luxner mluxner at mail.millikin.edu
Wed Apr 17 14:12:43 PDT 2013

As an encouraging sign, the Kostka-Payne text not only uses lead-sheet
notation as a helpful step in the "labeling" process on the way to
function, it has deliberately and systematically increased such use in
its most recent edition (7th).  In previous editions K-P suggests
"naming" complex and ambiguous chords as a step toward trying to
interpret them; now, they introducing them earlier, with simpler chords,
and use them in a more thoroughgoing manner. 
I think it's extraordinarily helpful, especially when teaching
traditional Theory to students whose primary interests lie more in the
jazz and popular areas.  They already know and work with chords, and the
lead-sheet approach helps demystify and bridge the gap to Roman Numerals
or figured bass.  
So if there has been a prejudice against lead-sheet symbols because of
their association with pop and jazz, it may be reversing.
Michael Luxner
Millikin University
>>> Stephen Jablonsky <jablonsky at optimum.net> 4/17/2013 3:47 PM >>>
Esteemed Colleagues,

As someone who has taught music theory for almost half a century I am
wondering about your feelings in regard to including lead sheet notation
in our instructional practice. A quick survey of the best-selling theory
textbooks reveals that, almost to a man, none of these authors ever
identifies a chord progression by chord name and function. The myriad
musical fragments that litter these texts only contain figured bass or
chord numbers, never chord names. The students who come to our school
have a great deal of difficulty naming chords, especially in treble/bass
piano notation; orchestral scores are usually beyond their capabilities.

I am always amused when I ask my upper level students to analyze a
composition in class (I only do complete pieces because analyzing
fragments is worthless in my opinion) and they immediately begin to
write chord numbers. Of course I stop them immediately and ask them to
tell me how many measures there are in the piece to give them a sense of
proportion. I then ask them to identify cadences so we know where the
points of arrival are located and how they affect the ongoing flow of
the music. After that, they need to name the chords and identify to
non-harmonic tones. Finally, we get to chord function. I have always
felt it was better to measure the canvas before getting lost in the

Those of you who have struggled to teach theory know how difficult it
is for beginners to separate the chord and non-chord tones in a wide
variety of textures, and to discern the true harmonic rhythm. Students
who were taught using only chorales think that every piece ever written
changes chords every quarter note (OY!). 
The craft of musical analysis consists of two activities: labeling and
interpretation. If the labeling component does not include the correct
naming of chords then everything else sits on a weak foundation. Is it
possible that because lead sheet is associated with popular music and
jazz that it is excluded from “classical” textbooks because of some
ill-conceived prejudice or foolish tradition?
Before I retire, I would love to see one textbook tell me the names of
the chords in Chopin’s E minor Prelude before attempting reduce it to
some fancy chart or graph.

Dr. Stephen Jablonsky, Ph.D.
Music Department Chair
The City College of New York
Shepard Hall Room 72
New York NY 10031
(212) 650-7663
music at ccny.cuny.edu

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