Music Theory

 chattah juanJuan Chattah, University of Miami
CMS Board Member for Music Theory

Music theory, as a component of the core curriculum, appears to be subject to profound transformative pressures. As a reflection of and response to these demands, during 2014 the Advisory Council for Music Theory endeavored in a movement to stimulate a renewed vision of music theory in higher education.

 At the 2014 National  Conference in  Saint Louis, Missouri, the Advisory Council for Music Theory sponsored a special  session, "Hacking the Music Theory Class:  Pedagogical Tools that Increase Efficiency and Effectiveness," which focused on three ‘hacks’ to the traditional model of music theory instruction: standards-based  grading (SBG), ‘flipping’ the classroom, and just-in-time teaching (JiTT). Anna Gawboy (Ohio State University), Bryn Hughes (University of Miami), and Philip Duker (University of Delaware) fleshed out how these ‘hacks’ (and the supporting technologies) have the potential to help strengthen curricula and increase the instructor’s impact on undergraduate students. 

A wealth of theory-related sessions also held a broad appeal and a focus on pedagogical transformation. For instance,

  • Michael Callahan participated in two sessions that intersected music theory and institutional  service;
  • Kyle Gullings and John Leupold, in two separate sessions, examined the efficacy of collaborative learning models and collaborative analysis in undergraduate music theory courses;
  • Geoffrey Kidde participated in a lightning talk session, discussing music technology  and programming environments (in particular MaxMSP) for the purpose of ‘visualizing’  and ‘conceptualizing’ music theory tasks;
  • Terri Knupps established striking connections between Arthur Berger’s theory of atonality and Neoclassicist tendencies in 20th  Century music;
  • Robinson McClellan and Stephen Wilcox surveyed the challenges and achievements encountered in developing massive, fully online music theory courses;
  • Ellen Cooper Shanahan chronicled research and practices put into effect for community college music majors transitioning into their first college experience from high school;
  • Mark Nicholas inspiring talk on Rachmaninoff’s voice leading efficiency applied neo-Riemannian notions as framework for harmonic space;
  • Malcolm Scott Robbins shared pedagogical approaches utilizing selections by Rush, Yes, Neil Young, and the Beatles; and
  • Patrick Schmidt chaired an entertaining (and very clever!) session in which Anna Gawboy and Mark Rudoff posited two initial questions: "What do studio teachers wish theory teachers talked about in the classroom?" and "What do theory teachers wish studio teachers talked about in the studio?"

For 2015, the Advisory Council for Music Theory has planned multiple strategies (sessions at regional and national conferences, online webinars, Symposium publications, and more) to expand on and further refine some of  the suggestions put forth within the Task Force Manifesto, with particular attention to the advances in music theory as a research discipline that seldom permeate into the core music theory sequence. Many of these advances are the result of a fluid conversation with other disciplines accompanied with an awareness of methodological advances propelled by studies in the cognitive sciences.

The CMS Advisory Council for Music Theory recognizes its vital role as active participant in the academic and cultural life of a young generation of students, and actively seeks to establish a fluid conversation with sister organizations that share this mission, in particular with the Society for Music Theory. We are excited about the prospects of working together with our incoming president, Betty Anne Younker, in expanding the opportunities for cross-collaborations, and trust that a greater synergy between CMS and SMT will be achieved in the near future.