Nancy Rogers, Florida State University
Classroom music teachers tend to share the same general concerns. Whatever specific classes we may teach (fundamentals, harmony, ear training, analysis, etc.), and wherever we may teach them (a large public university, a small private liberal arts college, a conservatory, etc.), we worry about having too much material to cover in too little time. Such complaints have presumably been voiced for centuries in every corner of the academy. Additionally, teachers in every era have needed to navigate their way through a sea of disparate student abilities, but in modern society we often find ourselves plunged into the swirling rapids of wildly divergent student experiences and interests. As universities become increasingly pluralistic, our incoming music students are less and less likely to have acquired comparable background knowledge, participated in similar ensembles, or even listened to the same repertoire. How can we communicate effectively and efficiently with all of them?
At the same time, we are both blessed and cursed to live in an age of pervasive technology. Combining recorded music with music notation and other graphics, printed text, and spoken narration has become amazingly straightforward and inexpensive. Indeed, most capabilities of a twentieth-century recording and movie studio reside on the twenty-first century laptop computer. Teachers can post lectures online, produce supplemental videos to clarify or augment lessons, and create applications that drill particular skills and provide automatic feedback. With so many options at hand, though, how do we determine which uses of technology are genuinely worthwhile?
We sometimes bemoan the short attention spans of today’s students, but let’s consider this issue from another angle: how much time are teachers able to devote to any given task, no matter how worthy? Most of us can’t spare the time to evaluate—let alone master—all of the latest technology. Do we have sufficient time to provide detailed feedback on every assignment? Are we actively and consistently fostering integrated musical skills so that our classes have concrete benefits? Do we systematically guide students toward independent musical investigation and interpretation, or do we just assume that they will glean these abilities from repeatedly answering the questions that we pose?
The authors of this e-volume address some of the daunting obstacles that music theory teachers face today while providing helpful practical advice appropriate for a wide range of classes. Many of the essays invite us to bridge perceived curricular gulfs, such as those between aural and written skills, between common-practice and popular music, between existing repertoire and constructed exercises, between general principles and specific examples, between creative or intuitive responses and abstract factual knowledge, and between informal conversations and written assessment. Some suggest ways not only to use our limited class time more productively, but also to facilitate continued learning outside the classroom. There is excellent guidance for using technology strategically, and several authors even generously provide sample materials.
Despite their variety of topics and approaches, these essays are united by two common threads that weave through them: they all reflect the authors’ recognition of and commitment to supporting diverse learning styles, and they all emphasize the importance of meaningful musical experience for each individual student. The authors’ central goal—in keeping with the series title—is engaging students as active participants in the music theory curriculum. The many innovative ideas discussed serve this fundamental objective: no one is advocating change merely for the sake of change.
The authors focus on an assortment of classes ranging from fundamentals, introductory aural skills, and courses for non-music majors to core harmony, music history, and upper-level analysis; even when narrowly read, this e-volume offers something for virtually every classroom music teacher. However, in the creative spirit of the ongoing Engaging Students project, I encourage readers to imagine how the ideas presented in this e-volume could be fruitfully applied to different classes, different academic levels, and different repertoire. By sharing, expanding, and refining our “best practices,” we can reinvigorate music theory pedagogy for the twenty-first century.
This work is copyright ⓒ2014 Nancy Rogers and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.