Outsourcing Familiarity: Engaging With Students’ Personal Playlists to Teach Harmonic Concepts and Contexts

Bruno Alcalde

For years I taught my modal mixture introduction class in the same way: I played Schumann’s Ich Grolle Nicht, got students to highlight the Ab in the melody and realize that the iiø65 chord supporting it is not diatonic to C major. Finally, we note the emphasis on the word hertz. This fall, my students’ reaction was especially passive, showing little connection to that music and less receptivity to the new concept. I then decided to outsource the exemplification of that idea.  After basically explaining the concept in my own way, I asked that each student looked for three examples of similar sonorities in their personal playlists, so that we as a group could create a collaborative modal mixture playlist.1 We spent the next class listening to their suggestions and discussing whether they were or not modal mixture. I then selected a few examples and explained them in a schematic way, using their familiarity with the music to facilitate the understanding of a new concept.2 Instead of presenting students with typically unfamiliar music along with a new concept, the new categorization of a meaningful and familiar context, affords more fluency, recollection, and retention. 

In this presentation I discuss evidence from cognitive sciences for such an approach to learning,  as well as the steps used in class to develop a set of five “moves,” which were abstracted and labeled from this group’s playlist.3 “The Coco,” “The Yellow Brick Road,” “The Shiny,” “The  Moana,” and “The Little Mermaid,” beyond being examples of mixture chords, provide musical and expressive contexts that are already memorized and meaningful to the students.4 The repertory familiarity facilitates extrapolation of these harmonic contexts to categorize other,  unfamiliar, pieces. For these students, the opening bars of Ich Grolle Nicht are nothing more than Schumann’s altered variation of “The Coco.”


Diversifying Form Pedagogy

Sara Bakker


American music theory curricula are in urgent need of updating. Recent calls have addressed the need to increase the breadth of repertoire (Tenzer 2006, Hijleh 2012) and diversity of composer representation (Ewell 2020) in what we teach. There remain, however, significant systemic barriers to adopting new curricula. One such barrier is the challenge of integrating broader and more diverse examples into a framework designed for conventional examples. This paper outlines a flexible framework for teaching formal analysis that can accommodate a very broad range of music and outlines how to use it to update your teaching.

My approach to form, which I call Flexible Form here, focuses on unity and variety at the highest level of structure in a piece. I identify three formal categories based on a piece’s use or avoidance of contrasting sections, regardless of their ordering. See Example 1. One-part forms have a single section (A) that is repeated throughout, whether exactly the same each time or varied. Two-part forms have one contrasting section (B), and both sections can be repeated and reordered with or without variation. Finally, multi-part forms have at least two contrasting sections (B, C, etc.), all of which can be repeated and reordered with or without variation. 

The Flexible Form approach proactively makes space for music by women, people of color, and from outside the Western canon. It brings an analytical perspective to our new examples, ensuring we study them for their own inherent value by recentering the discussion on how pieces balance unity and contrast over time. It also facilitates incorporating broad and diverse examples in an incremental way, supporting the real challenges instructors face in gathering teaching materials. It allows instructors to meaningfully incorporate nearly any music into class and helps students to focus on structural similarities among divergent styles.


Teaching Timbre Across the Curriculum

Jennifer Beavers


Music theory as a discipline prioritizes melody, harmony, and form as primary metrics for uncovering musical structure and meaning. It comes as no surprise that the traditional curriculum mirrors these priorities when teaching fundamentals such as note reading, music analysis, sight singing, and transcription, as well as more advanced music theory topics and 20th-21st century techniques. However, one of the most compelling and immediate reactions one has towards a musical composition is how it sounds—that is, the sound of a singer, instrument, ensemble, or sound object. In this workshop, I will present ways to enhance traditional learning objectives with sound-based analysis techniques that prioritize timbre and engage audience members in  activities that can be used to implement timbre topics across the music theory curriculum, 

After beginning with an introduction to sound-based and timbre analysis as it can be applied to undergraduate and graduate music theory learning objectives, I will alternate between discussions and hands-on activities meant to serve as models that can be adapted to theory and aural skills classes. For example, one task challenges small groups to describe various sound characteristics of short excerpts (collected in real-time on a Jam Board) in an activity I call “Radio Surfing.” This will reveal how effective or ineffective our language is for describing salient sound features and lead to deeper observations about musical genre, period, style, form, etc. See the supplemental materials for additional sample activities that will be incorporated into the workshop, as well as a new syllabus I created for a 20th-21st century music analysis class wherein each topic features timbre in some way. The workshop will conclude with an open discussion about other’s experiences and obstacles with teaching timbre.


An Amicable Divorce: Decoupling Concepts and Repertoire in the Music Theory Classroom

Chandler Blount & Jordan Lenchitz


The music theory classroom has long enabled an unhappy marriage of general concepts to specific repertoire. As recent scholars have noted, the traditional music theory core curriculum emphasizes Western European compositions to the exclusion of other style periods and genres—and this, even absent discussions of colonialism and institutional racism, creates a “hidden curriculum” in the music theory classroom that lifts the so-called  “common-practice period” above all others (Palfy and Gilson 2018, Ewell 2020). Yet decentering the Western canon creates a pedagogical problem: our definitions for basic theoretical concepts—like phrase and cadence—are overfit to the parameters of a narrow selection of compositions from the 18th and 19th centuries (London 2021). Clearly, to broaden our pedagogical horizons, we need to broaden our conception of what these terms mean in a multistylistic context. In this paper, we discuss a pedagogical approach that decouples phrase and cadence from their “common-practice” harmonic context(s), instead presenting them as the logical exponents of lower-level metrical and formal organization.  For example, rather than beginning with a definition of phrase as a complete harmonic structure, we instead explore features that commonly demarcate the boundaries of a phrase—such as metrical closure achieved by reaching a “square” (2n) number of bars  (Caplin 1998) or melodic closure driven by a nadir in contour and increase in rhythmic values (Rothstein 1989). Though this approach is not specifically calibrated to teaching “common-practice” music, it delimits reportorial possibilities and allows the instructor to layer style-specific parameters on top of the more-general theoretical principles. By focusing on broader topics like meter, repetition, and contour, the instructor can address these topics nearly anywhere in the curriculum—including before harmony, or even Western staff notation.


In Defense of Theory: Bachelor of Music Programs, Core Theory Classes, and the Liberal Arts Education

Antares Boyle

Although our positions and courses are titled music “theory,” it has long been common for music theorists to denounce the abstract, the conceptual, and the impractical in undergraduate pedagogy. Our field’s dominant pedagogical philosophy was summarized by Elizabeth Marvin (2012, 255), who wrote that the “ideal theory classroom” should be “intensely musical, absolutely relevant to what students learn in other parts of the core and their applied study, and … challenge students to ever higher  levels of artistry.” This attitude positions music theory as one piece of a holistic and richly integrated program aimed at the ultimate goal of producing well-rounded musical artists. But what if more sophisticated musicianship is not what our students most need?

Data on career outcomes for music majors suggests that a majority of alumni end up working in areas outside of music, either as their primary occupation or as part of a “portfolio career” (see, e.g., Bennett 2016; Brook and Fostaty Young 2019). Nevertheless, most music programs in North American continue to operate as quasi-conservatories within their universities/colleges, offering so-called “professional” degree programs (BM and BMEd) in which students take at minimum 65% of their coursework in music (NASM handbook, p. 103). 

In this position paper, I argue that theorists must consider our roles within our students’ education more broadly. I argue that the core theory curriculum is one of the only opportunities for BM students to develop skills prized in a traditional liberal arts education, such as persuasive writing and quantitative reasoning. Indeed, music theory, a field of humanistic inquiry that borrows liberally from disciplines as diverse as psychology, mathematics, and literary criticism, is uniquely situated to provide that education. However, committing to teaching these skills requires embracing some “impractical” activities and acknowledging that theory has value beyond the support of practice.


Embellishing Tones with RuPaul: How Ungrading the Classroom, Collaborative Composing, and a Small Dose of Television Fostered an Upbeat and Engaged Online Learning Community

Patricia Burt

After Covid-19 forced classes online, student mental health and cheating became frequent topics of conversation among educators. Recent studies explore the pandemic’s negative effect on student mental health with students reporting difficulty in concentrating, decreased social interaction, and increased anxiety over academic performance (Son 2020). Studies also suggest that grade-oriented environments encourage cheating because high scores, rather than learning, become the primary goal (Kohn 2018). To meet the challenges of online learning during the pandemic, I spent the summer of 2020 pondering what an online theory course would look like if it prioritized students’ mental health and student engagement and removed all incentives to cheat.

In my Fall 2020 theory classes, I experimented with a combination of approaches to the above-mentioned problems, resulting in an unusual course design that students felt uniquely addressed their needs during the pandemic. To nurture a sense of community, class time was generally used for group composition work and student groups submitted audio recordings of their collaborations each week. Themed teaching videos for each unit were intentionally lighthearted and featured humorously placed clips from a single TV show or movie. Replacing traditional exams, composition projects the students recorded themselves became personally meaningful assessments, and individual student interviews for analyzing a musical example together became personalized learning opportunities. Building on Blum’s strategies (2020) for ungrading the classroom, I abandoned numeric and letter grades, provided extensive feedback on student work, and assigned a robust series of student self-evaluations. Finally, the repertoire we studied included stylistically diverse works as well as works by women and BIPOC composers.

The combination of these approaches resulted in an online class students looked forward to attending and created an environment where students could take risks, reflect on their own development, and truly see mistakes as learning opportunities rather than opportunities to lose points.


Improvisation in the Music Theory and Aural Skills Classrooms: An Integrated Approach

Taylor Carmona


NASM (2021) requires improvisation to be a component of professional music degree programs, but it does not specify implementation methods. Many scholars have designed improvisation activities for use in the music theory and aural skills classrooms (Azzara 1999; Lovell 2019; Rifkin and Urista 2006; Sarath 2010; Schubert 2011), but these activities tend to be isolated and focus on the abstract application of concepts. This paper proposes an improvisation model, based on jazz pedagogy, that can be adapted for use with popular and western classical music. This model is self-leveling and can be adjusted to fit all levels of music theory and aural skills courses. Within this model, students are encouraged to apply concepts by manipulated pieces from popular music and western classical repertoire.


This proposed model has of three parts; 1) a framework for improvisation that generally implies a harmonic or tonal center context, 2) genre/song specific analysis of how the framework is interacted with melodically, and 3) clear directions that focus students’ attention on the concept or skill being applied. Examples 1-7 illustrate how this model can be used with Common Practice Era pieces and Popular music. (1) Students are given a score (like Ex. 1) or transcription (like Ex. 5) and analyze it harmonically and motivically. (2) Students play the isolated motives on their preferred instruments and write their favorite motives in their embellishment pattern notebook (like Ex. 4). (3) Students write a first-species reduction of the excerpt (like Ex. 2 or Ex.  6). (4) Finally, they elaborate the counterpoint reduction with motives from step 2 while the instructor plays either the original accompaniment or the bass-line reduction, as shown in Examples 3, 6 and 7.


The Guided Tour as a Contextual Listening Assessment

Andrew Conklin

Many attendees of Pedagogy into Practice 2019 will recall Patricia Burt’s demonstration of a first-semester music theory project in which her students created stunning maps of large-scale musical forms. This capstone project was so powerful in part because it gave students a personal and holistic way to engage with music at the very start of their theory studies, all while decentering standard musical notation as the central preoccupation of introductory curricula.  One way to translate Burt’s approach to a first-semester aural skills class is the “guided tour” assessment. In the guided tour, each student meets individually with the instructor at the end of the semester for a short student-led discussion and demonstration of a piece of the student’s choice. Borrowing from Burt’s ideas, as well as from Jennifer Snodgrass’s “thury” and Rebecca Jemian’s contextual listening assignments, the guided tour allows each student to use foundational aural tools — such as solfège or scale degrees, rhythmic solmization, conducting,  and keyboard harmonization — to demonstrate and illuminate their song’s structural properties, including form and phrase structure, melody, and rhythm. This format supports a  number of goals that currently occupy a central place in the field of music theory pedagogy: 1)  It grants students agency in repertoire choices, thereby increasing student investment while producing a diverse array of musical styles and musician identities; 2) It makes possible a partial or complete bypassing of standard musical notation; 3) It allows students to hone the practical and transferable skill of communicating and conversing in detail about what they are hearing. Though allowing students to choose their own repertoire invites some challenges, they can be mitigated to some extent by careful planning and are well worth the trade-off in enhanced student engagement.


Music Theory in the Concert Hall: Enhancing Public Engagement in Realtime via Smartphone App

Linda Dusman


The Bearman Study of Audience Engagement examined the potential for music theory as a pathway to enhanced public engagement and informal learning during symphony orchestra broadcasts. Recent research addresses the effectiveness of standard program notes (Margulis 2010; Waxman, 2012; Abrahamzon, 2019), but this study tested the effects on audience members of brief realtime notes targeted to specific moments in the music performed. The notes provided textual information about form, harmony, tone color, motivic development, and cultural history, along with illustrative photos and score fragments presented during the broadcast via an app in audience members’ smart phones. Notes for Dvorak Symphony 8 and Strauss Metamorphosen were designed to generate imaginative engagement through a conversational tone, rather than an academic one. For the study with 135 total subjects, a within-subjects design was used, with two replication phases, one at the National Orchestra Institute in 2020, and another with the Utah Symphony in 2021. In each phase, two separate audience groups attended scheduled broadcasts of two previously video-recorded concerts and used the EnCue smartphone app to read brief notes in realtime about the music being performed. To determine if and to what extent the information presented enhanced their experience, participants were questioned after using the app about perceptions of the concert experience, the information presented, and the technology itself. Study results showed that informal learning during concerts in realtime is possible and that learning about and applying theoretical constructs can enhance an audience member’s enjoyment of and engagement with the music. Most participants were highly engaged during the concert when they used the realtime notes, they believed the information presented in the app enriched

their experience of the concert, and they were interested in attending future concerts, whether live or streamed, where they could use an app to access realtime program notes.


Bridging the Gap Between the Science of Learning and the Theory and Aural Skills Classroom

Amy Fleming & Aaron Grant

Most pedagogues rely on a combination of instinct and tradition when making decisions about what and how to teach. At times, though, we make these decisions without consideration of recent research on learning. This is understandable, as most of us are simply too busy to pore through the latest learning research. James Lang’s 2016 book, Small Teaching, attempts to bridge the gap between theory and practice for a  generalist audience. Rather than suggesting huge, revolutionary upheavals of the curriculum, Lang provides a variety of small, scientifically informed strategies and activities—most only 5–10 minutes long—that can be implemented in the classroom with minimal effort.


Over the last several years, we have adapted many of Lang’s principles of small teaching for the specific needs and challenges of the music theory and aural skills curriculum. Incorporating these principles has resulted in dramatic, measurable improvements in our students’ performances. We, therefore, propose a workshop in which we demonstrate our own implementation of Lang’s science-backed strategies, then collaborate with the audience to develop new ideas that they can easily incorporate into their classrooms.


Our workshop is divided into three parts. We begin with an overview of four categories of Lang’s Small Teaching strategies: retrieving, predicting, connecting, and explaining. In this section, we summarize some of the research Lang cites and present a few of his suggestions for implementation. Next, we provide a hands-on demonstration of how we have translated that research into practical activities for the theory and aural skills classroom. Finally, we break the audience into groups to crowdsource further ways to adapt Lang’s small teaching principles for music theory and aural skills courses. By the end of the workshop, audience members will have a host of small, easy-to incorporate activities to bring the latest in learning research back to their own classrooms.


The “Tristano Method”: Teaching the Art of Accompaniment and Improvisation

Nikkei Flores


The practice of improvisation is significantly lacking in the undergraduate music theory and aural skills core courses, despite the call for the inclusion of practice methods that can introduce more creativity, artistic expression, and a way to retain the fundamentals of the music theory curriculum. A survey distributed through the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy social media site (Murphy & McConville, 2017), to which 259 participants responded, indicated that only 26.25% include improvisation into their theory classes, and a surprising 6.18% does not consider improvisation part of their fundamental topics. This presentation will introduce a practice method to try and change these opinions. This method is what I've come to know as the “Tristano Method”, introduced by jazz pianist Lennie Tristano. This method has the capabilities to teach a non-genre understanding of improvisation to a range of instrumentalists by first teaching students the art of accompaniment. With only the understanding of the basics, students can learn to accompany each other, their teachers, or favorite musicians, by practicing improvisation in a way that I believe is entertaining, creative, and not as intimidating as other methods. I would also like to highlight that no experience in improvisation or jazz is needed for the educator or student when using this method. So far, this method has not been published or implemented into a theory or aural skills textbooks or workbooks. Though sources are scarce, there are videos of Tristano using and teaching this method with his students, as well as other musicians showcasing this method. In my presentation I will demonstrate this practice method on the saxophone and showcase other musicians using this method, along with providing a step-by-step practice guide that teachers can implement into their theory or aural skills courses, by using backing tracks or any recordings.


Rethinking “Remedial”: A New Approach to the Graduate Theory Review Course Christopher Gage


 For incoming graduate students, the notion of taking a review course can be undesirable; for the instructor, issues such as the expectation to teach all of music theory in one semester, as well as the multitude of student backgrounds and personalities, make the review a daunting proposition. I redesigned my graduate review course with three changes in mind: (1) introducing a wider repertoire of examples and techniques, (2) balancing four-part writing with other skills, and (3) encouraging critical thinking through readings and discussion.


Using a greater breadth of musical examples helped demonstrate the relevance of music theory to music of all types, not just the Western canon. A homework assignment on applied chords, for instance, used “Freight Train” by the legendary guitarist Elizabeth Cotten, and exercises on form featured such musicians as Amy Beach, Cécile Chaminade, and Chaka Khan.


While four-part writing is a valuable discipline, I reduced its prominence in order to accommodate other concepts. For instance, asking pointed questions about dissonance treatment without requiring a full four-part progression allowed the topic of dissonance to take center stage; we could then discuss metric dissonance and hypermeter. Our analysis also took more of a horizontal approach, with an emphasis on large-scale form and motion.


Finally, each topic was paired with a set of goals designed to foster critical thinking. The unit on sonata form, for example, included an assignment to prepare a scholarly article for class;  for most students, this was the first time they had engaged with the academic literature, and it was an important step in their preparation for future seminars. The response to this course redesign was overwhelmingly positive. In their evaluations, students praised the “culturally relevant” examples from “diverse genres,” and they were more confident in their ability to apply music theory to their experiences.


But What About the Grad Students? Consideration of Theory Requirements for Master’s and Doctoral Students in Performance Programs.

Matthew Heap


Much has (rightly) been written on the best ways to reach undergraduate students, particularly in the core curriculum. Less research has been done on the best ways to engage graduate students who are not majoring in theory yet have theory requirements within their programs. As with the undergrads, these students can view theory as a chore to be suffered through rather than a key part of their musical journey. Compounding this, a large majority of graduate students fail the theory entrance exam at my institution and are required to take Graduate Theory Review (or, worse, one or more of the undergraduate core classes), which does not count towards their degree and further sets them up to be resentful. This paper will present an overview of the issues that theorists teaching graduate students to face and some potential solutions to these issues, including whether, in our  (hopefully) diversifying field, the Entrance Exam is applicable any more, whether comprehensive exams in theory serve anyone’s interests, and how altering (or getting rid of) those exams might lead to an expanded program where students receive the analytical skills and practice in critical thinking that they need, but have freedom to choose their own theory adventure. The author will present the requirements from several institutions with large graduate student cohorts, and then propose a comprehensive curriculum that they are in the process of implementing at their institution. In the end, graduate students will benefit from additional focus on their individual needs and interests, and their engagement with theory can only mean sending better informed and more complete musicians out into the world.


Advising Student Research

Samantha M. Inman, Michael Callahan, Kent Cleland, Jane Piper Clendinning, Gary S. Karpinski


While many faculty routinely advise students engaged in extended research projects, discussion regarding how to advise these remains conspicuously absent. This panel provides an initial exploration of this topic. As shown in the schedule below, the session opens with an introduction by the session moderator, followed by a series of lightning talks by four panelists. Each will focus on a particular type of project: the undergraduate thesis, the master’s thesis, the (master’s level) pedagogy project, and the PhD dissertation. Each speaker will outline advising approaches, challenges, and solutions that have been found to be most useful for each type of project. Finally, the moderator will open up the floor for questions and comments from the audience. Together, the presentations and discussion will address questions including but not limited to the following:

• What constitutes effective advising? 

• What do students need from advisors? 

• What are the challenges in advising particular types of projects, and what are strategies for overcoming them? 

• How do you help students develop a topic of appropriate scope?

• What strategies do you have for guiding students who have selected a topic that lies outside your own area of research?

• What advice do you have for helping students establish an appropriate pace for timely completion? 

• How do you provide feedback to students, and at what stage do you involve the rest of the committee? 

• What resources does your institution have to assist faculty and/or students with this type of project?

• What advice do you have for new advisors? 



Part Writing Doesn’t Need to be Overwhelming: A Part-Writing Pedagogy Informed by Cognitive Load Theory

Ryan H. Jones


For many students, part-writing exercises are exceedingly frustrating and overwhelming. As students spell chords, follow myriad voice-leading rules, decode Roman numerals, and notate their solutions all at once, their working memories can easily be overburdened. Part writing is a complex learning task: these exercises rely on the coordination and integration of multiple skills, take a long time to master, and often lack a single solution. This presentation explores a number of ways that part-writing instruction can leverage the findings of cognitive load theory to minimize the burden on students’ working memories. I propose methods for reducing extraneous load (due to presentation of content) and managing intrinsic load (due to complexity of content) to preserve cognitive capacity for germane load, promoting durable learning and transfer.

First, I describe how extraneous load can be reduced by using worked-out examples to introduce concepts. Next, I propose that intrinsic load can be managed by omitting some common part-writing rules: Aarden and von Hippel (2004) suggest that chord doubling rules can be significantly simplified, and I challenge whether certain rules involving tessitura, spacing, and melodic interest align with learning objectives associated with part writing. To decrease intrinsic load, I also suggest that element interactivity can be limited by removing elements from exercises and completing elements serially. Finally, I address methods for inducing germane load, focusing on interleaving. When applying these principles, there is room for immense creativity and individualization, depending on a given course’s learning outcomes and the needs of students—the ideas in this presentation are merely a starting point.


When applying these principles, there is room for immense creativity and individualization, depending on a given course’s learning outcomes and the needs of students—the ideas in this presentation are merely a starting point.


Notation-Free Dictation: A Case Study in “Blind Hearing”

Alexandrea Jonker


Straus (2011) characterizes “blind hearing” as the methods that blind musicians use to learn and listen to music and participate in music-making. While, nominally, aural skills classes concentrate on a student’s ability to listen musically and “think in music,” these classes rely heavily on visual components such as writing dictations, sight-singing, and working through interval drills. Smaligo (1999), Johnson (2016), Pacun (2009), and Saslaw (2009) explore the ways in which blind students can be taught in the core music major curriculum. These studies, however, focus on written theory classes and necessitate the use of braille notation or segregated learning. In contrast, I apply “blind hearing” to the aural skills classroom with a focus on melodic dictation expressed through singing rather than writing. I argue that by teaching melodic dictation without the mediation of visual components, instructors can implement a UDL-inspired course design that not only accommodates any blind students in their classes but also improves the aural abilities of all students.


This presentation is in three sections. First, I provide a summary of “blind hearing” and the ways in which instructors have traditionally accommodated those with visual impairments in their classrooms. Second, I detail the ways in which I have applied the “blind hearing” philosophy to melodic dictation in my own classes, including the learning objectives achieved and the way students were graded, examples of materials used in the first- and second-year courses (see Ex.1, Ex.2, and Ex.3), and videos of students completing these exercises in individual testing and group practice environments. Finally, I reflect on the difficulties encountered with this style of learning and teaching dictation, including time constraints and limits of musical memory (see Ex.4), and the ways in which these issues were addressed throughout the year by allowing the use of the piano and shortening example lengths.


Analytic Perspectives for Graduate Students

Stanley V. Kleppinger


At my institution, most graduate music degree curricula require a single course in music theory. Recognizing this, I recently designed a class that, rather than focusing on a particular theory or repertoire, directly addresses the broad needs of the expert musicians and teachers our graduate programs produce. It provides practical tools to help shape and articulate interpretive and analytic decisions. Its analytic framework is flexible enough to address the intensely varied repertoires with which these students interact. Finally, it is accessible for students, explicitly honoring both descriptive analysis (“Why do I hear what I hear in this music?”) and prescriptive analysis (“After reflecting about this music, how might a given insight impact the way one hears it?”).


Analytic Perspectives appropriates the mnemonic “SHMRG” (sound, harmony, melody, rhythm, growth) from Jan LaRue’s Guidelines for Style Analysis. Without embracing that text’s now-antiquated viewpoint, this course’s five units are built around the five components of SHMRG, providing focused opportunities to interrogate each musical parameter. By thinking intently about each parameter and its relationship to others in given musical contexts, students are able to harness their own intuitions and insights to forge compelling perspectives of the music they hear, perform, and teach.


This workshop incorporates abbreviated versions of activities from each unit of the course:


Sound: The timbral and registral landscape of U2’s “Hawkmoon 269”

Harmony: Creating a narrative of Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”

Melody: Long lines in Richie Powell’s “Gertrude’s Bounce” and Bernstein’s “One Hand, One Heart”

Rhythm: Applying Lerdahl and Jackendoff’s rhythmic/metric theory to a Haydn quartet scherzo and to John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine

Growth: Activating the ground-bass form of the Chaconne from Holst’s First Suite in E-flat


Asset Pedagogy in a Remedial Sight-Singing Class

Adam J. Kolek

When designing remedial music theory courses, instructors typically focus on what students don’t know, and construct the course sequence, topics, and pedagogy from the perspective of someone who has mastered traditional western music theory knowledge and skills. Through the lens of culturally responsive teaching and culturally sustaining pedagogy, this is seen as a deficit approach, where practitioners of a dominant paradigm perceive students to be deficient if their background knowledge doesn’t include that which is most valued by the paradigm. In contrast, an asset pedagogy proceeds from the skills students already have, valuing their prior experiences and making connections between those experiences and the material under study.


In this presentation, I’ll describe an asset approach that I took towards the design and teaching of a remedial sight-singing and ear training class, and detail its advantages, successes, and challenges. The students in the class were mostly music industry majors who had no prior experience either singing or reading staff notation. I began the class focusing on the assets that these students had, for instance, some knowledge of the practices of a variety of syncopated popular music in quadruple simple meter, and familiarity with non-traditional graphic notation like that in audio recording software. We did not use staff notation for the first half of the course, instead employing solfege and a non-traditional rhythmic notation system. From the first day of class, students were able to perform and notate syncopated rhythms, and they seemed to more quickly develop the ability to sing major and minor key melodies. Strategies learned from reading non-traditional notation helped them decode and write in staff notation, although achieving fluency with staff notation remained an issue. In addition to detailing my experiences with the course, I’ll suggest further ways that asset pedagogy could be applied to aural skills instruction.


Centering Meter, Provincializing the West: Toward a Diversified and Inclusive Music Theory Curriculum

Hanisha Kulothparan

In a standard music theory curriculum, rhythm and meter is typically glossed over in the first semester before instructors move on to the “more essential” harmony and form. This does not adequately prepare students to engage with a wide variety of music and furthers ongoing issues of diversity in the music theory classroom. Recent scholarship has sought to address these problems: Cohn (2015) advocates for music theory curricula to center meter to achieve more accurate performances and musical analyses, and Tenzer (2021) demonstrates how rhythm and meter, transcription, and ethnomusicological methods can be incorporated into a theory curriculum for students to reflect on their role as musicians in the modern world. In this paper, I expand upon these perspectives to argue that centering meter in music theory curricula creates more opportunities to incorporate musics beyond the Western classical canon such as rap, Indian Taal, and African drumming. First, I demonstrate a sampling of meter-related class activities that include music outside of the Western canon, and second, I sketch a core-curriculum that accommodates these activities. Attendees can expect to experience several activities appropriate for an aural skills or music theory class, develop strategies of how to integrate these activities into the core-curriculum, and learn about the benefits of increased rhythm and meter studies for diversifying the music theory classroom. 


Taking Steps Toward a Stronger Core

Dickie Lee


Our institution, like many others, is (re)evaluating its theory core. Conversations surrounding systemic issues (Ewell), COVID-19, course affordability, online learning, and what our students ought to know (Rogers, Snodgrass) motivated our music studies area to enact curricular change. This paper unpacks those motivations, our resultant course revisions, and the challenges we face as we move the discussion forward regarding what music theory does for students in our current academic climate.

Our previous core contained four semesters of theory (Figure 1). To free up credit space and tailor courses to student needs, we removed Theory IV’s requisite status (Figure 2) in favor of a modularized, elective approach to the 4th semester that (currently) contains four possible course offerings (Figure 3). Theory IV still exists, but as one of several options: a pedagogy course tailored toward music education (and AP teaching preparation); a  melody harmonization class directed toward music therapy skills; and an analysis of texted music course that is unconstrained by genre, style, and (common-)practice.

The revised three-semester core sequence emerged from necessity. Removing the (financial) constraints of having a textbook allows the deemphasis of the 18th-century Western art model in favor of broader music theory conceptual territory that teaches concepts like Nashville numbers (de Clercq), tablature notation, and chord symbols (in service of underexplored theoretical territory [melodic-bass/harmonic divorce, lead sheet notation, etc.]). Due to COVID-19’s effect on early-retirement initiatives, the delivery of this first-year curriculum relies on graduate student instruction. Since many students might not be unfamiliar with these concepts, we launched an understudy program that develops a TA’s trajectory from a support role toward full classroom control and mentorship (Figure 4).

Revitalizing the core curriculum is a challenge—prioritizing student learning styles and what they need to know helps to accomplish several important goals for our particular music community.


The Good, The Bad, The Forgotten: Interrogating Our Learning Objectives When Incorporating Non-Western Music into the Music Theory Classroom

Zachary Lloyd


Many music theorists have avoided engaging with Non-Western music, yet recent conversations surrounding curricular reform have advocated for the inclusion of Non-Western music within the undergraduate theory classroom. Lacking materials and expertise in Non-Western musical traditions, many pedagogues have been left unsure of how to decenter Western Art Music in their curriculum. In this presentation, I focus on one of the first steps in creating these materials: the construction and evaluation of learning objectives.

Learning objectives help instructors establish a course’s core values and methods of engagement. When designing materials for Non-Western traditions, copying objectives from WAM materials may seem like a valid first step; however, I begin by interrogating the efficacy and appropriateness of this transference while demonstrating how some of these objectives, if not altered, become harmful when applied to Non-Western repertoire. Objectives could include inherent biases and assumptions based upon language and methodology, which when carelessly applied, misrepresent a musical tradition at best. Secondly, I present “forgotten” objectives, those that are traditionally overlooked within our classrooms. These objectives reference the cultural,  historical, and social context of a given musical tradition, acknowledge our own biases, and  specify how/why special care must be taken with musical traditions outside our own. These must be priorities when working with Non-Western Music.

While many pedagogues have experience creating learning objectives for repertoire with which they have extensive training, writing objectives for more unfamiliar musical traditions can have unintentionally harmful consequences. Through a combination of personal experience designing Non-Western theory materials, specifically the mbira, and reference of previous scholarship by musicologists, ethnomusicologists, and higher education researchers, I aim to highlight these mistakes and offer best practices as instructors begin this process.

Recomposition as a Collaborative Process in the Post-1945 Techniques and Analysis Course

Gerardo Lopez


Previous literature has criticized the teaching practices used in atonal/post-tonal courses as ineffective at engaging students (e.g. Straus 2018 and Buchler 2017). Can a reexamination of “analytical recomposition” (O’Hara 2017) offer an alternative? This project demonstrates how recomposition can increase engagement and why there are unique advantages of using it with post-1945 repertoire.


Comparative recomposition (e.g. Hoag 2013 and BaileyShea 2007) has focused on increasing appreciation of the composer, with language such as “inventive treatment” and “genius”. Alternatively, collaborative recomposition focuses on the process. This shift builds on what Daniel Stevens calls “breaking”, “analysis without the restrictions of a pre-determined analytical system or aesthetic ideal…[it] allows the listener to exercise agency, to identify interesting musical features of any quality, type, or size, and to freely respond to these features by making something new” (2015). Atonal/post-tonal repertoire is at an advantage: while in tonal works what is considered aesthetically “correct” can strongly bias a listener’s/analyst’s mind, it becomes harder and/or irrelevant to qualify “correct” in these other styles.


This project begins to fill the gap in the literature with three vignettes from the post-1945 repertoire: Julia Perry’s Homunculus C.F. (1960) for percussion ensemble, Wendy Carlos’s electronic work “Sea of Simulation” for the film Tron (1982), and Asha Srinivasan’s Parole Hearing (2010) for Pierrot ensemble. Through collaborative recomposition students are able to actively, rather than passively, a listen because of the focus on introspection rather than utility (e.g. listening for the “answer”). This grants students the ability to deconstruct, for example, hemiolas in Homunculus C.F., temporal organization in “Sea of Simulation”, and orchestration/timbre interactions in Parole Hearing. By decentering passivity, structured exploration of musical parameters previously neglected, such as timing, texture, and timbre, becomes more purposeful in the minds of students.

A New Library of Interactive, Collaborative Patches for Learning Music Theory Using the Bach/Cage Libraries for Max/MSP

Paul V. Miller

This demonstration illustrates a library of impressive software patches for collaborative, interactive in-class music theory pedagogy featuring real-time score generation. The project is the first to use the Bach/Cage libraries for Max/MSP in classroom pedagogy (Agostini/Ghisi 2017). Max/MSP has been shown to be a fruitful music theory pedagogy environment (Kidde 2020, Manzo 2016). When integrated into two sections of a first-year undergraduate music theory class, this approach enjoyed overwhelming success.

The patches implement computer-supported collaborative learning environments that can increase student participation and lead to more successful outcomes (Zbikowski/Long 1994). It sidesteps pitfalls associated with computer-assisted instruction by inhabiting a classroom setting (Rogers 2004), utilizing a “discovery learning” approach (White/Lake 2002).

The two patches demonstrated in the session explore chord spelling and first species counterpoint. In Example 1, students manipulate notes projected in front of the class using a game-like interface on their personal wireless device. Working together in pairs to spell chords, the patch allows students to receive hints, check answers, and immediately hear solutions.

In Example 2, students generate cantus firmi and counterpoint by turning individual constraints on or off. Constraints include setting the maximum size of an allowable interval, overlap, voice crossing, or direct fifths/octaves. In Example 2a most constraints are off. The predictable result is a poor solution. In Example 2b all constraints are on; the outcome is significantly better.  Further constraints could be added to show what effect they have on a musical outcome.

Manipulating musical notation on the staff in real-time gives agency to students and builds relationships in a learning cohort. Showing how counterpoint looks (and sounds) with individual constraints in place invites active analysis, promoting class discussion. Furthermore, it enjoins students to imagine what constraints may operate upon musics outside the traditional canon, responding to students’ desires to engage a wider repertoire (Palfy/Gilson 2018).

Teaching Musical Creativity Without Musical Notation

Marcelle Pierson

The music that our students care about is often produced without musical notation, and an increasing number of students arrive on campus with a rich background in music-making that did not involve reading music. Despite this reality, traditional music theory sequences assume that students who want to write music have, if not a background in musical notation, at least a future with it. In this paper, I argue that a significant population of students is underserved by this assumption and describe my own curricular solution to this lacuna.

Theory “fundamentals” curricula tend to situate music notation and reading as a kind of language for musical expression. In this model, students must learn vocabulary and grammar before they can write music. This creates a significant barrier for a student who must wade through clefs, intervals, metrical notation, etc. before writing even a simple chord progression. Musical notation also carries baggage: it prioritizes pitch and rhythm above other important parameters such as timbre and thinking through the “language” of notation inevitably discourages the creation of music not easily captured by it.

To address these concerns, my colleagues and I created “Creative Musicianship.” This general education course is a semester-long exploration of musical creation within forms such as podcasts, verse/chorus/bridge songs, and assemblage compositions. It guides students through the creation of music using DAWs, found sound, and their own voices. For some students, Creative Musicianship acts as a springboard for further study—including the study of musical notation. Others simply walk away with a greater appreciation and vocabulary for music they encounter in their daily lives. Overall, this course provides an access point to musical creativity for a broad range of students, especially those with no interest in or experience with classical music.

World Music and Decolonial Pedagogy in the Music Theory Classroom

Molly Reid

There have been many recent calls for North American music theory curricula to include music beyond Western art music (WAM). However, there is no consensus on the best path forward. Some advocate for a complete overhaul of the curriculum to foreground music beyond the canon, while others propose incorporating world music into existing curricula.

In the absence of ground-up curricular change, which many instructors cannot control, one overarching challenge of incorporating world music into the theory curriculum remains music theory’s tacit inscription of WAM as the peak of human musical accomplishment. To address this, pedagogues must engage in the process of decolonization. Acknowledging Tuck and Yang’s (2012) assertion that “decolonization is not a metaphor,” we begin with this literal definition to understand the landscape upon which North American music theory pedagogy resides. However, by challenging an underlying colonial mentality in music theory, we begin the work of decolonizing the mind—an important step in the process of decolonization, and one that must go hand-in-hand with the incorporation of world music into an existing curriculum.

This presentation offers pedagogical strategies for integrating world music into the music theory curriculum. Drawing on Hess (2015), I propose strategies that utilize aspects of the comparative musics model. Letting students choose study groups (Solís 2004) in which to engage in “experiential learning” (Figueroa 2020) guides respectful engagement with world music in the music theory classroom. Multimodal learning assignments allow students to think more broadly about music and culture than traditional assignments, reflecting Attas’s (2019) call to integrate “diverse ways of knowing.” Following Attas, I highlight the importance of including Indigenous course content and considering local contexts. Decolonization is the work of “multiple lifetimes'' and thus multiple generations. Adopting decolonial pedagogical strategies in the music theory classroom while incorporating world music provides the best place to begin.

Playing to Learn: Pedagogical Games in the Music Theory Classroom

Angela Ripley


Pedagogical games serve serious purposes: deepening student engagement, promoting mastery of course content, and increasing motivation through peer support and constructive competition (Ripley 2016). While some sources from the music theory pedagogy literature incorporate games (e.g., Dickinson 2020; Rifkin and Urista 2006), no consensus has yet emerged regarding what constitutes a pedagogical game or how to use these games effectively for student learning. In this paper, I outline five categories of pedagogical games, discuss best practices derived from interdisciplinary research in higher education, present three sample games, and consider student responses and learning outcomes.


I define pedagogical games as creatively framed class activities in which students participate, often with the incentive to win a prize, while deepening their understanding of course material. Pedagogical games occupy a continuum between pedagogical activities and games; each category reflects a different balance of pedagogy and games. These categories include creative illustrations, creative framings of class activities, non-competitive pedagogical games, competitive pedagogical games, and ice-breaker games. Pedagogical games may be competitive or non-competitive, focus on written or aural facets of music theory, vary in their length and their use of technology, and be played by teams or individuals. Best practices for effective pedagogical games include explaining rules clearly, reducing pressure on individual students by emphasizing team games (Wittchen et al. 2013), maintaining civility and respect among players, and keeping prizes small and non-academic (Berry 2015). Sample games include chord-identification tournaments, part-writing relay races, and theory bingo.         


Students respond enthusiastically to pedagogical games, describing them as “fun” and requesting additional games. Moreover, pedagogical games benefit student learning (Buchanan and Burt 2019) as students’ engagement and enjoyment promotes deep learning through increased motivation (Davis and Maistry 2017). By actively engaging with course material and building community with their peers, students who play pedagogical games can hone their skills in a low-pressure, low-stakes environment.


Towards a “Warmer” Partwriting: Figured Bass and Chorale as Model Composition

Olga Sánchez-Kisielewska


Teachers often treat partwriting and composition as fundamentally different activities. Presumably, students undertake creative projects only after learning harmony and voice leading in a simple and abstract context (consider the tasks described in Examples 1–3). Recent pedagogical debates leave partwriting caught in a paradox: too abstract and detached from musical experience, yet too attached to specific historical contexts. In this presentation, I explore possibilities for closer integration between partwriting and model composition, aiming to transform the oft-condemned historic specificity of figured bass and the chorale into a pedagogical advantage. 

Social theorist Alberto Toscano offers the concept of “warm abstractions” (2008) to amend the rigidity and separateness of abstraction—an activity central human thought and music theory pedagogy alike. To turn abstract partwriting “warmer,” I place experience before conceptualization (students perform and compose before learning categories explicitly) and return figured bass and SATB writing to their original styles and genres. This includes re-incorporating traditionally suppressed elements, dressing keyboard-style realizations in the rhythms of baroque dance or using text as starting point for chorales.

I will share my experiences implementing these ideas through two composition projects: “Sarabande alla Corelli” (Music Theory 1) and “Bach meets Angelou” (Music Theory 2). Most partwriting activities were directly connected to these projects, which occupied the last four weeks of each course. For the sarabande, students realized—in paper and at the keyboard—select figured-bass passages from the literature. Then they composed a small binary form, harmonizing a given bass and adding a solo part. The chorale project made harmonic function explicit and culminated setting a poetic text to music, including the recording of a vocal performance (Example 4). Model composition rendered partwriting less abstract and more situated, potentially contributing to develop artistry and musicianship. At the least, it made the hidden curriculum more transparent.

Choose Your Own Adventure:  Empowering Student Choice in Learning, Assessment, and Grading

Jennifer Shafer

What would a class look like where students consciously and strategically select which assignments they want to complete and know with confidence the resultant final grade they will earn? According to in the-trenches research, course designs that place power and responsibility in the hands of students contribute to more equitable approaches to education (Inoue 2019), result in higher levels of engagement (Mittell  2016), permit better feedback on assessments (Danielewicz and Elbow 2009), and decrease stress over grades and learning (Nilson 2016). Specifications grading (Nilson 2015) and contract grading (Danielewicz and Elbow 2009, Shor 2014) are two methods that are based in such student-centered philosophies; they also overlap with philosophical tenets of Self-Determination Theory (Niemiec and Ryan 2009), and therefore have potentially deep implications for motivation and engagement. These methods have not yet been widely embraced in music theory pedagogy literature, with a few exceptions (Naxer 2016, Shaffer 2014,  Alegant and Sawhill 2013). 


This paper will present implementation of these systems in multiple courses, discussing philosophical motivations, challenges and solutions in the course design, and “results” from instructor and student standpoints. In both models, students select from a wide array of options to complete course requirements, with transparent communication about the grade that they will earn as a result. All assignments can be revised and resubmitted, lowering stress and encouraging focus on learning. Students have responded positively to these class structures, stating that the “course structure was perfect. It was intricate, wonderfully fair, and gave us the space to forge our own paths.” From an instructor standpoint, quality of student work and levels of student engagement both increased significantly, in addition to the pedagogical and philosophical benefits of being able to offer students a number of choices for their curricula without creating an unmanageable workload for the instructor or the students.


Creating A Space to Fail:  Helping Students Develop Confidence In and Beyond the Music Theory Classroom

Rachel Short & Charlene Romano

Anyone who has taught core Aural Skills has likely witnessed student anxiety during sight-singing assessments, and possibly even a student in tears. What happens in that moment will depend on the student’s level of comfort with the instructor and the environment and could potentially affect their future learning and attitude toward further music theory study. While authors (including Joshua Eyler, Larry Ferlazzo, and David Yeager) have written in general about the importance of creating a welcoming learning environment, this has not been widely researched and discussed in music theory pedagogy. The music theory core curriculum, and aural skills courses in particular, are spaces in which students’ fears, concerns, and past experiences can create barriers to their successful progress and skills acquisition. How do we, as educators, intentionally create environments in which students feel safe to experiment, try and fail, and ultimately to learn and thrive?

In this forum, we will discuss and formulate practical applications to create encouraging environments in order to foster success in theory and aural skills classrooms. Our discussion aims to include courses at both the high school and college levels. As facilitators with differing backgrounds and professional experiences in dance, musical theatre, instrumental performance, and teaching at all levels (and ages), we will briefly share our own successes and failures in creating this type of environment. Attendees will engage in small and large discussion groups with topics including but not limited to: practical methods for creating inclusive spaces, formulating lesson plans that boost student engagement and experimentation, setting expectations for learning as a journey, providing supportive and fruitful feedback, removing roadblocks to learning, and setting students up for successful assessments. At the session’s end, attendees will develop and implement one small actionable change to move toward fostering a safe space to learn, fail, and grow.


Teaching Prosody and Declamation through Price’s Songs

James Sullivan

On various occasions, I have taught prosody (the rhythms of poetry) and declamation (the musical setting of the rhythms of poetry) in my music theory courses. The scholarly-pedagogical context has varied, from informal discussions of declamation in the undergraduate core curriculum (after Krebs 2016), to text setting and energetics in certain graduate courses for performance majors (after Malin 2008), to vocal meter and declamatory schemas in my graduate rhythm and meter seminar for music theorists (after Lewin 1982 and Malin 2010). In each case, I have run up against the same pedagogical obstacle: the language. Simply put, most students are not familiar enough with German for it be a useful context to study prosody and declamation.  Yet, with few exceptions (Cherlin 1991; BaileyShea 2021), the scholarship on prosody and declamation that could be pedagogically useful invariably focuses on German lieder.

In this workshop, I offer theory instructors an alternative: resources for teaching the rhythms of poetry and music in the context of English-language art song. In integrating this topic into one’s teaching, I also invite participants to use this opportunity to re-prioritize the repertoire they teach. To that end, the workshop focuses on the songs of Florence Price and the black poets whose work she set.

The workshop format will give participants hands-on experience analyzing prosody and declamation and will include: (1) a crash course in poetic rhythm, including the basics of accentual-syllabic meter, foot substitution, and freer manipulations of text stress, (2) an introduction to the musical setting of poetic rhythm, including metric placement and declamatory schemas, and (3) application of (1) and (2) to Price’s songs. There will be time for discussion, including how to adapt these concepts to various pedagogical contexts. No prior knowledge of prosody or declamation is assumed.

What Do Alumni Say? How Conservatory Graduates Employ Musicianship and Piano Skills in their Professional Lives

David Thurmaier & Chris Madden


With the theme “Teaching Music Theory in the Twenty-First Century” in mind, our presentation interprets the results of a survey distributed to undergraduate alumni who graduated between 2000–2020 from a conservatory housed at a medium-sized Midwestern university. Building upon related projects by Elizabeth West Marvin (2012) and Jennifer Snodgrass (2020), our purpose was to ascertain what current music professionals find most and least beneficial from their musicianship (i.e., music theory and aural skills) and keyboard skills training. Questions allowed alumni to: 1) rate the applicability of specific topics; 2) describe their perceived effort; and 3) suggest ideas for curriculum redevelopment.


After analyzing data from roughly 70 respondents, several themes emerged. From the musicianship side, alumni strongly recommended more attention be paid to aural skills of all kinds, including singing, dictation, and transcription. Also, a majority did not wish to minimize study of classical music and its standard pedagogical topics (e.g., harmony, voice leading,  analysis) but rather enrich it with greater study of popular music and jazz. 


When discussing the class piano curriculum, alumni expressed a desire for more keyboard harmony topics, with a specific focus on popular music and lead sheet realizations. In contrast, they suggested that less time be spent on transposing excerpts and playing scales.  Surprisingly, over half of respondents indicated that they have taught or are currently teaching piano lessons to make a portion of their income. These results provide current considerations for how to plan and deliver course topics.


After sharing these findings, we will demonstrate how we have implemented alumni suggestions in our musicianship and keyboard skills curriculum, which are now aligned for the first time. Special attention will be given to how we have addressed alumni’s desire for more practical application of these skills to a variety of majors and career paths.


Multimodal Feedback in the Music Theory and Aural Skills Classroom

Stephanie Venturino


This paper in two parts: first, I argue for the strategic use of multimodal feedback in music

theory and aural skills instruction; second, I offer practical solutions for how to make this

assessment method feasible in regards to time, technological skill, and course design.


I begin by introducing types of text, audio, and video assessment, discussing each type’s

potential for promoting social, teaching, and cognitive presence (Garrison, Anderson, and Archer

2000). Studies show that students prefer multimedia and multisensory feedback, which enhances

social and teaching presences by fostering open communication, emotional expression, and

critical reflection (Bargeron et al. 2002; Ice et al. 2007; Oomen-Early et al. 2008; Crews and

Wilkinson 2010; Ice et al. 2010; Vincelette 2013). I focus on three methods of video feedback:

talking head, regular screencast, and combination screencast. In particular, combination

screencast supports multimodality and aligns with Straub’s (2000) seven principles of effective

teacher feedback: 1) comments as conversation, 2) retention of student control over text, 3) focus

on global concerns, 4) limited scope and comments, 5) comments appropriately focused on stage

of work, 6) individualized feedback, and 7) praise of student work.


However, video assessment is not suited for every music theory and aural skills course or

assignment. I present a multimodal approach: while text and audio feedback work well for tasks

using lower cognitive processes on the revised Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson, Krathwohl, and

Bloom 2001), video feedback, particularly combination screencast, most effectively addresses

assignments using higher cognitive processes. I discuss examples of feedback from my own

music theory and aural skills courses from course design and facilitation standpoints, as well as

share qualitative student comments. Finally, I offer seven best practices for implementing

multimodal feedback in music theory and aural skills courses.

Teaching Music Theory and Aural Skills Online in the Post-COVID Age: Tools for Designing and Cultivating High-Quality Educational Experiences

Stephanie Venturino


In March 2020, we all became online teachers. Quickly pivoting to emergency remote

instruction, we delivered content through pre-recorded lectures, facilitated online discussions,

and interacted with students on Zoom. The return to face-to-face teaching has been a relief for

many: however, online learning was here before COVID-19—and it’s here to stay. According to

a 2021 report from the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements,

approximately 60% of universities will convert their emergency remote offerings to fully online

courses. Twenty-first century educators must embrace online learning and transition from

emergency practices to high-quality instructional design.


This workshop provides music theory and aural skills instructors in K-12 and university contexts

with tools for designing and cultivating high-quality online educational experiences. Following a

brief introduction, participants will reflect on successes and challenges during emergency remote

teaching. Then, I will introduce three pedagogical frameworks for online course design:

Garrison, Anderson, and Archer’s (2000) Community of Inquiry (CoI) model; Blayone et al.’s

(2017) Fully Online Learning Community (FOLC) model; and Borasi’s (2020) high-leverage

teaching practices. Whereas the CoI framework emphasizes the intersection of cognitive, social,

and teaching presence, the FOLC framework subsumes teaching presence into cognitive and

social presences. I connect these broader social-constructivist frameworks to Borasi’s high-

leverage teaching practices, which provide methods for engaging all spheres of the CoI and

FOLC models. Using screen-cast videos, I will give examples from my own online music theory

and aural skills courses for K-12 and university students, discussing how the three frameworks

direct my instructional design process. Finally, participants will brainstorm applications for their

own online settings, which will be shared via a collaborative Google document. Attendees will

leave with new frameworks and discipline-specific ideas for designing and cultivating high-

quality educational experiences online.

Nashville Number System as a Tool for Fostering Inclusivity and Accessibility

Samantha Waddell


Nashville Number System as a Tool for Fostering Inclusivity and Accessibility Incorporating current pop hits in the music theory classroom can improve student learning by fostering inclusivity and accessibility. In today’s classroom, the image of the “average” entry-level collegiate music student is difficult to conceive, not only due to the students’ varying degrees of knowledge upon entry, but also the varying degrees of students’ cognitive abilities (Quaglia 2015).  On top of these differences, students are also coming from a variety of cultural, socio-economic, and musical backgrounds. In this paper, I will argue that incorporating the Nashville Number System (NNS) in the theory classroom can help foster a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) curriculum approach through its ability to engage students using relevant, scaffolded activities. The UDL model follows research in neuroscience showing that learning takes place among three primary neural networks: the recognition network, the affective network, and the strategic network (Quaglia 2015). After reviewing research regarding these three neural networks and a brief introduction to the NNS, I will present a variety of activities utilizing the NNS (those in Fig. 1, along with purely aural melody harmonization exercises) that can help engage each of the three neural networks.

Because the NNS uses numbers instead of musical notation, it outwardly utilizes Schubert and Mariner’s concept of “proto-dictation” (2020, 188). This also inherently incorporates the UDL  approach, where staff notation is no longer a roadblock for students. Not only is learning the NNS method of reading and transcribing relevant for most performing musicians, students are able to incorporate their own personal music interests in their academic work, ultimately promoting long transfer of knowledge (Heinsen 2020). Incorporating pop music in this way also incorporates diversity into the curriculum, allowing students to see people of their own identities discussed in the classroom.


Theory Pedagogy Online and Asynchronous:  Challenges, Strategies, and Unexpected Opportunities

Elizabeth West Marvin


For the fall 2020 semester, in the midst of the COVID crisis, the administration of our large music school made the decision to prioritize classroom space for performance activities. Lessons were moved to classrooms for social distancing, and protocols were put in place for resting rooms between lessons. To maximize performance scheduling, all academic classes were required to meet online and asynchronously. This also allowed those learning remotely across the globe to participate on equal footing. 

Asynchronous online teaching posed challenges for the pedagogy of theory class, which requires peer teaching and critique, attention to body language and eye contact, vocal and keyboard demonstration, observation of undergraduate classes, and access to textbooks. But the online format provided unexpected opportunities as well, including Zoom access to music theorists across the country, chosen primarily because they were textbook and pedagogy article authors.  Students received a personal glimpse of the personalities, motivations, values, and pedagogical strategies of these teachers via recorded interviews. I too had the opportunity to reflect upon what is truly fundamental to good pedagogy and challenge myself to find creative means to enact them in an asynchronous environment.

This presentation presents a secondary analysis of the video interviews as research data, abstracting themes and teaching tips from about a dozen theory pedagogues (with approval from my university’s IRB and the interviewees). Interviewees described constraints from the pandemic and their solutions, changes in content and assessment, and challenges to their pedagogy. I asked each to describe their “pedagogical punchlines”—underlying principles that shape their teaching approaches, regardless of COVID. Analysis is on-going, but I anticipate reporting on strategies for student engagement and motivation, new activities enabled by technology, reflections upon the successes and challenges of spring 2020’s emergency remote teaching, and lessons learned that may inform teaching in the future.


Using Non-Western Rhythms to Teach Rhythmic Competency in Aural Skills Courses Reba Wissner

Recently, there has been a move to diversify the materials that are used in music theory courses to incorporate non-Western music and music by underrepresented composers for analysis and study (see, for example, Kang, 2009; Malaway, 2020; Navia & Moreira, 2020).  However, there has not been that same push for aural skills courses. When taught properly, non-Western music can be an excellent source for learning in aural skills courses, for both dictation and recitation, especially for rhythms (Amin, 2020; Everett, 1997). Through active listening and performance, students can learn applications of and have exposure to music outside of the Western canon that broadens their horizons and skills.

This paper discusses a spring 2021 aural skills course as a case study that used non-Western music as a source for rhythmic recitation as a supplement to the traditional aural skills curriculum. In the course, the students used percussion instruments supplied by the professor from the part of the world in which those rhythms are used to sight read and learn rhythms to strengthen the skills that were part of the curriculum. Students first played in unison before moving on to one student playing per part. Due to the incorporation of non-Western music, slight modifications were made to contextualize and teach these rhythms such as nuances of performance, beat patterns, and metric placement (Marvin, 2021). The result was better retention, skills, and engagement with course material than only using the Western music rhythms found in the textbook used at the university. It also leveled the playing field for all students as they learned the intricacies of performing rhythms from different cultures, supporting the National Association of Schools of Music’s cultural competency accreditation requirement.


What is relative pitch? Survey reveals varied definitions, attitudes, and pedagogies

David John Baker, Jenine Brown, Elizabeth West Marvin, Daphne Tan

What does it mean for an individual to possess relative pitch (RP)? Do aural skills instructors agree on a single definition? How do they teach and assess RP in the classroom? Unlike absolute pitch (AP), which is the ability to produce or label a musical pitch without reference to an external standard  (Marvin 2017), RP has no clearly agreed upon definition in the music-cognition and theory pedagogy literature: working definitions seem to capture some but not all aspects of this ability (Karpinski, 2000; Leipold et al., 2019; Levitin & Rogers, 2005; Marvin, 2007). Further while scholars have studied the prevalence (Ward, 1999), psychometric testing (Bermudez & Zatorre, 2009)), and neurophysiological mechanisms (Brauchli et al., 2019) of AP, RP has yet to receive such research attention.

Our research goal is twofold. The first is to disentangle beliefs about RP and AP in order to arrive at an empirical, inductive understanding of pitch-based skills. The second is to study the demographic, professional, and pedagogical factors that are associated with pedagogies of relative and absolute  pitch. In order to accomplish this, we share data from a survey that asks music teachers (N = 42, ongoing) for definitions of RP and AP), classroom activities that foster them and pedagogical beliefs about each. The survey also attempts to learn whether these attitudes are shaped by participants’ musical background and/or past teaching. Data collection began in December 2021; complete findings will be shared at the conference. The poster will illustrate agreement plots and other graphical representations of the data. This research is part of a larger project to build a skills-test battery that captures absolute- and relative-pitch abilities; this battery will have implications for both music cognitive research and classroom applications.

First Semester Theory through a Pop/Rock Lens: Course Design and Examples of Learning Activities

Nathan Baker


In an effort to better address the important aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the music theory curriculum at my institution, last spring I rethought the fundamental questions of what I should teach in my curriculum and when I should teach it. I decided that I would start with rock and pop for the first semester, shift to jazz theory for the second semester, and only then focus on Western classical music during the second year. Having completed my first semester introducing students to fundamental concepts of music theory through a pop/rock lens, I can report not only an improvement in the DEI of our department, but also enhanced learning as students acquired unfamiliar theory vocabulary through examining a familiar style of music and a distinct increase in student engagement. (As an added benefit, this was also the most enjoyable semester of theory I have ever taught.)


In this poster session, I will feature some particularly enjoyable and effective learning activities: Drum Machine Deathmatch; an example analysis of hypermeter and form in “Name of the Game” by ABBA (with a copy of the subsequent assessment activity in which students analyze the hypermeter and form of a song of their choice); and aural identification of modes and common harmonic schemata. I will also have copies of my syllabus used for first semester theory this semester available for attendees to look at and will be happy to discuss what worked well and what I plan on changing for next year. It is my hope that this poster will both inspire other teachers to take a similar approach in their music theory curriculum and provide them with some tools to successfully do so.


Roman Numerals vs. Partimento: A Comparison of Cognitive Load

Nathan Baker


The teaching of harmony in American universities has long been grounded in the harmonic theory of Gottfried Weber, transmitted and further developed by various influential English and American theorists such as Percy Goetschius and Walter Piston. As Leigh VanHandel demonstrated in a workshop at the 2019 Pedagogy into Practice conference, the traditional American approach to harmony places a heavy amount of cognitive load on the working memory of music theory students, particularly those who come from less privileged backgrounds. Meanwhile, some music cognition studies have indicated that chord roots are likely acoustically and perceptually insubstantial, while recent corpus analyses by Christopher White and Ian Quinn have demonstrated the invalidity of the standard seven-function harmonic model based on scale steps.

Recent years have shown growing awareness of and interest in an alternative tradition of theory pedagogy: the practice of partimento. In this poster session I will compare the cognitive load required for a student to analyze a passage of music through the traditional Roman-numeral-and-inversions approach vs. an alternative model of harmonic analysis centered on figured bass. I will also briefly point out some categorical problems caused by the traditional American model of harmony (such as the infamous iii 6/4 chord) and how the rule of the octave is more effective at constructing student understanding of typical harmonic progression in Western classical music. Additionally, I will be happy to briefly discuss with interested conference attendees how switching to a partimento-focused approach at my institution has led to a substantial improvement in student learning in my theory classroom.

Karate Kid Pedagogy and Interdisciplinary Priming in the Music Theory Curriculum

Michael Baker


Interdisciplinary study is a common buzzword in contemporary collegiate education. Recent authors (Stephan-Robinson 2018, Gades 2019, Hamm 2020) have examined interdisciplinary approaches to teaching music fundamentals courses; however, interdisciplinary learning activities can be applied in many ways and across the entire music theory curriculum. Drawing inspiration from the 1984 film The Karate Kid, in which Mr. Miyagi reveals that he has covertly taught Daniel LaRusso essential karate skills through the performance of menial chores, this poster presentation will describe a teaching strategy for introducing interdisciplinary learning activities in the music theory classroom. Following a discussion of cognitive priming and the benefits of adopting an interdisciplinary teaching perspective, this poster presentation will outline a four-stage teaching method, illustrated with complete lesson plans. 


Cognitive priming is commonly defined as a phenomenon whereby exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a subsequent stimulus, without conscious guidance or intervention. Whereas prior musical studies of cognitive priming (Deutsch 1999, Bigand 2014, Sears 2019) have focused on aspects of harmonic and tonal perception, a broader view of the concept enables the interdisciplinary teaching method proposed here. This teaching strategy is adaptable to a wide range of topics commonly studied throughout the music theory curriculum and creates richly memorable learning moments that transcend merely acquiring competence in a given harmonic/analytical technique. 

Music, Sound, and Theory

Daniel Barolsky & Yiheng Yvonne Wu


This presentation explores the development of “Music, Sound, and Theory,” a course that the faculty at Beloit College, a small liberal arts institution, introduced in the fall of 2014 to replace its more conventional music theory sequence. The priorities in designing this new course were 1) to decenter Classical Music (and its derivative analytic methods/values), 2) to present material in a manner that was accessible and appealing to all students, regardless of their musical backgrounds and tastes, and 3) to ensure that sound and theory are always positioned in historical, cultural, somatic, and acoustic contexts.

Over several years, the course structure and readings have evolved. Our biggest challenge was communicating to students (and their advisors), who came to the topic with a more conservative conception of music theory, the value of a course that appeared unorthodox or lacked the expected content. This challenge, however, had the benefit of forcing us to foreground what Simon Sinek calls the “why” of the course, a “why” we were rarely asked to justify in the past when the authority of tradition could always be invoked.

This resulted in a course that emphasizes two intersecting learning goals. The first foregrounds the practicality and application of music theory fundamentals. Students use these skills in a series of creative and compositional exercises using both traditional staff notation and free, online DAWs. Each week, the lessons on fundamentals are paired with a collection of critical readings and discussions, pushing students and instructors to reflect more intentionally and transparently on their tools of analysis, methods of composition, the roles of performer and listener, the effect of technological mediation, and the intersection of aesthetic values and musical theories. This intersection of musical elements with critical theory reminds students to question the universality of the musical systems with which they are most familiar.

Mission Outreach: A University Music Theory Club’s Outreach Project with Local High School Music Students

Jennifer Beavers, Madeline Gonzales, Kyree Harrison, Jordan Davis, Sofia Salazar Arguelles


This poster details a university music theory club’s mission to form connections with local high school music students. With a primary objective to enhance prospective music major’s awareness and proficiency in music theory, and an overarching motivation to broaden the academic pipeline to underserved communities, several secondary benefits emerged for music theory club (MTC) participants. These included a deeper connection MTC participants experienced to music theory in their musicianship and education career goals, as well as a heightened calling to advocate for creating equal access to quality educational resources for underserved communities. Under the supervision of a faculty mentor, this student-organized club created various opportunities to engage with local high school music students. We will showcase three types of outreach projects we developed this year: (1) the music theory pen-pal program, (2) in-person collaborative teaching with high school music theory teachers, and (3) teaching videos created for specific high school student requests. Although our music theory club is too large for all students to present at the conference, 3-4 undergraduate music majors from the club will present our findings in a poster session (contingent on funding). Our poster will detail how we implemented our outreach goals, along with our successes and failures, and present examples of us working with high school students and teachers. We will articulate findings from our outreach projects, as well as show how our extra-curricular music theory mutually benefited college music majors, prospective music majors, under-served high schools and high school teachers, and created unexpected positive press for our music department and university outreach mission. 

Part Writing in Simple Keyboard Style: A Practical Solution

Antares Boyle

In the traditional theory curriculum built around chorale-style part writing, students spend considerable time and effort mastering complex voice-leading conventions that are applicable only to common-practice European music. As theorists work to build more inclusive curricula, this model is clearly no longer tenable. At the same time, part writing can be an effective way to explore broadly relevant voice-leading concepts, practice spelling chords, and work with notation. Can these positive attributes be retained without the Eurocentric stylistic baggage?

My poster demonstrates a simple solution that I now use in my first-year theory classes.  Students realize chord progressions exclusively in a format I call “simple keyboard style.” I focus on a single voice-leading “rule”: minimal motion in upper voices. This one guideline is simple to memorize, obviously connected to ease of vocal or instrumental performance, and broadly applicable in tonal harmonic contexts across styles. Additional advantages are outlined in Figure 1.

Students realize progressions in three basic styles: pop, classical, and jazz. Pop progressions give students practical experience realizing a song-style lead sheet, using primarily root position triads (Figure 2). For classical progressions, I provide a melody and roman numerals, giving students a chance to work with inversions (Figure 3). The provided melody forces a realization that follows conventional voice-leading principles, allowing an opportunity to discuss outer-voice counterpoint without memorizing complex conventions. For jazz-style progressions, students begin with a three-voice framework with “guide tones” (thirds and sevenths) in the right hand (Figure 4). A fourth voice is added at a more advanced level of study, after they have learned about chord extensions.

In addition to providing the rationale outlined here and sample assignments, my poster addresses how this practice fits into a redesigned first-year curriculum that decenters white European music while still providing students with a comprehensive understanding of tonal harmony.


Arranging and Performing Pop A Cappella Without Staff Notation

Timothy Chenette


Staff notation takes a long time to master. Recent scholarship on general-education music teaching (Ohriner 2019, Woloshyn 2015, Lam 2017) deals with this barrier by focusing on alternative tools for listening. This poster, in contrast, will present a method of teaching non musicians to arrange and perform music without notation using the keyboard, chord charts, and smooth voice leading. This method was implemented in a general education class on pop a cappella, a genre within which many groups use a combination of notation-based and aural learning in rehearsal.

Although the course required no formal knowledge of music, by the end of the semester the 60 students were able to write and communicate arrangements of popular songs. Early-semester Friday classes (within a MWF schedule) were used to practice fundamental mappings of note names in a keyboard lab; some students with instrumental experience were exempted from these classes. Weeks 6–8 laid the groundwork for arrangements through an understanding of voice leading, methods of communicating arrangements, and form. After Week 8, class time was used for working on arrangements, then rehearsing and performing in a cappella groups. My poster will show this outline and samples of student work, and link to the readings and resources I created to support this learning.

While my poster’s main focus is on how the students learned to arrange without staff notation, this class was designed to fulfill “breadth creative arts” gen-ed requirements, and I will also provide brief summaries of and links to other resources. These include readings and linked videos on the history of singing in the US from 1700 through doo-wop, the recent history of pop a cappella, race and music in the US, music copyright, and effective rehearsal.




A Notation-Centered Approach to the "Remediation Problem" in First-Year Music Theory Thomas Collison


When students enter a college music theory curriculum, they bring with them a wide range of skills and prior musical knowledge which only partially overlaps with the set of fundamental skills valued by a given institution’s theory program. This leads to a design issue for a first-semester course, which must bring all students to a similar level of skill in music fundamentals for the remaining curriculum to build upon. The majority of a classroom might already have mastery over any given fundamental skill, but if its instruction is omitted, students who need to develop it are put at a significant learning disadvantage—how then can a course keep students engaged while simultaneously covering material that is likely redundant for many of them? 


This paper reviews goals of modern undergraduate theory pedagogy as outlined by Elizabeth  Marvin (2012), as well as the models of Universal Design for Learning (Quaglia 2015, and Gillespie  2018). Using this framework, the paper proposes placing a course centered around musical notation prior to Theory 1, using literacy as a vehicle to bring students to similar skill levels in fundamentals while keeping them engaged. This model builds upon others of experiential learning in performance-based environments to remediate fundamentals (Nolte 2019), changing the focal point from performance skills—which can have wide student variability—to literacy, which likely has much lower variability. Comparing standard music literacy to literacy in other disciplines, students’ unfamiliarity with musical notation highlights a host of pedagogical issues, notably an atmosphere of intimidation around using even basic notation devices with proficiency (Waller 2010). Additionally, reading aspects of music remain ambiguous, with figures showing several literacy concepts undergraduates may lack clarity in. Beginning with a course which foregrounds literacy while building fundamentals subliminally may be a direct way to positively impact undergraduates’ musicianship.


Analysis through Recomposition: Cultivating Independent Thought and Music-Making in the Undergraduate Music Theory Core

Tyler Dellaperute


The compartmentalization of music theory has been a subject of concern in music theory pedagogy for the past several decades (Schubert, 2011; Larson, 1995). Instructors may run the risk of presenting music theory in an overly-cerebral manner divorced from real music-making,  leading many students to question its value in relation to other aspects of their musicianship. As a solution, we might consider approaching music theory pedagogy in a manner similar to language pedagogy, with an emphasis on fluency, active participation, and creativity.

 This mindset led to the development of a multi-phase Contrafact Project, designed to be integrated into an undergraduate Theory II course. The project, drawing on the instructor’s experience with jazz and classical improvisation, reinforces concepts from the curriculum while giving students freedom to be creative, make mistakes, learn from errors, and perform their music to a live audience.

In the Contrafact Project, students choose a piece or song from a provided list, representing artists and composers such as Beethoven, Etta James, and Leonard Cohen. Each progression contains at least one secondary chord. Students are instructed to create a contrafact by writing an original melody over the existing progression. Phase One consists of a harmonic reduction and an analysis of the unique harmonic/melodic aspects. Phase Two consists of a composition of an original melody utilizing one or more “modular diminutions” introduced, and a live performance of their melody accompanied by a brief presentation of their analytical findings.

This project yielded results beyond the expectation of the instructor. Students were able to not only create and perform original melodies but describe their methodology using theoretical terms. This presentation will highlight not only the project and its learning objectives and results, but also discuss how applicable and creative projects are pedagogically sound in the freshmen classes of the theory core.


A Judgement-Free Zone: Benefits of a Peer-Tutoring Center for Music Theory Instruction Tyler Dellaperute, Sophie Rymarowicz, Jason Wise, Graham Johnson


The current music theory classroom may be best described as a laboratory, an environment of inquiry and experience. However, the population of the class is often divided in prior knowledge, understanding, or even interest in the course.

The creation of a peer-tutoring center has the potential to provide individual instruction for the diverse backgrounds of our undergraduate populations while providing teaching experience for upperclassmen. Through peer tutoring, students can meet in an environment where they feel more at ease, free from the judgement that can pervade the core classes.  Furthermore, many undergraduates do not have the opportunity to gain teaching experience in theory or aural skills until they are put directly in front of the classroom, whether in the K-12 classroom or in an assistantship position at the university level. The establishment of an undergraduate music peer-tutoring lab seeks to give tutors such an experience, providing undergraduates with the opportunity to formulate their own teaching philosophies, while gaining valuable experience in peer teaching and theoretical problem solving through mentorship and practice.

For the past thirteen years, the tutoring lab at Appalachian State University has provided free tutoring to undergraduate music majors in various music disciplines, including music theory, aural skills, music history, and contemporary musicianship. The lab currently employs undergraduate tutors and graduate supervisors, each with a unique specialty and skillset that helps to inform their own research and practice. The lab is equipped with multiple technologies to be used in teaching and research along with print materials highlighting the latest pedagogical approaches and methods.

This panel, consisting of two graduate supervisors, one undergraduate tutor, and one undergraduate tutee, will present the latest data gathered on student usage, concluding with a narrative and personal analysis about the benefits of peer learning, peer mentorship, and peer discovery outside of the classroom.


Stepping up Sight Singing: How Tiered Sight-singing Examples Can Increase Student Agency, Awareness of Structural Relationships, and Sense of Accomplishment

Philip Duker & Jennifer Shafer


How can instructors change the format of individual sight-singing assessments to make them more empowering and uplifting for students? This paper discusses how tiered sight-singing examples (used both as weekly homework and exams) can improve these kinds of activities by:  1) providing students with choices in how they are challenged, 2) prompting them to understand melodies via grouping and reduction strategies, and 3) encouraging students to attempt more difficult melodies by boosting their confidence and giving them a sense of accomplishment from successfully completing simpler ones. Similar to how different gymnastics routines can have different point values, presenting sight-singing melodies as a series of tiered levels (e.g., A-level, B level, and C-level) in the context of assessments allows students to choose the level at which they will be challenged. Students can begin at the C-level or B-level and then attempt more difficult melodies if they perform the initial melody successfully. In this approach, performances are evaluated as Pass/Not Pass, and students keep the grade for the most difficult melody that they passed. Since these tiered melodies are constructed as a series of reductions/elaborations, students sing a structural reduction before attempting an embellished version of the same melody, encouraging them to make connections between the two. Because students must sing each melody proficiently to earn the grade for that tier, their score acknowledges successfully accomplishing that level (as opposed to having poorly performed a more challenging melody). Our students have enjoyed choosing their starting difficulty level during assessments, and we have found that singing through the reductions first helps them perform the more challenging gestures in later melodies.  We have also seen benefits for students of all skill levels; they have shown higher levels of confidence, coupled with an increased sense of accomplishment in their performances.

Neuro-Divergence in the Music Classroom: Reaching the "Talented but Lazy" Student Caroline Dunmire

At the Society for Music Theory's 2021 conference, Cynthia Gonzales playfully described a subgroup of students as "talented but lazy" in her plenary presentation. Although accessibility was not the focus of her presentation, this phrasing emphasizes an important sect of learners who—although astute—often struggle to succeed in the music theory classroom. Instructors may assume that these issues are solely behavioral- or mental health-related and therefore outside the scope of pedagogical intervention. However, issues of non-submission or work riddled with careless errors are symptomatic of neuro-divergence, particularly Attention Deficit Hyperactivity  Disorder (ADHD). Adult learners with ADHD have impairments in executive function and working memory and the Universal Design for Learning guidelines recognize the instructor should provide options for both executive functions and sustaining effort and persistence in learners.

When applied to music theory, the instructor can accommodate learners with these impairments through designing a curriculum that (1) has more frequent rewards and (2) provides student constructed memory aids. These strategies will address both the non-submission and the  "careless error" consequences of student impairment. Neuro-diverse students may understand course material well yet fail on analysis projects because these projects demand a large amount of both willpower and memory. To circumvent these problems, the curriculum can guide students through a multi-step process, requiring students to create their own memory guides  (preventing careless errors independently) while supplying the regular satisfaction of completion (boosting executive function).

Examples of memory guides include key, meter, and harmonic rhythm identification, if-then charts for chromatic harmonies, diatonic chord quality lists, and using lead-sheet symbols and  Nashville Numbers in conjunction with Roman Numeral analysis. Multi-step projects like analyses can be debilitating for students with neurological impairments if they don't receive accommodations. Strategies like these can provide the appropriate support while still fostering student learning and independence.

Using Jazz Compositions to Teach the Sentence

Samuel Falotico


Teaching the sentence form typically involves examples from the common practice period, but few (if any) from other genres. Furthermore, since most excerpts are instrumental, an opportunity is lost to discuss songs and their sentential/limerick structures (long-long-short short-long) of the text. Sentences in jazz music embody the classical definition of the form and can be used in teachings.  However, of four common theory textbooks, not one author includes a jazz example in their discussion of the sentence. In this paper, I will show how jazz compositions can be incorporated into teaching the musical sentence.


The A section of Ellington/Strayhorn/Mercer’s “Satin Doll” features melodic repetition of mm. 1–2 in mm. 3–4 (the basic ideas comprising the presentation) and fragmentation from the basic idea in mm. 5–6 leading to the final cadence in mm. 7–8 (the continuation). Additionally, the lyrical structure further reflects the sentence form). The song also offers teachers opportunities to teach ii–V progressions, tritone substitution, and turnarounds. Examining phrase types outside the common-practice period helps expose our students to a wider range of musical styles and provides a familiar reference point for jazz students and vocalists.


"What Were You Thinking?": Only the Video Knows for Sure Answer

Cynthia I. Gonzales

The complexities of part writing and analysis often impose a heavy cognitive load on beginning music theory students, as they integrate knowledge of chords and harmonic function with analysis and the compositional practice of voice leading. While teaching online in 2020-21, I  incorporated a video component to analysis and part writing assignments that I retain even though face-to-face classes have resumed. First, students work in notation software with playback capability (for example: Finale, Sibelius, MuseScore, or SmartMusic’s Compose). (Work was distributed as an uploadable XML file.) Second, students initiate a screen capture software (such as Zoom) to record their work session. Third, students narrate their process, verbalizing their voice-leading or analytical choices. And finally, students activate the playback tool to listen, engaging multiple senses to approve or edit their work. 

The metacognition component of narrating one’s awareness and understanding of part  writing and analysis reveals what students have mastered by unmasking a student’s decision-making process. The narration also answers an instructor’s query when encountering an error: “What were you thinking?” Videos confirm student comprehension and expose omissions, information that instructors may use to design future lessons.


This presentation will include excerpts from student videos, as well as feedback from students about the process of narrating their work. For all, narrated videos were an added dimension that lengthened the time required to complete an assignment. At the time, many students expressed frustration with working in notation software, with making a video, with narrating their work, and/or with uploading a video. A year later, most appreciated the experience, retrospectively assigning value to an activity that allowed them to express their own understanding of complex tasks.


Popular Music Theory: A Case Study  in Pedagogy

Matthew Hough

In 2021, I successfully proposed to my institution and later taught the first offering of a new, advanced undergraduate elective course for music majors called Popular Music Theory. Drawing on research and practice from various music subfields, as well as fields traditionally outside of music scholarship, this course is intended as a first step toward what I hope will become a new curriculum that is centered around the study and practice of popular music, broadly defined. 

Beginning with the course description "materials and techniques of popular music across global and historical styles including new and current practices", I set out to create a framework for  study that enables the following goals: 1) foreground aspects of musical structure which derive from Sub-Saharan Africa and the diaspora ("Black Music") in a way that will inform popular music theory studies across stylistic, historical and geographic boundaries; 2) de-emphasize (but not eliminate) the reading and writing of staff notation in order to engage more deeply the ear and the body, and counteract the primacy of the eye that is typically involved in the traditional music theory curriculum; 3) to involve students in research and creative work that may advance the discipline in terms of scholarship and pedagogy.

Having just completed the Fall 2021 semester and the first offering of this course, my presentation will share specifics about the course structure, research underpinnings, reading and study material, listening lists, assignments, examples of student work (including abstracts of mock conference papers and recordings of original popular music compositions) and feedback from students. Additionally, I will present some of my own reflections on the efficacy of these pedagogical approaches, and ideas about to improve and create more opportunities for students to engage in popular music theory study.

Teaching Theory Pedagogy: The Anthology Project

Samantha M. Inman


This poster details the structure, benefits, and challenges of the anthology project I assign in my graduate-level course in Theory Pedagogy. I provide the students with a list of twenty-five topics commonly taught in undergraduate music theory. Students select one musical excerpt for each topic, then assemble a pdf document containing a table of contents along with annotated and unannotated scores for each selection. As long as they meet the minimum numbers of composers and genres, students are free to explore any composition that does not already appear in published anthologies.  The anthology project offers three main benefits. First, it provides a creative means to review undergraduate theory concepts, a step necessary for most non-theory majors and beneficial for theory majors. Second, the project encourages students to tailor repertoire selection to their own interests. This increases the level of investment from individual students and diversifies the repertoire choices of the class as a whole. Third, the project yields a product of practical value.  Finding appropriate repertoire examples constitutes one of the most time-consuming elements of lesson preparation and assembling a collection of examples in advance reduces future workload. 


The assignment’s scaffolding mitigates its challenges. Requiring students to submit a preview of five annotated excerpts forces students to begin the project early in the semester. Besides discouraging procrastination, this ensures that even students with weak computer skills soon develop a viable workflow. Requiring a complete draft provides the instructor the opportunity to provide feedback on the suitability of each excerpt as well as identify weaknesses in the analysis that need to be addressed. This improves the quality of the finished anthology, which provides both the students and the instructor with resources useful for teaching music theory in the years to come.


“(Re)doing Our Best: Pedagogical Advantages of Letting Students Try Again”

Matthew Kiple

This paper explores the “redo”—an attempt beyond the first of an assignment or task—and its effectiveness in facilitating students’ application of and fluency with core concepts in the undergraduate music theory classroom. Using empirical data (represented anonymously) from one semester of a core undergraduate theory course (Fall 2021), I demonstrate how an assignment redo system, implemented within the fabric of the course, motivates students to work purely for their own individual edification.  Drawing from self-determination theory (SDT), I connect this level of student ownership and effort to their personal pursuit of autonomy (the need for independence and control), competence (the need for fulfillment and understanding), and relatedness (the need to connect intellectually with concepts and personally with others). 

I begin by outlining conditions for redos (i.e. the original assignment must be submitted on time and fully completed, the final grade averages the redo and the first attempt, etc.). Second, I survey patterns of student engagement, including 1) percentage increase/decrease of students completing redos over time, 2) average grade increase from first attempts to redos, 3) approximate increase/decrease in error repetition, and 4) average percentage increase of students opting for more challenging “alternate versions” of assignments, among others. Third, I connect the outcomes suggested by the course data to SDT’s definitions of “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” motivation. I argue that my redo system initially promotes students’ extrinsic motivation (toward a better grade), but through which intrinsic motivation  (toward inherent fulfillment and satisfaction) ultimately prevails. I conclude with my own “instructor redo” and self-reflect on how to adapt my approach with the goal of successfully meeting students’ needs in future semesters.

PedAgogical Practices: Alternative Theories of Teaching and Learning

Chantal Lemire

While it may seem like splitting hairs, the ubiquitous practice in music-theoretical circles to treat pedagogy as a catch all term for the theory and practice of teaching and learning can inadvertently overlook a growing body of literature focused on alternative concepts of the 

learner and of the student-teacher relationship to learning. Pedagogy, a derivative of the Greek paidagōgia (a synthesis of ágōs, meaning “to lead” and país/paidos, meaning “child”), is perhaps the oldest theory of teaching and learning. Yet it represents only one of many “- agogical” models available to educators. The concept of andragogy, or “the art and science of helping adults learn,” was first introduced to North American audiences through the work of  Malcom Knowles (1968), and was itself influential in the development of paragogy, or peer-to peer learning and teaching (Corneli et al. 2016), as well as heutagogy, or the study of self-determined learning (Hase & Kenyon, 2013). While none of these “gogies” are mutually exclusive (Knowles 1980; 1984), they each represent a significant departure from the pedagogical concept of the learner as, by definition, a dependent personality. 


In this paper, I review these selected ‘gogies’ in relation to recent studies on the practice of teaching music theory (Snodgrass 2020; VanHandel 2020), arguing both that music theory educators can benefit from employing less pedagogical models and indeed, that many already are, but often without realizing it. In addition, by offering a focused review of the history and literature on alternative theories of teaching and learning, I hope to demonstrate that as modern music theory classrooms comprise increasingly diverse arrays of students––each with their own lived experiences, unique bodies of knowledge, and individual motivations for pursuing higher education––the need for music educators to similarly diversify our own ‘- agogical’ mindset has never been greater.

Facilitating Group Composition for Large Ensembles through “Building Blocks” of Rhythm, Harmony, Countermelody, Melody, Form, and Orchestration

Alexis C. Lamb

While I was a 6-12th grade band director in Illinois, I developed a composition curriculum for my middle school large ensembles with the goal of going beyond the classroom and performing a collectively-composed work for our community. This curriculum was piloted with three middle school concert bands in Spring 2018 over the course of eight weeks. Each ensemble’s resulting composition was the highlight of their performances at the end of the semester, and I believe this curriculum and performance practice could be applied similarly to any large ensemble of any age and/or ability level.

Prior to beginning the unit, my students had developed an understanding of assigning scale degree numbers to individual pitches within a key to create universality with transposing and concert instruments. Students were able to differentiate between melody, countermelody, and harmony as well as identify musical forms. It was important to have also created a respectful classroom environment where students could discuss their composition work and democratically vote on their preferred materials without any negative responses throughout the process.

The curriculum allowed a fluid expansion from individual composing to small group performance/discussion/voting, to large ensemble performance, discussion, voting, and workshopping. This procedure applied to every “building block” we focused on for the project, including rhythm, harmony, countermelody, melody, form, and orchestration. Students were engaged in discussion about melodic contour, harmonic development, rhythmic variation, and structure, all while building a new composition as a collective team. These elements were adapted for both traditional and non-traditional notation practices to remove limitations on students’ imaginations as well as increase accessibility. After each layer was established, we workshopped the materials as an ensemble and explored dynamic and articulation possibilities. The resulting work was a composition and performance rooted in collaboration, respect, and theoretical understanding of musical structures.

Bridging the Divide: What Elementary- and College-Level Music Educators Can Learn from Each Other about Teaching Phrase Structure

Rebecca Perry & Elizabeth Hermann


Most undergraduate music majors will go on to teach music to children or teenagers at some point in their careers. We take little account of this in most undergraduate theory curricula, however, which are filled with jargon and sophisticated analyses of mostly Western classical music. As such, it is easy for music majors to begrudge—or dismiss— much of their theory curriculum as irrelevant to their future pursuits.

We submit that one way to address this disconnect is by adopting pedagogical methods from elementary music education (such as pictorial representation and embodiment) in the undergraduate theory classroom. This paper targets one area—that of phrase structure—in which this approach might be particularly beneficial. Until now, the teaching of phrase structure to younger audiences has centered primarily on question and-answer (or period) structures (Barrett 1997, Brumfield 2014, Ng 2015). Meanwhile, Caplin’s Classical Form (1998) accounts for a much wider range of possible phrase structures, but the complexity and narrow reportorial focus of his theory renders it largely inaccessible to younger learners.

Our paper seeks to bridge this divide, laying out a model for distilling a number of Caplin’s formulations for use by teachers of younger audiences. Building on previous studies that have broadened Caplin’s definitions—of the sentence, in particular—to account for music outside the Viennese classical style (BaileyShea 2004, Richards 2011), we demonstrate ways in which pictorial representation and embodiment can be used to make phrase structure comprehensible to children (highlighting Disney’s “Skeleton  Dance” and VeggieTales’ “Hairbrush Song”). In addition to better preparing music educators to adapt complex concepts for young learners, such methods can create more inclusive environments in the undergraduate theory classroom by encouraging the use of more diverse repertories and accommodating alternate learning styles.

Listening to Form In/Through Contemporary Musics

Sam Reenan


This presentation proposes parallel and intersecting avenues for listening to musical form in introductory aural skills. Contemporary musics offer opportunities for inclusive formal thinking centered on a sensitivity to gesture, location, and texture. Each of these parameters allows for imaginative metaphorical listening—gestures as agents, location as movement through space, texture as group membership and sonic identity. Along the axes of similarity and contrast, students examine these concepts as critical listening tools encoding important formal information relevant to an array of musical styles, including: (i) moments of change; (ii) unfolding processes; (iii) retrospective reinterpretations; and (iv) large-scale organizing principles.


Example 1 is a transcription of Glasper’s “You and Me.” Ensemble texture and vocal spatialization are the primary elements delineating change between the introduction, verse, and chorus, as the rhythm section’s vamp is consistent. The “You and Me” gesture exists surreptitiously in the intro and verse, but comes forward as the titular lyric in the chorus. Example 2 excerpts the opening of Shaw’s Entr’acte, a minuet that opens with an easily identifiable homophonic gesture.  Students track the perceived nearness of the gesture in time, making observations about the intimacy of the opening, the approach in mm. 3–5, the retreat in mm. 6–8, and the sonic arrival in m. 10 which retrospectively calls into question the gesture’s initial intimacy. Example 3 presents the first movement of Thorvaldsdottir’s Spectra, a piece that explores the notion of musical ecosystems. Students map the sonic, timbral, gestural, and textural terrains of the piece, including its arch structure, the transfer of motives between instruments, and transgressive gestures that offer interpretive possibilities.


Cultivating critical, inclusive, and imaginative listening practices prepares students for formal thinking throughout the theory curriculum. Centering contemporary musics reinforces abstract formal concepts while encouraging students to listen broadly and contextually.


Priming First-Year College Students for Music Analysis: Applying Concepts from ACRL's Information Literacy Framework

Katrina Roush


Undergraduate music students often struggle with the freedom of music analysis, as most core music theory courses teach relatively little actual analysis, but rather essential tools for future analytical endeavors. This paper proposes a fresh, easy-to-integrate approach to this problem by adapting elements from the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education to first-year music theory courses. The “Framework,” well-known among academic librarians, was created by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) to bring together concepts such as research, critical thinking, metacognition, and knowledge creation, with the goal of being flexible enough to apply to a wide array of disciplines. Two of its six core ideas map especially well onto music analysis, and this paper explores their practical application to help prepare students for self-directed analysis.


First, “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” is concerned with understanding the source of information. It teaches students to consider the level of expertise of authors in context and to question how authority is granted (and who is excluded). Approaching theory pedagogy with this frame in mind creates opportunities for discussions about bias in analysis, problematic aspects of the canon, and contextualized uses for different score editions.


Second, “Research as Inquiry” can be modified to “Analysis as Inquiry.” Just as ACRL’s concept focuses on flexible research trajectories that shift as students continue to explore a topic, so music theory instructors can use it to present analysis as an open-ended path toward understanding music more deeply. Instead of trying to fit music into a box, students can learn to let each work guide its own analysis. Instructors can periodically apply this concept by leading students through ambiguous passages that raise more questions than answers, teaching them that the discomfort of gray areas in analysis can be reconstrued as opportunities for discovery and engagement.


Two Active-Listening Lessons for First-year Theory: “What do you hear?” and the “Structural Harmony Listening Worksheet”

Anna Stephan-Robinson


This poster presents two first-year theory lessons that engage students in guided active listening without reference to musical notation͘. In the first lesson What do you hear (WDYH), students listen to a variety of pieces and identify musical components they hear.  Inspired by a sentence in Roig-Francolí 2011, WDYH draws on students pre-existing (albeit likely unarticulated) knowledge and helps them start to develop a music-theoretical vocabulary.  Importantly, all the compositions in the WDYH lesson completely lack harmonic progression, forcing students to attend to elements that often suffer neglect in theory curricula, such as rhythm, melodic construction, instrumentation, dynamics, and register. For homework, students post a paragraph to the class blog comparing the use of one musical element in two of the compositions. This focused but low-stakes writing (Rogers 2018) for a quasi-public audience gives students a chance to express their thoughts in prose; even students weak in fundamentals  can display excellent insights into the music. 

The Structural Harmony Listening Worksheet (SHLW) pivots to harmony. The SHLW introduces the centrality of tonic and dominant in common-practice and related styles through a version of harmonic singing (Gonzales 2020). Students listen to a piece while following a lyric chart and physically singing the tonic or dominant triad as directed. (An alternative is offered for students unable to sing the chords.) The first example deliberately includes some chromaticism. By actively examining the interaction of tonic and dominant with lyrics and melody, students discover that these harmonies occupy the most important positions in each phrase. To follow up, instructors can use the same music to preview conclusive and inconclusive cadences and the T-P-D-T phrase model.

Music for Autistic Listeners: A Music Theory Community Engagement Project 

Daniel B. Stevens & Matthew L. Mauriello

How might music theory students use their knowledge to help community members with autism? This presentation shares an example of community engaged learning in music theory, wherein my honors theory class developed a collaborative project with our state’s autism support network. The organization’s inclusive vision–to enable members of the community with autism to learn, grow, and live full lives as valued members of the community–inspired my students to consider how children with autism experience music. From the community partner, the students learned autistic children experience a wide range of sensory responses to sound which creates unique challenges for engaged music listening, e.g. listening with pleasure, attention, and participation (singing along). Taking an interactive multi-sensory room (Ex. 1) that students visited both as a model and a site for further innovation, we developed a concept for a music-listening controller that addresses a specific need in this community: autistic children often struggle to sing simple songs because the tempo is too fast and the level of stimulation in the recorded music may be too high or low. To solve this problem, we envisioned a musical controller loaded with student-arranged children’s songs, in which children could easily add, subtract, or recombine tracks of varying levels of stimulation at the push of a button.

To bring the concept to reality, the class engaged a computer scientist (proposal co-author) on campus, who assisted with the programming, controller design (Ex. 2), and fabrication. The controller, currently under development, will be used to record user interactions and biometric responses, providing new insights into the listening patterns and preferences of autistic children, and input that the students will use when arranging successive iterations of children’s songs [3]. This project demonstrates the broad scope of collaborative learning and the potential of music theory to positively impact the community.

Toward an Anti-Racist Post-Tonal Pedagogy: George Walker’s Lilacs in Theory IV

Evan Ware

As with other college disciplines, the pedagogy of music theory tilts heavily in favor of white men. Often a latent bias, it conditions both who can research and what can be researched; Philip Ewell has called this the “white racial frame” (Ewell 2020). In the pedagogical trenches, it is potently manifest in how textbooks curate musical examples.  Particularly in post tonal theory, these overwhelmingly consist of compositions by white Euro-American men and recent texts have only just begun adding a broader range of persons (Belcher 2020). If the discipline is to be re-framed to be anti-racist as Ewell advocates, pushing back against the “hidden curriculum” (Palfy and Gilson 2018) of the discipline is crucial.

This paper describes a way to move forward: an anti-racist approach to a Theory IV component on post tonal music. Instead of tokenizing BIPOC composers, this pedagogy introduces students to the basic methods and tools of post-tonal music by analyzing a single work, George Walker’s song cycle Lilacs (1995). With such a sustained focus, students are encouraged to not just mechanically analyze pieces that comfortably illustrate the theory, but to grapple with a piece that might not. Thus, their observations will shed light on Walker’s unique approach to post-tonal materials and serve as launching points for reflection on how Walker’s music and Walt Whitman’s text create meanings especially when read in it its original social context of the 1990s War on Drugs, social safety net cutbacks, and mass incarceration, as well as today’s post-George Floyd landscape. This pedagogy thus gives professors and students the agency to reframe music theory’s project as “a critical intervention that would… help us make sense of the worlds we live in…”  (Madrid 2017).


A Case of Diversity in the Undergraduate Post-Tonal Music Course:

Arithmetic References in the Works by Phillipe Manoury and Guoping Jia

Yi-Cheng Daniel Wu


Inspired by the discussion of diversity in Clendinning 2018, Hisama 2018, Deguchi 2018, and Buchler 2020, I have begun to incorporate composers with non-Western tradition in my undergraduate core of Post-Tonal Music. This presentation reports one of my cases in creating a space to dialogue about how contemporary composers from the East and West adopt arithmetic references to organize their works—Phillipe Manoury’s Melencolia-Figuren (French; for string quartet and orchestra; 2013) and Guoping Jia’s The Wind Sounds in the Sky (Chinese; for cello, percussion, and a Chinese wind instrument sheng; 2002).  


In his Melencolia, Manoury utilizes a 4-by-4 magic square from Albrecht Dürer’s painting Melancholia I (1514) to organize the harmonies. This magic square is composed of integers 1 to 16, which are distributed in a way that all the rows, columns, and diagonals have the same sum 34. Besides the addition, this square satisfies many other properties like subtraction and association. Manoury treats the arrays of integers from the square as the numbers of semitone, and further combines, extends rows, columns, and diagonals from the square to construct the intervallic contents of harmonies.


In Jia’s The Wind Sounds, the rhythm is manipulated by one of the two numerical parameters derived from a poem September written by the Chinese poet Haizi (1986). These two parameters are: 1) the number of strokes per Chinese character, and 2) the number of characters in a verse. Jia uses these two numerical systems to organize the rhythm and articulate the formal division.


By examining these two 21st-century pieces, students broaden their scope on how composers with diverse cultural backgrounds arithmetically construct their works by referencing to the Renaissance painting (Manoury) or modern literature (Jia). More importantly, the juxtaposition of the musics from the East and West allows my teaching to naturally develop students’ sensitivity to the compositions representing our glob, baking the awareness of diversity into their training.