Pedagogical research suggests that providing students authentic, real-world tasks boosts intrinsic motivation by helping them make connections between your course, your discipline, and the world around them. This is particularly true if class activities invite students to extend their work into the public sphere through community-engaged learning (CEL). Several authors have suggested possible large-scale CEL projects aimed at the undergraduate core. However, most projects tend to suffer from two issues. First, none reflect how students will most likely use music theory in their professional lives, diminishing the benefits of using real-world tasks. Second, I have found students are often overwhelmed by the newness of these types of assignments compared to more traditional projects commonly assigned in other courses—or even compared to assignments from earlier in my music theory class.
This article outlines small- and large-scale ways to integrate public music theory activities into the undergraduate core that invite students to apply their knowledge of music theory to real-world tasks. Infusing classes with these smaller assignments not only leaves students better prepared to accomplish more complex cumulative assignments, but it also results in a curriculum permeated with consistent and meaningful opportunities for students to connect what they learn in the classroom to their intended careers.