The History of Music Theory and the Undergraduate Curriculum

Author(s): 
Robert W. Wason
Volume: 
32
Year: 
2018
Abstract: 

Since the 1950s we have made tremendous progress in our knowledge of the history of music theory; yet, apparently very little has filtered down to undergraduate textbooks. The present paper shows that other fields—particularly philosophy and mathematics, whose histories are intertwined with ours—make much more use of their own history in undergraduate education. The paper then provides a view of a historically and theoretically based curriculum that Matthew Brown and R. Wason taught at the Eastman School in 1999-2000. It finishes with a call for a “liberal book” on music theory for undergraduates, as one writer on science education has called books that provide a richer intellectual context for the scientific skills they teach (Michael R. Matthews, Time for Science Education: How Teaching the History and Philosophy of Pendulum Motion Can Contribute to Science Literacy [NY: Kluwer/Plenum, 2000]). That author contrasts this to “professional texts,” whÝich “lack a story line: concepts, definitions, refinements, model problems and end-of-chapter exercises are the staple” (323)—an apt description of many undergraduate music theory textbooks as well.