Mock Trials in the Music Theory Classroom

Angela Ripley

Mock trials can help music theory students analyze compositions whose thematic, formal, or tonal ambiguities invite multiple interpretations. In this article, I outline the four phases of a music theory mock trial (investigation, evidence, verdict, and discussion), present sample cases, and discuss student responses and pedagogical benefits of using mock trials in the music theory classroom. Music theory mock trials work well for a wide variety of analytical topics and repertoires, as demonstrated by three sample cases. In these cases, students investigate motivic material in Bach’s Invention in B-flat Major (BWV 785), confront cadential ambiguity in Schumann’s “Aus meinen Thränen spriessen” (Dichterliebe, no. 2), and join the scholarly debate surrounding Wagner’s enigmatic Tristan chord. By analyzing compositions via music theory mock trials, students learn to identify and articulate musical evidence to support their analyses, consider diverse music-analytical perspectives, and deepen their critical-thinking skills while engaging their peers in a spirited, but respectful, dialogue.