Music Theory and the Liberal Arts

Theodore K. Matthews

Music theory, as an academic discipline, exists in distinctly different environments at liberal arts institutions and schools of music. This study attempts to profile both kinds of institutions in order to compare how their different environments may affect the teaching of music theory. The study focuses primarily on music theory programs in small private liberal arts colleges insofar as the study began, partly, as an attempt to explore the readiness of their graduates to compete with graduates of conservatories either in graduate programs or in other professional pursuits. While music theory programs remain the primary topic, the study also examines briefly music history offerings and general requirements as a way to explore the respective environments more comprehensively. Web searches provided information concerning conservatories for this study. Both web searches and an e-mail survey provided data concerning liberal arts institutions insofar as they remain the primary focus of the study. The survey, which asked questions about general requirements as well as theory programs, was submitted to fifty-five small, private liberal arts colleges during the summer of 2003. Thirteen colleges responded and data provided by them supplemented information acquired by means of web searches.