Music Theory Undergraduate Core Curriculum Survey: a 2017 Update

Barbara Murphy and Brendan McConville

In 2000, Richard Nelson conducted a survey of undergraduate music theory curricula
at the request of the College Music Society (CMS). His survey included questions on
faculty loads and leaves, and issues of undergraduate theory curricula (e.g., years
required, class sizes, textbooks, solmization systems, topics covered, placement exams,
and fundamentals and accelerated courses). A total of 248 responses were collected
and reported in the College Music Symposium (2002). The results indicated prevailing
tendencies in the teaching of music theory at the time.
The present article provides a seventeen-year update to Nelson’s survey. It reports on
a new survey that included many of the questions asked in the first survey as well as
additional questions on new trends in the teaching of music theory. The new survey
included questions on the inclusion of technology and online learning in theory
and aural training classes; questions on the integration of writing, composition,
improvisation, and performance in theory classes; and questions on content shifts,
such as the inclusion of non-western music (e.g., film, jazz and popular music) and
other types of notation and analytical systems (e.g. lead sheet symbols, Nashville
numbers, Neo-Riemannian theory and Schenkerian analysis). The article compares the
results of both surveys and reflects on changes and trends while considering other
important scholarship on the state of the curriculum. Overall, this article provides
useful information for music theory instructors as well as lays a foundation for future
surveys on the state of the curriculum.