Dissertation Diary 2015-04-07

Over the last week, I’ve caught up on some readings, tried to do a write up of the syllabi I made last Tuesday, made example exercises/assignments, and tried to do a preliminary write up of said exercises. I think I’ve been going too long without feedback, and I’m pretty sure half of the syllabi write ups are way too short, and all of the exercise ones definitely are. Still, it feels good to have something on paper, and hopefully I can pass it on to my advisor on Thursday and get some feedback about what I should add.
Since last week I posted the Freshman curriculum, here’s how I wrote it up:


The slightly more extensive template for a freshman Theory curriculum shows the full implementation of Functional Analysis as a teaching tool. This sequence does not assume significant prerequisite knowledge. Some familiarity with staff notation is critical, but knowledge of triads, scales or solfège is not assumed. Major and minor keys are introduced concurrently. The schedule provides a circling around topics, first introducing a topic very briefly before moving on, then coming back to go more in depth; the emphasis is on identifying what pieces of information the students can determine while slowly filling in the gaps with detail. For example, a focus on identifying Tonic function occurs in weeks 1, 4, 6, and 11, with quizzes on the functions in week 12, and cadences in week 15.

Even before ensuring the students can read a staff, the first week begins with cadences. Primary functions are defined with open and closed cadences, with the differentiation between the aural signature of Tonic and Dominant being the most important concept of the week. Since cadences imply phrases, some very basic phrase structure will be handled, but not using complex terminology – along the lines of recognizing repetition and sense of completion.

The week of notation review would work best in small focus groups. Students who struggle most with rhythm could work together on the difference between simple and compound meters, while a bass clef intensive group might help upper woodwind players, for example. For students who are already fairly fluent note readers, a group on interesting C clefs and their usage could be appropriate. Week 3’s emphasis on solfège provides more time to solidify notation concepts for stragglers, and introduces the concepts of tendency tones and individual pitch function.

Week 4 starts to get into the meat of Functional Analysis. While Tonic and Dominant have been defined, this week focuses on seeing it on the staff, once your ears have found it. What visual hints are available? This week also introduces major and minor triads and the concept of major and minor keys. The following week, the goal is to begin memorizing major and minor key signatures. To that end, students work with music in multiple keys to find T P D T progressions, as well as spelling drills for tonic triads and actual writing of key signatures. Reminders of solfège and individual pitch function coincide with learning the scales that go with the key signatures.

Circling back to cadences in week 6 focuses on the difference between and IAC and a PAC, which reinforces basic T P D and solfège concepts yet again. A repeat of week 5, except with more adventurous keys occurs in week 7. Following that, week 8 circles back to focus on Dominants, which provides a platform to introduce seventh chords. Dominant quality seventh chords will be stressed, but the other types of seventh chords can be mentioned, but detail on them comes later.

Another week on cadences comes in week 9, providing review of cadences already learned and adding some new ones, while continuing the dominant emphasis. Week 10 focuses on the basic predominants (can you find fa in the bass?); now simple analyses of basic pieces are possible. For that reason, a brief foray into modulation occurs in week 11. Not to learn the mechanics of modulation, but to acknowledge that it exists, and that the students are already equipped to deal with it – if they can identify a tonic in a cadence, they can identify a local key. This will be crucial for analyzing interesting music earlier.

Weeks 12 and 13 introduce topics that are necessary to writing interesting projects but necessarily harmonically new. The idea that functional areas can last awhile has existed since week 1, week 13 begins the process of talking intelligently about what happens between the functional pillars other than just “stuff.” To that end, week 14 focuses on Secondary functions. Students will have likely already begun to identify these triads, now they see how they relate functionally to work with prolongations. Week 15 introduces the terminology of inversion, but students will already have the concept of triad as something that has many forms. In a semester system, students will be more concerned with final projects, and solidifying of inversion terminology would come after break.

The second semester focuses on voice leading. Each week adds a new chord or concept that student will become familiar with thru writing and analysis. Beginning with only primary functions allows students to grasp part writing ideals like spacing and doubling while introducing basic pitch tendencies. Because dry, 4-part, chorale writing will likely not be directly useful to students, I envision alternating chorale style exercises with others that emphasis constructing a melody or writing an accompaniment to a pre written melody.

The analysis of and concepts for more complicated chords begin to be added starting in week 4. Added Tones includes non-dominant sevenths, P6, and other similar scenarios. These are followed by the slash-D chord and then the cadential 6/4. These chords will be added to short writing exercises along with analytical identification. Week 7 focuses on embellishing chords, which circles back to put inversions into practice. Discussion of embellishing chords also continues the thread of structural levels that has been weaving in and out since the first week of the first semester.

Chordal embellishment leads naturally to melodic embellishment, and two weeks are allocated for introducing first simple or unaccented, stepwise, non chord tones, and then the slightly less common or accented types. [I would note here that the pedal is included as a non chord tone, but would actually often be explained as two different levels of musical structure competing, that is, the bass pedal emphasizing a higher level of the musical structure while the chords over the pedal embellish the musical surface. I have yet to see this specific explanation used in core theory texts when covering non-chord tones.] (unnecessary?)

Weeks 10 and 11 conclude the largest part of the writing focus for the term, combining all the various concepts previously covered into harmonic and melodic writing exercises. The final third of the term covers sequences, explaining the functional, harmonic, and linear applications such phenomena, and then introducing basic applied dominants.

Finally, a week introduces Roman numerals, as a historical tool and useful mechanism for talking with other musicians. Students who are concerned with that sort of thing can be encouraged to learn more on their own time, and translating the functional concepts back to a different set of labels is not too challenging. Figured bass concepts would only be taught in keyboard classes.

The basic format to each week would be spelling/writing drills as well as identification on a score or out of context – as appropriate to the newness of the topic. Also, assignments would include prose writing in greater and greater chunks, to prepare for final projects. Musical repertoire would be primarily Bach-Brahms, but can also include crossover examples to pop, modern, renaissance, and other genres. My plan does expressly include counterpoint exercises or the specific terminology for phrases analysis. Counterpoint is purposefully left out because I feel that the voice leading concepts it is meant to convey can be taught simply in the contexts the students are going to be using them in, instead of trying to transfer skills from a counterpoint unit to a harmonic part writing unit.

While there is no specific week dedicated to phrase terminology, students are introduced to the concept of the phrase in week 1, and as they build cadential and formal knowledge thru the analyses week by week, such terminology can be introduced as needed for papers and common understanding in the class. Familiarity with terms like “phrase” and “period” would happen before the end of the first term. Also, because formal analysis is more open to interpretation than many pitch concepts, emphasis would be on clear communication rather than on everybody use precisely the same words the same way.

This course would then continue to a second year of core theory, which would include chromatic concepts, more in-depth formal and motivic analyses, and other types of analysis for less functional music.

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