Music 701 Presentation: December 1, 1999

Course Concept: Music 701 is one of five required courses in the Masters in Music Criticism program at McMaster.  Titled simply "Analysis" it has traditionally served as a broad survey of analytical methods in music, with a view to informing students on a broad range of techniques applicable to a variety of types of music.   As the Masters in Music Criticism has evolved over the years, it has seemed to me increasingly  important to equip students with tangible analytical skills, essentially by sacrificing breadth in favour of depth. So in formulating the current incarnation of the course, I have considerably narrowed its scope, to analytical techniques for tonal music of the period Bach through Brahms.   Central to this course at present, therefore, is the study of the contributions of Heinrich Schenker to the understanding of tonal music.  This  is a good thing, since so much discourse on tonal music refers to the theories of Schenker.  Briefly, Schenker posits that the integrity of tonal music resides in its organization around levels of structure, such that certain musical events become primary points of stability or resolution and other events have elaborative functions.  
  • Technology:  The second area that I wanted to develop was students' abilities to express their ideas through electronic means, since so much of current academic activity is being chanelled into these areas.  I wanted to give the students a "real" experience in working with these technologies, something that they could take with them into whatever field of endeavour they might advance to.  We can return to this later.
  • Peripheral participation: one of the trends in university education is to make links between the classroom and the "real" world.   In Music 701, I have tried to forge such a link by modelling the publication process for a journal.  The idea is that this experience will give students skill, knowledge and confidence as they make the move to the professional world.   As a result of these ideas, I came up with the concept of modelling the course around the construction of an on-line music journal, in which the students would act both as contributors and as the editorial commitee.
  • This brought home to the students the idea of modelling their work on the real world, and also gave them opportunities to act in the various roles involved in journal production: layout, editing, and the peer review process, for example  At the same time I decided to focus on certain issues wihin this area, specifically ternary or three-part form, and, and upon tonal structure--the way that the notes fit together to make sense.
  • Outline: With the above objectives in place, I outlined a course of study which began with a series of readings in analysis, on instructor presentations of analytical techniques, on weekly analysis assignments of short excerpts of music.  As the term progressed, the focus turned increasingly from issues of common concern toward independent analytical projects based on a collection of pieces that I had chosen beforehand.  For those of you who perhaps have not used the web as a teaching resource, I might just quickly take you through the Music 701 site:
  • Learn Link: Is an electronic discussion environment that is licensed for use by McMaster University and is resident on campus. Much like e-mail in concept, what Learn Link adds is conferencing ability, conveninent topical storage and retreival of notes, and convenient graphic functions. As an instructor, it allows me to see what the issues are that the class is discussing, and to maintain various "conversations" with each of the students.  To Learn Link:  Our experience with Learn Link has been mixed. On the one hand, the ready access to a growing body of class dialogue has encouraged the debating process throughout the term. On the other hand, obstinate technical problems, the main one being frequent crashes, especially on the weekends, has dampened enthusiasm and consequently effectiveness of the technology. By being able to maintain the dialogue between weekly class meetings, I feel that, at least some of the time, the class discussions are more fruitful in that the real issues of discussion are already in better focus before the class begins. Students are already aware of the issues, and are better prepared to ask the "important" questions and to make the incisive observations.
  • Issues in learning technology: An interesting thread through the course has been what proportion of the effort of the students ought to be spent on technical skills, as opposed to the course content itself. From my perspective--the orthodox one--the ideal would be "none at all", leaving to the students the problems of figuring out the technology to themselves. yet I think that we have a responsibility as teachers to give our students at least the basic means for them to be able to communicate effectively with their peers, and to work effectively in the "real" world. In practice, we have had class sessions in the first month on basic techniques such as using LearnLink, scanning and uploading, creating a web page, linking, and FTPing.  After that, the remainder of the technical side has been devoted to troubleshooting.
  • Web pages: Ability to create web documents seems to be an essential skill these days for academics in humanities, whether for teaching, research or administrative functions.  Being that it is really not a difficult skill, it is really a matter of breaking the ice for students who have not done so before; indeed, each of the technologies, whether the web, scans, links, or sound files, really amounts to getting the students to take the initial steps, by givin them basic skills and a supportive environment.
  • On-line Journal: McMaster Music Analysis Colloquium    We would like to show you the results of the work on an on-line journal, so that you can see what the objective of the course has been.  In the editorial process, issues for the students included assigning appropriate tasks to the members of the editorial committee, establishing a realistic schedule, and laying-out a basic style-sheet.  The fact of peer-review was certainly intended from the instructional point of view to encourage dialogue amongst the students.  I would like to know from the students themselves whether it benefitted them either as giving useful exposure to editorial work, or by encouraging them to rethink their own projects in light of their peers'.  To McMaster Music Analysis Colloquium:
  • Grading Process: One of the major differences in this course, as compared with many others is that, since the goal of the course is a completed and published paper in the on-line journal, the grading is heavily weighted towards the product. In fact, while there have been weekly assignments throughout the term in reading, analyzing music, criticizing articles, commenting on peer's work, and creating various electronic documents, none of this activity is associated with the final grade for the course.  Nevertheless, since the students understand that going through these activities is providing them with the necessary skills to complete the term project which will be the subject of evaluation.   From the instructor's point of view, this excellent group of students has been very focussed on the various weekly projects.
  • Cooperation in learning: From the vantage point of the instructor, I feel that the approach taken here has encouraged a cooperative learning environment for the students.  Dialogue has taken place frequently throughout the term, and students have worked on projects together.  They have worked together on technical problems and helped each other to formulate their articles. All this has taken place to a much great extent than in my past experience.
  • Conclusions:  The folowing are drawn from questionaires which the students completed last week.
  • "while the computere skills were frustrating at times, there are invaluable to all development of professional skills in general."
  • "Great value in the future."
  • "The journal was a great incentibe and a useful process."
  • "30-minute presentations that outlined issues in each case would perhaps have been useful."
  • "Often the amount of time spent getting LearnLink to work impeded my own work."
  • "The journal is great preparation for future careers."
  • "The journal was one of the most exciting aspects of the course."
  • "The journal works to facilitate quality writing and thinking."