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
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
"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."