Building a theory course

Discussion in 'Trumpet Discussion' started by tpter1, Jul 20, 2006.

  1. tpter1

    tpter1 Forte User

    Jan 12, 2005
    Northern New York
    I will be teaching theory for the first time in about 2 years next year. I'm a bit nervous because it's been so long.

    My question is mostly aimed at those who just completed hs theory courses, those who teach hs theory courses or those who are just finishing first year freshman theory in college, but please, any other ideas are also invited:

    1. What topics were most helpful for you?
    2. Which topics would you like to have seen more coverage of?
    3. Was there anything you felt that was less than a productive use of time? Why?
    4. What text did you use? Did you like it? Why/why not?

    I still have most of my materials (course outline, stuff like that), but I always modify year to year...never do the same thing the same way twice (unless it really, really works).
  2. mike ansberry

    mike ansberry Forte User

    Dec 30, 2003
    Clarksville, Tennessee, U
    Hey, Glenn. Is this course aimed at possible future music majors? It has been a while since I taught theory, but I remember being a freshman music major. The lack of experience in aural skills killed 2/3s of the class. Of course you'll have a lot of bases to cover, but I'd for sure hammer ear training. The last time I taught theory was in '95. I used Practica Musica as a supplimental CAI.
  3. cornetguy

    cornetguy Mezzo Forte User

    Sep 12, 2005
    Saint Paul, MN
    Things to make sure they know

    all the clefs (including all the c clefs)
    aural skills melodic and harmonic
    intervals and triads
    scale construction (major and minor)
    roman numeral analysis
    proper notation

    Nice to know

    synthetic scalse
    harmonic series
  4. tpter1

    tpter1 Forte User

    Jan 12, 2005
    Northern New York
    Thanks, guys. Yes, Mike, a few of the students have music majors in mind. I try to build the course with the placement exam in mind as well as that first semester of theory I.
  5. trumpet blower88

    trumpet blower88 Mezzo Piano User

    Jun 15, 2005
    Flagstaff, AZ
    I just took hs theory last year, so I'll give this a shot!

    1. What topics were most helpful for you?

    I think learning the basic chord progressions was the most helpful. Make sure they understand the differences in chord progressions from Major to Minor, as you most likely know (since you're teaching it and all) there's not too many differences, but the couple that there were threw off about half the class when it came to actually writing out our own progressions.
    Learning all the clefs helped a lot too. Not just in class, but it helped me personally when I would sit down at the piano as well. I used to really have to think hard about what my left hand was doing, but after a couple weeks of really focusing on bass clef (or the C clefs) it became just as natural as treble clef.

    2. Which topics would you like to have seen more coverage of?

    SECONDARY FUNCTIONS!!!! These are probably the coolest things in tonal music, but they seem so complicated. We took about a week to work with them, learn how to analyze them, how to use them in our work, ect. I don't think it was enough time, I still don't fully understand how they can be fitted in correctly and how to analyze them according to the "rules".

    I also wish we could have worked more on dictation. Our teacher would play a short melody on the piano and we would have to write down what we heard. We got fairly well at that, but didn't get much deeper into it. We tried harmonic dictation a couple times with both the soprano part and a bass part, but that failed miserably. I wish got more chances to work on that.

    3. Was there anything you felt that was less than a productive use of time? Why?

    The first 2 to 3 weeks seemed pointless to about 13 out of 15 students. Most of us were in band, orchestra, choir, or already had basic knowledge of music. But I think you're always going to have a couple kids that have no musical experience and don't know how to read music. They need to be taught what a "G" is, what a sharp/flat is, what an octave is, ect. Unfortunatly I don't think there is a way to avoid this unless you get lucky and everyone already knows the basics.

    4. What text did you use? Did you like it? Why/why not?

    We used "Tonal Harmony" I don't remember the authors. (It's blue, if that’s any help.) Anyways, I liked it, and I think my teacher like it as well simply because it goes step by step in a very logical order. It had many very good examples of what it was teacher, and it even came with a nifty little cd of each of the examples. So rather than the teacher playing all the examples on the piano (risking making mistakes, and not being able to show the textures of different orchestrations) he could just pop in the cd and it will play whatever example you want.

    I think the main thing to remember is always reinforce what they've already learned. Sometimes I felt like we had learned something and just stored it away in the back of our minds, using it occasionally when we write stuff, but didn't really think about how we used it, or why. I just sort of came natural to us to this cadence here, or to switch the alto and tenor part here, we knew how to do it, and we did it, but we didn't really know why. I think there should be an amount of time set aside each day just to review subjects and make sure the students fully understand what they are. It's just like asking "Why?" in a math class. If a math teacher tells Billy that 5 + 6 = 11, then he will know that 5 + 6 = 11, but that’s it. If the teacher explains to Billy why 5 + 6 = 11, then he will also know that 4 + 3 = 7.
  6. uatrmpt

    uatrmpt Piano User

    Nov 29, 2003
    1. What topics were most helpful for you?
    Chordal identification
    Roman Numeral Analysis
    Rhythmic dictation
    Aurally identifying chord qualities
    Key signatures (major/minor)
    Scale construction

    2. Which topics would you like to have seen more coverage of?
    Transpositions for instruments (was relegated to conducting class)
    Applying what we learned in theory to band scores (was taught by theory snobs - lots of piano/vocal/string quartets)
    Modern chord symbols/lead sheets

    3. Was there anything you felt that was less than a productive use of time?
    Melodic dictation -- it was only done during class. Didn't make use of a computerized program for homework. It only benefited those with good ears already.

    4. What text did you use? Did you like it? Why/why not?
    Aldwell & Schachter's Harmony & Voice Leading -- hated it. While being verbose, it uses an all-capital Roman Numeral system. Kostka & Payne's Tonal Harmony is much more clear and concise; and, it uses traditional Upper/Lower case Roman Numerals. Watch out for the 4th Edition of Tonal Harmony though, it appears to be the victim of a shoddy proofreading job.
  7. adunker

    adunker New Friend

    Jun 7, 2006
    Dubuque, Iowa
    Theory Course

    I teach Theory and Aural Skills I-IV at the College level. First, I applaud you for teaching theory and giving those future music majors a solid start! I find that the most important things that can be taught in high school theory are as follows:

    1) Fluent Reading in both Treble and Bass Clef
    2) Aural Skills - singing and dictation (with solfegge-Ugh, I know)
    3) Basic Chord Building (with inversions) and Progressions
    4) Basic Rhythm and Meter
    5) Basic Part-Writing
    6) Non-Chord Tones

    There is a couple of nice ear training and theory programs out there. I like Aurelia and Musition myself. There are also some really fine free websites to get started on:

    Ear Training Web-Sites and Theory Websites:

    Free Ear Training/Theory Software Download Websites:

    (watchout for popups, etc. on hitsquad)

    I hope this helps!
    If you have any questions or want materials, feel free to contact me directly.

    Amy Dunker, DMA
    Associate Professor of Music
    Clarke College
    1550 Clarke Drive
    Dubuque, IA 52001
    [email protected]
  8. trpt2345

    trpt2345 Mezzo Forte User

    May 21, 2006
    Morelia, Mexico
    Having taught theory at an arts high school for many years, I'd say the ear training thing is the most important and most neglected. Identifying intervals and chord quality is essential. Dictation is great too, and of course one must know the twelve keys and treble and bass clef. Whoever said you should learn all the clefs in beginning theory is way off base, you're lucky to get them with treble and bass which is what 98% of students will use, not that many violists.

    In my experience theory was always the least favorite class but when students come back to visit it's the one thing they mention most as to what they found most helpful later on. Go to it!


    I have believed the best of every man. And find that to believe is enough to make a bad man show him at his best, or even a good man swings his lantern higher.
    William Butler Yeats
  9. Vulgano Brother

    Vulgano Brother Moderator Staff Member

    Mar 23, 2006
    Parts Unknown
    I would recommend giving them a bit of Schenker Analysis. It is a great way of giving a macro view of a musical work, and keeps them from getting too bogged down hunting for parallel 5ths.
  10. josephus07

    josephus07 Pianissimo User

    Feb 19, 2005
    I don't think Schenker would be good for high school students - they won't even know the building blocks that are necessary for understanding the most basic structure, the Ursatz.

    Just my opinion (just finished my MM in theory).

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