Music Theory 4 - 2007


The stream of Music Theory courses provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the theoretical aspects that underlie in Western music through the development of aural, analytical, writing, performing and creative skills.


    The Music Theory courses offer students an integrated approach into the conceptual world of music through cognitive and creative involvement leading to an understanding and appreciation of the processes affecting musical conventions. Although the focus of these courses is primarily on music of the common practice period (which is integral to all tonal music of the present), comparative topics on other music traditions are also included. The aural skills component of music theory courses is coordinated and delivered through each corresponding Aural Studies course.


    As the willing and dedicated students advance through the Music Theory courses sequence, they 1) gain greater understanding and enhanced perception and sensibility of the technical and rhetorical factors that contribute to the formation of stylistic musical expressions. Through various writing, listening, and analytical drills the students 2) are able to respond to different aural and notated propositions with increased accuracy, fluency and speed, and 3) associate the specific problems with the corresponding repertoires and cultural contexts.


Topics specific for this course within the Music Theory sequence include, non-exclusively:


Analytical, Creative, & Learning approaches about:


Rhythm: rhythmic dissolution and new rhythmic formulations from 1890 to present.

Harmony: changes in the tertian harmonic constructions in Western music (exteneded tertian, quartal harmony, exotic modalities.

Sound: the emergence of diverse sonic arts (musique concrete, electronic and computer music, etc).

Materials, Style & Expression: music from Iraq, Iran, China, India, Japan, Oceania, etc.

Organisation and Teaching Strategies

The class meets once a week for a 2-hour interactive reading, listening, vewing, and performing workshop situation. The experiencial nature of music theory knowledge and skills acquisition presuposes full attendance and participation in all the class discussions. Nonetheless, in this class students freely choose their level of challenge and involvement according to the following scheme:


1) Students aspiring to Distinction or High Distinction marks (B or A)



On the last day of class, these students turn in a Theory Portfolio comprising the Journal and the 3 analytical projects. These students do not take a final exam.


2) Students aspiring to Pass or Credit marks (D or C)



On the last day of class, these students turn in their Study Journals. Attendance is not required for these students.



3) Students committed simply to a Pass-or-Fail test (D or F)



Attendance is not required for these students.




The contents listed below represent a core subjects sequence, however these may vary depending on topics contributed by the class, availability of special guests, and other events that may present themselves as unique learning opportunities for the class.


Lecture Content



Altered harmony

Salome and others


Debussy’s “Prelude”

Malarme, Diaghilev, film


Debussy’s “Prelude”

Malarme, Diaghilev, film


Stravinsky’s “The rite…”

Documentary and analysis


Stravinsky’s “The rite…”

Documentary and analysis


Messiaen, Birds & India

Listening and analysis


Drama, Number, Colour

Schoenberg, documentary


Quest and Music from

Afghanistan, Iraq

Listening, viewing, discussion.


Concrete, Electronic

Listening, viewing, demonstrations.


Chinese music theorie/s

Listening, viewing, analysis


Cage Opens Musics

Listening and viewing


West African drumming

Viewing and demonstration



Viewing and discussion


On the first day of class students will sing up a roster indicating to which scheme they are committing for the semester.
Students working on their research projects are expected to circulate their drafts among their Support Team, as well as submitt a draft to the instructor for feedback. This process is continuous and goes on throughout the semester. The instructor usually returns the document through email as attachment with all the appropriate comments.


Required Texts

Kostka-Payne. Tonal Harmony. 5th ed. New York: McGraw Hill., 2004

Kostka-Payne. Tonal Harmony: Student’s Workbook. 5th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2004


Very Strongly Recommended:

Auralia. Self-paced aural learning program. Computer Laboratory, QCGU.

Benward, Bruce and Marilyn Saker. Music in Theory and Practice. 7th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill,


Clendinning, Jane and Elizabeth West Marvin. The Musician's Guide to Theory and Analysis. W.W.Norton

             & Co. 2004.



1 independent study of the textbook

This component of your work consists of a natural progression of exercises from the last chapter of the Kostka-Payne textbook Tonal Harmony. Similarly as you did last semester, you progress through the reading of each section of this chapter, and select a convenient number of representative exercises. It is important to check the "Self Test" areas and the "Check points", as these offer very helpful tips to assure that you are gaining adequate familiarity with the concepts, techniques, stylistic features, and associated compositions.

2 attend and participate in all classes

On each class we will be presenting, viewing and listening materials for the students to confront, question, and understand various ways of processing the sensual and intellectual impact of the music. Thus, the experiential nature of the class sessions have great value and relevance. The requirement of attending and participating to all classes does consider that a student, due to properly justifiable circumstances, may miss up to 2 classes.

3 always come prepared to class

Students that attended many of the classes last semester attest on the value of working beforehand on the topics scheduled for the class. Such preparation included Studying and Exercising from the textbook and bringing to class questions that stemmed from such exercising. Students would bring questions related to technical, stylistic, contextual issues that appeared after they reviewed materials done in class, or listened or viewed  at home or in the library the materials that we presented in class.

The basic notion here is that simply showing up to class is an insufficient model for a university level education. Rather, the class is one more environment where the  learning that each student does individually is assessed, expanded, confronted, etc., and we do this most effectively through exchange of information, questions, and volunteering opinions informed in various levels.

  Tips for preparing for class:

  • most composers and styles studied in class have a coordinated section in the textbook A History of Western Music, by Burkholder/Grout/Palisca. Do a quick reading of the appropriate page(s), take a few notes and/or jot down some questions.

  • another very useful textbook for styles of recent decades is Robert Simms Music of the Twentieth Century: Style and Structure. Check carefully its table of contents, as the books is cleverly organized according to technical developments and to composers' biographies.

  • do a quick web consultation in Wikipedia, this should be a good general starting point.

  • take note from the above sources about key compositions, then check which of these are available in the library (or for download from Naxos, iTunes, or any other source that you use for building your study mp3 collection.
  • 4 manifest involvement

    Contrary to popular belief, manifesting involvement is not the same as pretending to enjoy the subject. In all kinds of training there are less favored topics. For example, a medicine student may not enjoy Osteology, yet she remains committed to learning the names, structures, and functioning of all the bones in a human body. Manifest involvement is a way of keeping the "ball bouncing" in the play field. Through your observations, questions and reactions to the music that is presented in class you help yourself and your classmates to see the phenomenon under different light and from different perspectives. Some of us, nonetheless, enjoy and appreciate following a lecture and thinking in silence about our reactions. While this is ok., consider that the peculiar processes taking place in our minds remain otherwise unknown. So, here are a few suggestions to help us share these processes:

  • take notes of your reactions
  • check your notes frequently to detect conceptual holes, contradictions, or trends
  • check if you have information to understand how things "match"
  • check for common trends in your line of comments
  • consider what other things are happening at the same time (i.e. melody _and_ harmony, orchestral performance_and_ piano soloist performance, music scene in France and music scene in England, etc.). Becoming more aware of things that happen at the same time (conceptually or in the physical world) is a skill that can be developed further.

  • You may have seen in movies how sword fighters stretch the arm with the sword in front, while they stretch the other arm in the opposite direction. This is not only to prevent accidentally hurting their own other hand, but also to remain aware of what may be lying behind them –as their eyes are favoring the attention in one direction. We do the same in processing sound. As one part of our brain may be involved processing the timbre in a particular melody, other part of our brain can be involved in considering what the other timbres (i.e. orchestral instruments) are doing if they are not dealing with the melody. We can favor, or guide our perception of a particular strand of rhythm (the rhythm of the melody) while other part of our brain is focused on the rhythm of changes of register.

    This is a very short list, and I look forward to your suggestions and comments on adding tips that would help everybody to keep in the game.

    research projects

    Following the rotund success of last semester's experience, we are making use of independent analytical projects for Theory 4 too. My starting suggestion for these project is as follows:

    Project 1: a study of a composition from the Chromatic Harmony style. The body of works under this category have played a tremendous role in the history of concert music in Western societies of the last 150 years. If one hasn't experienced a piece from this repertoire first-hand, one surely has digested plenty of their clones through Hollywood film soundtracks. This project is the ideal means to grasp once at last many of the nuts'n bolts of this style.

    Project 2: a study on a composition from any of the Modernist schools or trends. As you may have studied in Music Literature, a common way of seeing the development of concert music in the 20th century is to follow the "stance" of a composer in regard to the musical traditons: some wished to improve it, prolong it, evolve it, while others meant to deliberately break away from it, or jump suddenly "further ahead", or ignore it all together. Some composers like Arnold Schonberg, while meaning to continue the tradition, to the listeners his music sound as if he was actually breaking away. Other composers, while claiming to break away from tradition actually did not sound too revolutionary; and some composers such as Stravinsky, through various periods in his career, created works in all possible "attitudes" in regard to the musical past and his contemporary situation. For the Modernist composers, technical propositions used to be extremely important (more important than Romantic ideas about inspiration and emotional outpouring). So, you will find that the theoretical challenges of studying Modernist composers can be quite challenging. As we progress on the semester, we'll be exploring different ways of understanding technical and contextual data for this style. So, never fear.

    Project 3
    : Last semester we included an analysis project on "other", generally understood as music from other tradition than Western concert music. This proved to be an extremely productive exercise, so we keep this item as part of our training. The suggestion here is that  your "other" piece be realted to quite contemporary practice. As the other two projects may involve works that are established in the repertoire, this "other" item can bring to your musical horizon something that enjoys existence, and presence, regardless if it does not enjoy mainstream music literature attention.

    Design of your projects

    The best projects from last semester were those which considered the following approach:

    - Well informed, succinct contextual introduction (about composer, piece, period)

    - A clear and well-thought comment on personal reactions to the piece

    - Accurate, verifyable technical coverage (addressing elements that create form, expression, uniqueness)

    - Make use of strategic placing of musical examples

    - Include a reflection/statement on the value of carrying on this study. 

    For Theory 4, as topics are a bit more complex, I suggest that each of the analysis be 3-pages long. We'll discuss different approches for building an informed and effective structure for these 3 pages.

    6 resorting to a study team for support and continuous assessment

    Without any doubt, the best projects in Theory 3 came from three or four very effective teams. The role of the team is essential for giving you frequent feedback and criticism before the projects are turned in. Your "editorial" team not only helps you in writing effectively, it also helps you in building a network of young musicians who can be of invaluable help in the unfolding of your musical, academic, or other career paths. To help you maintain continuity of work with your team, we'll integrate some sort of "checking points" assessments of your team work during the semester. Most likely, this will be in the form of a short report on your work as editor or as edited.

    Study Journal

    There will be a collection of recordings placed in the Class Reserve in the Music Library containing a selection of 9 must-know pieces. Since we meet only once a week, I think it is necessary to emphasize independent work to achieve an adequate level of exposure to the contents of academic study. The pieces in this collection come from various "corners" of the 20th and 21st century music repertoire. At your leisure, you listen to each composition and write your reactions in your Theory 4 Study Journal. We'll discuss in class about ideas on how to best and productively register your reactions. The Study Journal will be collected twice during the semester. Once before mid-semester break (week of sept. 17), and on the last day of class.