Saturday, September 25, 2010

Theory/Form/Music Major Question

Hi folks -

Here is another post I'll ask you to talk to. This assignment is different than I expected it to be - but very valuable.

The keynote talk yesterday was by Dr. David Meyers, Chair of the University of Minnesota Department of Music. Dr. Meyers' research is centered around the academic canon and how the curriculum (what we teach) relates to that. But that is not all. He is asking very pointed questions about WHAT we SHOULD be teaching in the 21st century and what we SHOULD NOT be teaching in the 21st century. What skills it is vital for an artist to have as they go out into the world, and how so many music programs are focusing on ancient and in some ways, outdated, obsolete traditions instead of being on the razor's edge of technological, musical and aesthetic development.

This is something I think about a lot - but the inertia involved with an Academic music program is pretty massive. To change offerings and the slant of a program would take a lot of collaborative work between all members of a program and it isn't something that is done lightly, or quickly.

To elaborate - his thought process was such: We are teaching students a set of skills (musicianship) at the exclusion of other skills - practical skills - that would allow them to better foster a career after graduation. Basically, there is a wealth of information that students learn to become - say - an orchestral player or player in a small chamber group in their local community. But what we aren't addressing is the idea that attendance to those events is down 39% over the last few years and by the time our current students are finished with school there may be little or no OPPORTUNITY to play in such a group because of attrition.

Why stick to a model of teaching that is going the way of the "do-do bird"?

We need to be - in addition to teaching musicianship - teaching you how to be a smart steward of your career. How to work with others - collaborate - to create your own opportunities for artistry. We need to teach you all how to make vital, meaningful connections with your communitities to both help your career and to help your community. By showing people the value of music in a society we can enrich their experiences, enrich our art and help create an interest in arts education that is lacking now.

His rationale was solid. He went on to talk about students today coming into college more aware of digital music, more likely to have recorded music in their home, more likely to have a clearly defined aesthetic because they are connected to their music all of the time through our mobile music players. Students have access to technology that brings the entire history of music to them daily!

Basically, the question I want to pose is this:

If you could create the curriculum for a department of music - come up with subjects that you would want to be able to study where you went - what what it look like? What skills/technology/topics etc. do you think are important to YOU as a musician and what would you absolutely NEED to study if you had the ability to study ANY subset within music?

I'll write more in a bit - but please talk to this last paragraph. Just a paragraph or two for each of you about your wants/needs in a music program.


Alejandro said...

-Alejandro Arvizu
Nice, nice, nice question. If I could created a curriculum, I would include theory, a genre class (playing) like a class where you talk about different genres and are exposed to each playing style to build versatility, and then a beginning pedagogy for everyone, including non music majors, cause as a musician, I don't like just sticking to trumpet. This would give you a chance to like and experience different instruments that you may have not liked. I don't like how you have to choose a preferred instrument. I'd rather just put brass as it. Its just like trying to pigeon hole an actor.
And it bothers me that someone would go into music to join the music business, but then again, I flashback to the age of wandering musicians who didn't have to worry about food because their community took care of them, so a class about the business side is useful, but I wouldn't necessarily want to do that class.
To me, arts and business shouldn't coexist, they are almost antithetical of each other.
I would also include a practice class, a class that would expose you to study habits of different styles that would be an interactive class, you could start with some professional ones and have the students develop their own and share them with the class to help others because some of the students might not like traditional ways of practicing. Another class I would have, if I could, would be an outdoor music class, where every class is a performance, it would meet someplace and then move to somewhere around campus or in town to facilitate music in the community as well as development in the musicians.
My high school teacher once said the reason why he liked us to march in parades is because he liked seeing the little ones who got excited by them and get them excited about music, which increases enrollment in music programs and so forth. It could be a class with a prerequisite of the genre class, so you can go and play with a small group of people any style that fit where you were or what you like. And all these playing opportunities fosters growth in the community's appreciation and also showcases you off. I'd keep the classes that are at CSUB right now too, maybe arrange them differently, especially because it makes it kinda hard for people like me, who still have to get their gen ed done, and have to take music classes that stuff up our schedule.
But then again, with all those classes it would be even worse...

That's all I can think of specifically. My curriculum would be pretty much be community-based performance with the underlying theory instruction and an emphasis getting music to other people and the actual act of performing or teaching.

Alejandro said...
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PeteCrawford said...

While our (CSUB) current curriculum is what I would ASSUME to be standard for university level schools, there are specific institutions like Northridge, and San Jose St that are well known for the studies and practices in their music programs. Being a percussionist I would naturally like to see some type of small group percussion ensemble or even a larger ensemble where regular rehearsals are scheduled just like the Big Band, Concert Band, and chamber classes. In reality, I realize that enrollment numbers are not where they need in order for this to happen, however, I STRONGLY feel that there is an entire group of musicians here in the Greater Kern County area that would be in need of a school and would if given the opportunity these individuals might try to get into a school that offers multiple ensembles of high caliber percussionists.

Having said that, I want to mention a brief section of a conversation that Jim and I had about adding percussionists to the chamber group class in order that at least facilitate some type of organized percussion ensemble. In doing so the only added responsibility for the faculty would be selecting repertoire and finding instruction. My thoughts on this are if we have the ability to do this as part of the chamber class, why not let this start out as a student-run ensemble that would include student compositions and student driven rehearsals. I myself personally am interested in composing for such ensembles and would even give my own personal time to see through to the instruction of such ensembles if needed. I would like to see this specifically as a part of the curriculum offered at CSUB.

Baggins_54 said...

I really appreciate this question, and the potential impact that it has on everyone who is involved in music as a career. I think about this constantly because it was my original intention to not stay at CSUB. I was totally enveloped in the idea of the grass being greener, believing all of the stigmas that are associated with Bakersfield. Slowly but surely I started to recognize gems of knowledge floating around the department from the teachers and student alike. This sparked an attitude within me that wants to draw everything that I can out of this program, and support it in every way that I can to keep it healthy and growing.
Having said this, a curriculum I would develop for the department would contain a much longer theory and theory skills requirement for graduation, at least two years. I would also impose an open ended research assignment every quarter where a student can delve into and study whatever music, composer, or performer they choose in an effort to keep individual taste and interests intact in an academic setting. One last thing that I would add is the requirement of public performance much more often. Even giving the option of having class sessions of ensemble rehearsal outside. Basically having a curriculum that strives to keep the relationship between music and the student consistent and fresh.

Laura said...

-Laura Best
I recently went to my first CMEA(California Music Educators Association-Cenral Section) Conference in Visalia and Dr. Anna Hamre, Director of Choral Activities at CSUFresno, discussed that Students today are "Digital Natives;" meaning, they are receiving info. quickly, multi-tasking, using graphics rather than texts, hypertexting (random access), with frequent rewards. Students are accessing and processing information differently today, than 5+ years ago, they are "accessing diff. neuro pathways from these digital influences." Her point: "We have to change our teaching strategies to fit the needs of our students today."
We need to give students the knowledge they need to succeed TODAY, in a poor economy- people are hungry for jobs, but have no place to use their skills. We are not going to school solely "for fun," even if we are learning about what we love. We are going, in hopes that one day we will be able to do what we love for a living (the means to pay our bills).
Regarding the College Music Student's need; The curriculum needs to offer more opportunities for a career- other than solely as a performer or educator (As we know, is not looking so positive). When the students are finished with their degree(s) they need more places in the job market to fit their musical passion and skills in.
Alejandro expressed that "arts and business shouldn't coexist, they are almost antithetical of each other." But I must disagree. Business is a musician marketing him/herself as a composer, performer, music advocator, educator, instrument repairer/builder and/or salesman, etc. I think it is extremely important that while we are acquiring our musical skills, that we should be learning how to use them in the real world. Business Music is so broad that it could be a field of study by itself. Or we could add a "Fundamentals of Business Music" to our existing studies.
Secondly, As music educators, As Dr. Anna Hamre mentioned, Using brain research in the classroom could be most helful in understanding the learning process and behaviors of our students, thus creating better teachers and better musicians of all ages.
Lastly, why don't we have Piano Pedagogy for the students? The Vocal/Choral students could be taught lovely educational songs and exercises to do with their chiors, And more importantly, the piano students could learn about the various teaching methods/materials. (They might actually get hired to teach a piano class somewhere. Just like the Vocalists might have to teach band.) This would help give a headstart to people of all levels who play the piano, but are afraid they do not know how to teach it. This is a huge factor in determining good teachers from poor. Some people are excellent performers, but do not know or have forgotten how to start back at zero in order to explain things to a beginner.
To sum it up, I would add Business Music, Music Psychology, and Piano Pedagogy to our curriculum.

Laurena Infante-Aguilar said...

I think that it is very important to be on the edge of contemporary and modern music break-throughs. In the world today there are so many different aspects of music that the possibilities are endless for exploration in the field. This is especially true in teaching. Especially in younger grades new contemporary mainstream music is essentially what draws students in. After that is is important to teach all the elements of classical and jazz because they help to build the musicianship of players. But I believe if i were to create a curriculum I think it would be focused on the main points but also the new things. I would have theory and skills because everyone needs to know those types of things no matter what just for general knowledge. I would have performance classes but they would be anything and everything. I feel it's important for students to feel like they can express themselves but when options are limited it is hard. I would also have pedagogy classes because it is important for all students to explore all different types of instruments and have the opportunity to try and play them. After that my focus would be either composition classes, teaching, or, production. That is a huge opportunity right now because there are always new and upcoming artists looking for new ideas and that is a great way to break in, especially into mainstream which is what really interests me. It is unbelievable to see how many jobs are available in that and any recording company. Production is huge and if people were ale to learn how to do that through school and the proper way I think that would be a very hands on and exciting class. I always like watching the movie "Music and Lyrics" because it shows how things can start off small and grow. And more importantly it shows all the realms that the music industry can include. I think the coolest thing would be to have a class about the business aspect of music because no one even thinks of that. They see their only options as playing music but never see all the other jobs that are out there which will still allow you to be surrounded by music. Business is everywhere and that is a huge part because once you have experience in the music business industry world your possibilities will never run out. So overall I think the main classes I would add would be a two year series on music production and technology and then classes involving the business of music. It is so important to think in the terms of now and discover the many jobs you can have while still being in all the different aspects of music.

Cory said...

Taking a look and what it takes to be a successful musician / composer / etc, I have come to the conclusion that if the curriculum were to change, I highly suggest an emphasis on self-marketing and the use of technology to your advantage.

These days, any regular Joe can record full orchestrations with just a few keystrokes, upload it to his personal blog, youtube channel, and tweet about it instantly to all his followers.

Self-marketing is extremely important, and could be an exciting and well-structured course with lectures on anything from advertising your youtube channel, to uploading an account to

Everyone with the right tools and software can compose masterpieces, and some get lucky with viral marketing on websites like youtube. I think both of those things are detrimental to the success of a musician in today's working world.

AnthonyCarino said...

I definitely agree with petecrawford. I would LOVE to see a percussion ensemble at CSUB. Through I am primarily a vocal and brass musician, I am also a percussionist. I have 5 years of drumline under my belt, and would love to see SOMETHING that resembled it at cal state. Just as other small ensembles force you to acknowledge those who you are playing with, and adapt to their style and all that shit, percussion ensembles WORK by being completely synchronized. The group's pulse has got to be perfect. I feel that there is a certain quality found in percussion ensembles that could greatly benefit any musician, and it would be awesome to have them at CSUB.

Secondly, I agree with Cory. The ability to market yourself so easily in this day in age is amazing, and I would love the opportunity to really learn as much about it as possible.

krystal_angulo said...

If i could create a curriculum for my field in music (Voice) i would keep all current voice exercise and add more performance etiquette. As a singer you don't really know how you're supposed to hold yourself when you're in front of the class and singing. some sway side to side. others looks at the ground, the roof or the back wall not engaging their audience. and what to do with your hands?! i think knowing all these things would help me as a singer and others.

Ambra Williams said...

I agree with Baggins_54 - theory classes are very important. The foundation. I also agree with Pete, a chance for percussionist be in a major ensemble besides concert band would be great. It would give them the chamber experience they may otherwise not be exposed to.
I like the curriculum at CSUB, but if I were to implement my own curriculum, I would definitely add more classes that involve the student in the community. Like a jazz ensemble or string quartet that alternates and plays locally at restaurants or parks. This way there is a chance of keeping the arts alive in the community.

I would also make music technology a course required by freshmen to better understand the digital programs used to write music.

Appealing to a wider audience is also important. And I also agree with Cory that self marketing is crucial.

James Dandy said...

Wow that's a tough question, I'm actually unsure of an answer right now. I guess that I would like to have more of a focus on recording music using different types of methods and how to best record different types instruments. Since the digital marketplace is the place to be right now it seems like a good idea to have graduating music students' skills in recording as proficient as their playing.

Iglew said...

WoW, What an awesome question. Well, as a vocalist, I would love to incorporate a musical theater program. Even maybe a vocal animation class would be cool. I definitely agree with Johnny, having a longer theory skills program would enhance and facilitate a musicians skills thus, making us better performers and educators.

Emmanuel said...

For a curriculum, i would keep theory so we can be able to understand music more and have an idea of how compositions are composed and see the many ideas of different composers and also get our own ideas from that. and i agree with alejandro about having genre classes to be exposed to different genres, like a mariachi band! it be cool to have a mariachi group! and i would also want a course that just focuses on the notational programs to know ins and outs of the programs such as sibelius or finale. spending a few weeks with the programs isnt enough. a whole quarter at least would be beneficial. i would also like to see a marching band group we can take as an ensemble. we have jazz and concert band, why not marching.

Yourmothershouldknow said...

Some of the classes I would like to see added to the curriculum of the music department are: Recording, outdoor performance, some sort of science of music, a music business class, and music labs where one would be able to work alone and with other musicians.

I would definitely keep all the classes we have thus far, but it seems that other colleges are able to have classes like these so I would also like to take some of them here at CSUB.

Yourmothershouldknow said...

^Fernando Montoya

Heather Wright said...

Funny how this conversation came up now. I was just talking about this without knowing any of these topics were being discussed. I also agree with Pete. Percussionists seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to not only facilities but also performance opportunities. I myself know that my playing skills are no where near as good as when I was in high school. Although I have so much more knowledge having attended CSUB for the past 3 years, my playing skills have not improved to say the least. A percussion ensemble would be really nice to have and where we can play music that is specifically written for percussion ensembles. Just like the guitars have jazz band and guitar ensembles, I think the percussionists should have a little more of an opportunity to play other music besides just concert band. I think that this would be a great way for other musicians to become more familiar with percussion instruments since, based on experience and observations, sadly a lot of band directors of every age level are not familiar with percussion technique. And I would love to help out in any way I am needed.
I feel that a lot of focus goes into the choral department and concert-type music that we aren't exposed to what most high school bands are all about. I feel that if I got a job in a high school I would not have the knowledge to do everything a band director does. Specifically a marching band. High school is all about marching band for the whole first semester. I have learned nothing about how to run a marching band other than what I personally experience everyday at the schools I teach at.

todd said...

This was a great topic Jim, we should actually have some sort of survey dealing with this is some way every year in the music department to develop the classes around the students and the CSUB Music departments list of requirements to obtain a degree.
Now, as a guitarist this will be somewhat focused on that that specific instrument, but that is the nature of this assignment. First I would like to take the current curriculum, which is a very solid base for the degree, I would just change a few things. All instruments should offer not only studio lessons, but a beginning and advanced level instrumental course. This not only allows students who want to learn a new instrument for fun, but would also open the department to the whole school, students who would like to learn piano, guitar, etc. and also allow students who say sung choir in high school, or played in band aren't music majors, but would still like to perform and learn more on their instruments the chance to do so, This could lead to larger class sizes in the department, and in the long term i.e. more funding. I'd also like to see an advanced music technology program. Learning to record is so vital as a musician both for personal use and in the industry. The internet changed music, and recording is huge in any music path you take. If we offered a course that could better train students to record and produce in the studio, it would open many more work options post graduation. Finally I would like to see more specialty groups. I think a classic rock ensemble would be really cool as well as training courses in modern styles of music because if you were a performance major why not be skilled in classical and modern chords, melodies, harmonies and song writing.

Ryan Vaughn said...

I agree with everyone who said that some classes in using music technology, particularly recording and other production equipment, would be very useful in helping provide long term career skills to music majors. I also really like the idea of some kind of genre skills class, somewhere to learn the different skills and techniques necessary to become a balanced and diverse musician.

Overall, I just think that focus could be shifted slightly toward more modern musical styles. Naturally, classical music is invaluable to the teaching of almost all aspects of music. But I also feel that it would be beneficial for students to be exposed to a wider variety of musical styles and genres. Otherwise I really think that everything is pretty much cool. Although I do agree that a percussion ensemble would be epic.

-Ryan Vaughn

Semisi said...

I would like to have a class where all you do is find some type of job in the music industry, this would leave you with many options. Like working for yourself, others, or in an institution. This would be a good class for college students who may be doing that when they graduate. Another class I would have is pro tools, so that you can learn to record your music yourself. I would like for music students to be able to do anything they dream of, and I would like a class that deals with the ethics of the music industry, like what works and what doesn't, for the performers, and writers. I would like for their to be a program that develops independent music people, who can write their own music, record it, perform it, teach, and sell it.

Tori_P said...

While I believe that study and practice of classical techniques and music provides the best foundation for the creation of new styles of music, it is also important to keep up with what's new is modern music. Learning to adapt to different styles is an invaluable skill for the working musician. While many performances are likely to consist of the classics, (Mozart, Beethoven, etc.) being able to handle different styles of music (jazz, metal;D, etc.) opens so many doors.

I think having more focus on reinforcing fundamentals and musicianship skills would be a good step for music majors. While these things are taught in class, individual reinforcement is crucial to the maintenance of these skills.

That being said, I also think providing a class where students can learn about the music industry and how technology has advanced the way music is made would be really interesting.(Personally, I find the history side of music more interesting than the theory side.)

Felicia said...

Great question! Well, if I could create the curriculum for a department of music, it would have to embody our culture of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. In other words, not only would it be necessary to understand and appreciate Bach, Sibelius, or Chopin, it would also be necessary to comprehend the connection they share to the different genres of music today – everything from symphonic metal, to country and contemporary composition. Music is universal; it’s only fair our studies embody that wholly.
It would be necessary in the curriculum to also learn how to operate music-creation software of all types, broadening our knowledge of the various technological advancements available to us. I believe it’s also important to develop an appreciation for exotic instruments and music styles, such as the Sitar or the Ocarina, by acquiring the skill necessary to play them. If a true understanding of music is to be developed, then we must dwell into the uncommon and unique aspects of it as well, and that will be done through the research and interaction with music and instruments of cultures new to us.
As a musician myself, I believe that I would absolutely need to study the comparisons between composing techniques of all composers that have influenced the evolution of music. It is most important to me because I plan on making a career of composition, and I feel the most effective way to do so, is to have an incredible conception of all composing aspects and styles available to me.

-Felicia Daniele

EProvencio said...

Elizabeth Provencio

The program at CSUB is already a very strong program following the models of extremely successful programs in schools like the University of Arizona and others. Using this set up as a base for improvement, I would require music ed students to sing in a choir for at least 3 quarters in order to learn the fundamentals of singing. It would also be valuable to have some kind of beginning band or orchestra for students to play in. Also music technology should be required of all music majors (if it's not already?) and perhaps be expanded into a 3 quarter class including recording techniques, how electronic music is created, and how the music industry works on the whole. One thing CSUB could focus much more on is definitely music technology because having only one quarter is not enough.

Also, music history should be expanded. Understanding where music came from and being able to discuss composers and time periods is vital to proper performance technique. Furthermore, composers today can and do often draw ideas from past performance techniques and blend them with modern styles. Everyone knows the saying that "history repeats itself" so by knowing the past you can predict the future and thusly work towards improving it.

Oh and we need more practice rooms. Just sayin'. :P

perpetualfool said...

(Kristen Falls)
With technology today, it's getting harder and harder for actual musicians to get their music noticed when people who just mess around and don't really know what they're doing can get the same amount of publicity and support.
So, though I enjoy classical theory, and it provides the building blocks for everything that was to come after it, I think that music programs should be focusing more on what is happening today, not just in theory, but in the musical community as well.
I also think that a career oriented track could be a highly valued asset in a music program...something like the Music Ed program, where there are hands on/field experience classes, except for replacing going into classrooms with something like performances, or trying to get your composition played, etc. I think it's important for especially early musicians to realize what kind of career they are going to have, and how they are going to succeed in that before they get out of college and have no idea where to start in the musical world.

KungFuMaster said...

Whitney Herbst

Well first off, if we had an orchestra that would be ideal.
I would like to study conducting. I really enjoyed the advanced conducting class, but i wish we had a real group to conduct in front of. Also, maybe a class that goes over how to play classical doo da's correctly for the time period. But a class that you play in, and are shown the correct articulations, bowing techniques and so on.
I really like what we are learning at CSUB. If i had to come up with my own curriculum i would follow a similar method. Theory, History, Form, and all that other good stuff. I also really like art and dance. My private students know this well because we sing and dance and look at art that was created at the time period that the piece was written. Dance helps with the phrasing and beat. Looking at art work or coming up with a mental image of what the piece characteristically sounds like helps people make music and not just play notes. We also work on notation, analyzing chords that are in the method books, scales, solos, the list goes on.
It's hard to say what classes i would have because i need to take some more classes. If i were to create a curriculum, i would try to reach out to everyone. Without a listener, musicians wouldn't be around. So finding out a way to incorporate everyone would benefit the music community.
When i went to Korea, every concert that we played there the auditorium was packed with people. And the audience participated and interacted with the musicians.
i guess the whole point of my rant is that, i would like to see full auditorium. I want to see real music being played by real musicians. I want to see the music programs being supported by our community.
Bands now, they just worry about their outfits and sing about their adolescent problems and get payed a ton of money doing it. It's gotten so outrageous!! Label Companies, Tv, Radio- they are all killing music. I dono, read :"Free Culture" by Lawrence Lessig- it's about how big media uses technology and the law to lock down culture and control creativity. In the book it talks about recorded music and the relationships between labels and bands.
It's interesting.

KungFuMaster said...

If spelled anything wrong or my grammer is incorrect, than just fill in the blanks because i am tired. And not everyone can be a smarty pants

Heather Wright said...

so because at least one other person agreed with pete on a percussion ensemble i thought i should post this on here.





ashten said...

As a performer, my needs as a musician would be best met by creating a class in which you are taught skills to get into the buisness. Special etiquitte during auditions, good agants, etc. I would also change the time of day that certain performance rehearsals take place. I am very active in my community theater and have the privilege of working with broadway actors. In Bakersfield! But all theaters rehearse at night making it impossible for me to get connected with other big names and keep up with my graduation requirements. Without exposure and connections. All of this knowledge Im acquiring is of no use aside from my own personal fulfillment.

Andrew James said...

From what i've seen so far i feel that the csub music program does a really good job of teachig the skills necessary to be a great musician. One thing that is missing however is the technological end of the spectrum. Technology's importance to music is something that should be stressed as now one can record and entire album in their bedroom. My relatively simple setup of a drum machine, 8track recorder, and recently sony acid pro is basically all you need to record, mix, and master your music. I also agree with Cory's idea of teaching promotional skills to students. The theory based foundation combined with the knowledge of the recording process and promotional skills can create a self made artist who can be both successful and independent.