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Differences in Theory Programs

joexc07joexc07 120 replies119 threads Junior Member
edited December 2009 in Music Major

I was just wondering what distinguishes a great theory program from a good one, or a good one from an average one? Curriculum? Teachers? Peers? And what affect would any difference have upon the student?
edited December 2009
7 replies
Post edited by joexc07 on
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Replies to: Differences in Theory Programs

  • theorygeektheorygeek 122 replies13 threads Junior Member
    Do you mean graduate or undergraduate? Because a "good" undergrad theory program is an existent undergrad theory program.

    As for grad, I guess the same guidelines would apply as for any other Masters or Ph.D program. A "good program" really fits a certain student's needs. Rutgers would be strongest for someone interested in jazz theory. Wesleyan is best for those studying enthomusicology (and possibly its intersections with music theory). Professors interested in your field, interesting courses, and intelligent classmates all would contribute I suppose.

    I can only imagine a student would find themselves in an atmosphere that contributes positively to their specific area of study, where peers and teachers support them and their pursuits.

    As with all graduate programs, music theory itself is (surprisingly) not specific enough to produce a single "best" university; different ones all serve equally important educational purposes.
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  • joexc07joexc07 120 replies119 threads Junior Member
    thanks for the reply theorygeek.

    i am talking about undergrad programs, so it sounds like there isn't much of a difference between undergrad programs?
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  • fiddlefrogfiddlefrog 1209 replies10 threads Senior Member
    Hang on. Theory programs differ substantially in both content and quality at the undergraduate level, although it's really not clear whether the OP is inquiring as a possible theory major or something else.

    First of all, some programs have active theorists teaching the classes, and others are primarily staffed by composers; some have both (and some people are both composers and scholars). The latter type of program is somewhat less likely to have a theory major independent of the composition/theory major, so look closely at the degree options. To be admitted as a composer, you will need to show significant theoretical knowledge, but the primary criterion will be your own work. This question also influences who your peers will be.

    The second question to ask is whether the department emphasizes a certain school of analysis. The answer can range from very strongly yes (i.e. Mannes, which bases the program on Schenker) to total pluralism.

    Finally, just look at course descriptions. If there are many options and electives in addition to basic tonal harmony and 20th century techniques, that's promising. If there are few or no undergraduate theory electives, look into what you might be allowed to take at the graduate level.

    That said, learning the basics can take several semesters, and the crucial thing is a really good grounding in harmony, counterpoint, and analysis.
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  • theorygeektheorygeek 122 replies13 threads Junior Member
    Although I do agree certain theory programs may be of greater quality, to have a program without counterpoint, harmony, or Schenkerian analysis would be crazy (am emphasis on Schenkerian analysis itself requires a strong background in harmony and counterpoint). Though certain programs seem to have active theorists on staff, one must ask whether they are actually teaching most of the undergraduate courses.

    Strong theory programs mostly appear with strong music schools or universities. I cannot think of any high quality undergrad theory programs that are not in already prestigious conservatories.
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  • joexc07joexc07 120 replies119 threads Junior Member
    firstly, the theory degree and composition degree are separate programs. there is a two year sequence simply titled 'music theory I, II...' (along with a 'aural training' two year sequence), so i assume this is establishes the framework for more advanced studies. the other theory classes offered include elementary studies in counterpoint, intermediate studies in counterpoint, jazz theory (one course), extended tonality, theory and analysis (three courses covering 17th-20th c.) those are all the courses that i can see that i would put under the theory category. there are other courses dealing with composition, orchestration, scoring, etc.

    i would say the school is not known as a 'music school,' but it is a very large university. i'm actually not in the school of music, as i'm studying for another degree instead. but i can take all the theory courses i wish, which will culminate in a minor.

    as far as what school of analysis is taught, i do not know. the textbook for the two year sequence is 'the complete musician' by steven laitz.
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  • theorygeektheorygeek 122 replies13 threads Junior Member
    What you're describing seems like a pretty standard theory sequence. I cannot see how this is especially different (in good or bad ways) from any other program. Nevertheless, being at a large university can only provide for a larger number of theory classes offered, which in my opinion, is a definite plus. Laitz's "The Complete Musician" is without doubt a book that prepares one for Schenkerian studies, but in reality, all lower level theory textbooks should do this.

    In other words, yes, it seems like the program you're currently in is a "good" theory program.
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  • joexc07joexc07 120 replies119 threads Junior Member
    great. thanks for all the info.
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