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Proposed Curriculum

Integrated Music Curriculum for the Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Music

Read John Covach's essay on curriculum change published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Theory (4 semesters)

  • Semesters 1 and 2 integrated, includes harmony, melody, some voice-leading, rhythm and meter, and form (could be done in a large-class format)
  • Semesters 3 and 4 specialize (smaller classes), including options in advanced harmony/voice-leading/counterpoint, form and analysis, pop and jazz harmony and practice, post-tonal analysis songwriting and arranging

Aural skills (3 semesters BA, 4 semesters BM)

  • Traditional emphasis on sight-singing, melodic and harmonic dictation
  • Additional emphasis on form, timbre, and production
  • Blends wide range of styles

History/Literature (4 semesters)

  • Semesters 1 and 2 integrated, featuring short units on a contrasting variety of styles, blending classical, with pop, jazz, and world music
  • Semesters 3 and 4 specialize (smaller classes) with more detailed studies of individual styles and eras (such as classical, baroque, jazz, rock, world music)

Ensemble (4 semesters BA, 8 semesters BM), as specified by emphasis

  • Traditional band, orchestra, and choir
  • Jazz band and rock combo
  • World music ensemble

Lessons (4 semesters BA, 8 semesters BM)

  • Students study principal instrument in style of emphasis

Electives, requirements by specialty discouraged

  • Traditional electives in theory and history/literature, with the additional of upper-level electives in jazz, pop, and world music
  • Music business, technology, and entrepreneurship
  • All students encouraged to take at least one semester of ensemble outside of their specialty


Preamble. The curriculum outline provided in this document is intended to serve as an outline for BA and BM degree that more effectively blend training in a broad range of musical styles. It is expected that each program would customize this outline to serve its own particular profile and needs and to emphasize its own strengths and profile. The crucial elements of this proposal are:

  • Stylistic diversity (providing meaningful training for a wide range of musicians) and
  • Integration of students of differing specialization (encouraging versatility) as opposed to segregation of students by specialization.

Some schools may choose to continue in the current mode of very high specialization, some may only adopt some of ideas presented here, and some may develop the fullest integration. Such a result would provide students with a rich variety of educational options between programs at various schools. Programs providing professional accreditation, such as music education, must continue to follow state guidelines in their curricular design.

Music theory. As it is currently taught, music theory gives strong priority to common-practice harmony and voice-leading. These courses should be recalibrated to create greater parity among repertoires and reserve the most detailed study of voice-leading for second-year courses and electives. To a certain extent, many instructors are already incorporating popular music and jazz into their first-year courses. If the first-year sequence becomes more diverse, it creates an instructional environment in which students focusing on different styles come together with no style considered more fundamental than any other. From a technical point of view, emphasis is put on the features of musical understanding that cross stylistic boundaries such as form, rhythm and meter, texture, and to some extent harmony and melody. Students should emerge from the first-year sequence able to identify and follow the form in a variety of pieces, focusing primarily on cadence points. They should be able to recognize and notate rhythms in a variety of styles, as well as understand the fundamental elements of tonal harmony, including chromaticism and modulation, in many cases without extensive part-writing experience. There would be no emphasis on chorale-style writing.

Second-year course offerings would build on the first year, now revisiting materials with an eye toward detail. Emphasis on part-writing, counterpoint, the finer points of rhythm and meter, and more complicated examples of form are appropriate here. These courses would be style specific, so a course emphasizing classical music need not consider other styles. Likewise, courses in pop, jazz, or world music need not base any element of the instruction on models established to study classical music (though they may well choose to do so). While all students would study together in the first year, in the second year students would specialize according to emphasis. These second year courses could also serve as electives for students outside of the emphasis, and such diversity should be encouraged. Courses such as the ones suggested in the outline currently exist in many programs, but only as electives.

Aural skills. Like theory, aural skills would privilege no particular repertoire, and in many cases this is already the norm. In the early semesters, detailed work on sight singing would be partly replaced by emphasis on longer-range hearing: identifying the location of phrase beginnings and endings, as well as the cadences and harmonic/melodic/contrapuntal schemes that accompany them (sonata form, fugue, 12-bar blues, AABA, etc.); texture (number of parts present, roles of the instruments in an ensemble, stereo placement, effects, eq, etc.); improvisation; and instrumentation. Harmonic dictation (not involving SATB transcription) would be placed early in the sequence and detailed sight singing later in the sequence.

The organization of theory and aural skills proposed here advocates a progression from general to specific as the sequence unfolds, allowing students to perceive and conceptualize more of the big picture earlier and refine the details of that picture later.

Music history/literature. The first-year sequence abandons the chronological survey of western classical music. The first two semesters instead blend together a variety of units presenting often dissimilar styles with an emphasis on variety and no claim to comprehensiveness. A three-week unit on early polyphony, say, could be followed by successive units on the Beatles and the 60's, the symphonies of Mozart and Haydn, and finally the music of Schoenberg and Stravinsky. None of these units would have any less depth than they would have in a chronological sequence; they would simply occur in isolation and juxtaposition. While some might claim that abandoning chronology in itself creates a lack of depth, the current manner of progressing through music history from plainchant to the new complexity is far too specialized for most emphases and has an inherent lack of depth with regard to other important styles. Many programs have already developed a more general approach to music history in the first semester of first year and one can imagine other ways of achieving a meaningful organization of first year materials in keeping with the principles advocated in the outline. The key to the approach proposed here is that all students are together in the first year. In the second year students may separate out according to emphasis (as with theory), with courses outside the emphasis acting as electives. Courses devoted to surveys of specific eras in western music history could be offered in the second year, though students would not need to cover the entire chronology with such courses. In addition, courses in jazz and pop history could be offered in the second year, as well as courses focusing on world music.

Ensemble. Traditional ensemble experiences in band, orchestra, choir, and jazz band would remain, though now augmented by ensembles in popular and world music. Lab bands in songwriting and arranging, as well as in music production could, also be developed to meet the degree requirement within certain emphases.

Lessons. Students would receive private instruction in their principal instrument, though the types of lessons would now be extended to accommodate students with emphases in pop and world music.

Electives. Many current BM degree programs allow very little room for students to take elective courses (the situation with the BA is often much more flexible). This proposal encourages programs to require students to take at least two electives outside of their emphasis.

Led Zeppelin Anniversary Concert

Led Zeppelin 45th Anniversary Concert, September 27, 2014