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Music Theory Electives

Confronting Memory

Playing from memory is often considered a musician’s greatest feat, but for many musicians it is also the greatest source of fear. Yet many musicians memorize their pieces without thoroughly understanding the memorization process. When haphazard memorization is paired with general performance anxiety, the result can be a nightmare. Confronting Memory introduces students to rigorous techniques and methodical strategies for strengthening memory and building a solid approach to memorization as well as to acquiring a wide variety of practical and psychological tools needed to confront performance anxiety. The course will touch on topics such as conscious and unconscious memory, and memory modes; practical memorization techniques; memorization away from your instrument; techniques for staying focused during a performance; physiological and psychological aspects of memory; behavioral and cognitive techniques for confronting performance anxiety; concert preparation, including information on medication, and the role in memorization of exercise, diet, sleep, and hydration.

Pulse: Exploring The Perception of Time in Music

Pulse, or the sensation of time in music, is arguably the most important aspect of music making, and yet, it is never addressed as a discipline of its own for instrumentalists or singers. A performer’s grounding in the beat is critical to a successful interpretation of a piece. This class will address the importance of this subject through a comprehensive study of pulse and the miraculous way in which music blossoms when pulse is treated well.

How have other performers approached pulse in previous eras? How has the sense of pulse changed in the performance of certain styles and why? How can one’s context, gender, age, development, personality and metabolism influence one’s perception of pulse?

As a listener, one can sense when the pulse has been stretched or sped up beyond what is acceptable. How can our internal sense of this as a performer be sharpened so that we perceive pulse while playing as well as the listener?

What goes into determining the best pulse for a piece, and how does one change and later restore the original pulse effectively?

The seminar will include assigned readings, two short papers, in-class performances and discussions.

Advanced Chromatic Harmony

This seminar explores the nature of chromaticism through written exercises and analyses of individual works. Beginning with chorale settings by J. S. Bach, this course will look at numerous chromatic passages from the common-practice period by a variety of composers, focusing on chromatic themes, chromatic sequences, and chromatic voice-leading techniques.

Among the theoretical topics to be discussed are the differences between functional vs decorative chromaticism, enharmonicism, and the reconciliation between the diatonic subdivision of the octave into a fifth and fourth – as well as its unequal patterns of whole and half steps – with the chromatic aesthetic of subdividing the octave space into equal parts (e.g. tritones, major thirds, minor thirds, whole-tones scales and chromatic half steps). A further theoretical question to be considered is the point at which chromaticism undermines the diatonic basis of harmony.

In the latter part of this course, three works will be studied in detail: the slow movement from Mozart's Symphony No.40 in G minor, the opening movement of Beethoven's "Appassionata" Sonata, and the third movement of Brahms's Violin Sonata No.3 in D minor.

Harmonic Thinking in Performance

Harmonic Thinking in Performance offers several tools that translate harmonic awareness into making informed interpretive choices. Preparing harmonic reductions at various levels of passages from the students’ own repertoire will serve as a basis for understanding the harmonic structure of the music: chromatic notes that deserve special attention; the presence of forward-moving or ambiguous progressions; mid-phrase expansions versus cadential punctuations; issues of harmonic rhythm and hyper-meter; and so on. Additional skills include transposing one’s own harmonic reduction of the music, and improvising on the reduction. At the concluding phase, the students go back to the original piece and think about possible interpretive possibilities, based on increased harmonic awareness. Repertoire will be based on students’ repertoire and the all-school project.

The Analysis of Fugue

It has often been remarked that fugue is not a form, but a texture. Yet fugues have conventional outlines, and formal schemes have been devised by a host of theory pedagogues ranging from Cherubini to Gedalge and Prout. Despite the distinctive features of the genre, fugues are not organized differently from other types of compositions. As Robert Schumann noted, “I know of a connoisseur of music who once mistook a Bach fugue for a Chopin etude – to the honor of both.”
Donald Francis Tovey remarks that “the formal rules given in most technical treatises are based, not on the practice of the world’s greatest composers, but on the necessities of beginners.” This seminar will examine fugue through the analysis of selected examples in Books I and II of J. S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, known as the “48.” The seminar will begin by examining the techniques of imitation, beginning with strict canon, and proceed with a survey of the traditional compositional procedures associated with fugue, such as stretto and invertible counterpoint. After classifying the different types of fugue, the seminar will focus upon the multifaceted possibilities that these imitative procedures have in expressing a fugue’s intricate voice-leading. Supplementary readings will range from instructional manuals by Bach’s contemporaries, such as Kirnberger and Fux, to individual analyses by Riemann, Schenker, Schachter, Renwick, and Dreyfus, as well as Tovey’s matchless commentaries for all 48 fugues.

Analysis Seminar: The Rite of Spring

An in-depth analysis of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. Students will receive a full score for the work, which they can mark and keep at the end of the semester. Students will learn about the history and the context of the work along with aspects of Stravinsky's creative process. A complete analytical study of the work will incorporate ideas from the theoretical interpretations of Oliver Messiaen and Pierre Boulez. Many students will go on to perform the work with significantly greater understanding. (This course is pass/fail based on attendance, with no homework or testing.)


Odd-numbered courses generally meet in the fall and even-numbered courses meet in the spring.

The designations "s.h." (semester hours) and "g.c." (graduate credits) indicate credit-hours given per term for undergraduate and graduate courses, respectively.

Yearlong, two-semester courses are designated by hyphenated course numbers. Students must successfully complete both semesters of required yearlong courses to satisfy the graduation requirement.

The symbol * indicates a course that is not offered every year.