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Modular curricula

Dear colleagues,

My colleagues at JMU and I are redesigning our written theory core curriculum, and we're considering moving toward a modular, "menu-based" design rather than the sequence of four courses we currently offer. In other words, rather than moving through Theory 1-4 in order, students will choose courses that interest them from a menu of options that can be taken in (almost) any order. I know Megan Lavengood has done something similar to this at her institution, and I'm wondering: (1) how many others have switched to such a curriculum or something like it, and (2)  if you've gone through such a change, were there challenges you faced that you might share?



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  • Hi John, and others! Be on the lookout for the next issue of Engaging Students where I will have an article describing this in more detail, and other people like Andrew Gades and Crystal Peebles I believe also describe their modular approaches, challenges, and successes.

    Megan L. Lavengood  |  Assistant Professor, George Mason University

  • For years I designed my theory curriculum and textbook around the idea that we could successfully teach first semester students a well rounded and complete introduction to tonal theory. I firmly believed we did not have to wait three or four semesters to talk about augmented sixth chords and the juicy nuggets of chromatic harmony. It does take three semesters to fully comprehend and appreciate advanced chromaticism but it can be introduced early so that students see the big picture. I only taught using complete pieces from the classical and American popular standard literature. The idea of teaching four-measure fragments is a total waste of time because all musical events must be viewed in context. I like the idea of a modular curriculum because a student does not have to know Bach and Mozart in order to appreciate Bartok and Stravinsky. Or, at least, they do not have to be taught in chronological order. The biggest problem is getting today's students to listen to the classical repertoire of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries before they attempt to analyze it. Today's students don't even know the Beatles let alone Beethoven.