In the Classroom: What Makes Music Work?
In fall, 2011, I taught the course “What Makes Music Work” to 33 Honors students as part of the Honors First Year Inquiries Series. The course covered a vast range of musical styles and eras and unlike a music appreciation class, was not organized in a chronological fashion. In fact, many of the examples we looked at were submitted by the students themselves, who were told to bring any music that they wanted to talk about to class.
Over the course of the semester, students read an online text that I wrote and listened to over 300 musical examples that illustrated the main topics of the class. For our discussion of all things related to melody, for example, we heard music ranging from The Beatles to Beethoven to Ravi Shankar to music of indigenous African ethnic groups. As part of our discussion of rhythm, we watched videos of three different drum solos on YouTube and compared and contrasted the techniques used by each drummer. An equally wide range of music was examined as we explored how harmony, texture, sonority and form work in music, and there was always some type of music performed in class each period.
To put their knowledge to work, students were asked to write a concert report based on any live performance they chose to attend, and to wrap things up, they were asked to complete a final analysis paper on one of the large-scale compositions that were made available to them via our class web page. I was very impressed with the results of these papers and thought it was great that the students were able to identify so many of the main characteristics of the compositions and use the proper terms to describe them.
All in all, this was one of the most gratifying classes I have taught in my 31 years at Northeastern, and I hope to be able to have an encore performance at some time in the near future.
-Professor Dennis Miller, Department of Music