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Music Theory I

Course Overview

This is an introductory online course to the basic building blocks of music. Over the course of seven modules of instructional, interactive, and creative learning experiences, the content engages students in the following areas of concentration: musical notation, elements of rhythm, pitch collections, intervals, basic chord structures and related areas. This course is useful for all students of music and especially serves as a prerequisite to more advanced future music theory training.

Course Content

Module 1: What is Music?

To begin the study of music theory, one must first investigate and define the characteristics that distinguish music from other art forms. In this module, students engage in an interactive process of defining the foundational characteristics of music, explore compositions that stretch one’s perceptions of the art form, and ultimately create a tailored class definition of music. This module exposes and frames the distinctive structures that govern the musical art form which will be addressed in greater detail moving forward in this course.

Module 2: Purposeful Pitches

Specific music theory study commences in this module with the investigation of the musical notation system. This inquiry will begin with studying the notation and documentation of pitch, including mastery of the musical alphabet, the logic behind the 5-line/4-space notation grid, and the four clefs used in current music (treble, bass, alto, and tenor). This module will also include instruction in understanding the subtle permutations of pitch notation including whole/half steps, accidentals and double-accidentals, enharmonics, and octave registers. Finally, this early module of music theory study also establishes an orientation and familiarity with the piano keyboard, the only instrument through which one can “see” the music theory; a skill and awareness essential for mastering future topics in this course.

Module 3: Revealing Rhythm

This module is focused on the components that make up the broad music element: rhythm. Specifically, students will learn to define and differentiate beat, rhythm, and meter in musical notation, dictation, and aural examples. This module also includes instruction of duration as students will study the nomenclature and notation of sounds and silences and demonstrate an understanding of their mathematical ratios and permutations to represent any common or nontraditional musical event in time. This module also addresses the important governing tool of time signatures in music, not only in the way it creates the musical “grid” for notation but also the way they determine the aural metrical feel of any piece of music. This then leads to the culminating topic of meter with instruction regarding simple, compound, and irregular subdivisions combined with duple, triple, and quadruple beats in musical time.

Module 4: Pitch Collections Part 1 (Stirring Scales)

As the previous module showed how durations and lengths of musical events are organized, this module begins instructing how pitches are structured in all types and styles of music. The first place to start in this inquiry is scales. Specifically, students will thoroughly learn the whole/half step and tetrachord characteristics that make up the foundational major scale. The remaining scales studied in this module (as well as scales introduced in the next module) are presented as variations of the major scale. Specifically, students will learn the construction and distinguishing sound and use of the natural, harmonic, and melodic minor scales.

Module 5: Pitch Collections Part 2 (Keen Keys)

In this continuation of the study of pitch collections, students will discover how their previous experience with major and three types of minor is now applied to create the melodic and harmonic aural environment in actual pieces of music: the concept of tonality/keys. Specifically, students will first learn the musically geometric tool of the Circle of Fifths, followed then by the writing, reading, and application of key signatures. Students will also be introduced to other pitch collections besides major and minor, specifically focusing on pentatonic, chromatic, whole tone, and octatonic scales. Finally, this module will conclude with a robust ABA Music Composition project which will ask students to creatively apply many topics and concepts studied to date within specific composition parameters.

Module 6: Intriguing Intervals

Armed with knowledge and understanding of pitch collections, key relationships, and tonality, the next logical Music Theory concept to study is intervals. Specifically, students will first learn the two primary components of intervals (distance and quality), then discover how to identify the myriad of intervals in harmonic and melodic systems. Next, students approach the challenging of accurately writing intervals above and below given pitches in a variety of register and key contexts, followed then by instruction regarding the helpful symmetry of interval inversion. Finally, students will end their comprehensive focus on interval through interval ear training and unique interval melody composition experience.

Module 7: Tantalizing Triads

The last module of this course collates and builds upon all the previous material as students are introduced to the first, and most common foundational type of chords in music: triads. Students will begin this inquiry with discovering the unique qualifications that define a triad compared to other chords, followed then by the procedures for effectively and reliably identifying triads. Students will then continue the study by learning how to write all the variety of root-position triads in the context of all clefs from any given member of the chord. The module then concludes with the strategies of deciphering triads by sound and a final culminating AABA composition project.