Return to: ETAP 623 Spring 2017 | Ray's mini-course

About me


I am currently working for New York State, participating at the University as an assistant and a member of the UAlbany Orchestra, and I am pursuing my fourth degree here with the University. I am interested in education at all stages of development, but with a particular interest to how these concepts can be applied to the older learner, as I have often been an older learner in my own educational experience, and I find that these concepts could be applied to the workforce with a tremendously positive impact.

On the side I am also interested in politics and travel, and am often engaged in learning more about my local community, national issues, or just foreign cultures and languages. I speak Spanish with some proficiency, as well as enough Italian to have survived my trip to Italy. I try to stay up to date on all my skills by practicing a little every day and always seeking out a new challenge.

My Topic/Purpose

The intent of this course is to demonstrate basic music composition techniques and theory, and to encourage individual music composition.

Topics that will be covered:

  • Basic Chords
  • Voice Leading
  • Instrumentation
  • Composition

Needs Assessment


Teaching music composition and theory hinges on the classics; Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and the rest of the 'classical' composers. The problem with this is that classical music is not overly engaging among younger learners. Students generally have varied musical interests, ranging from classic rock to modern pop and everything in between. Modern music often plays a tremendous role in popular American culture and in the lives of people everywhere. The role modern music plays in lives everywhere can make classical music seem dull and a distant historical fact rather than emotive and powerful music. As Keith Swanwick of the University of London states; "Music is a web of human discourse, rather than some curious activity separated from life in general... Music is not object but always [a] contemporary event." (1)

In order to alleviate this barrier to learning music composition, this course takes a "choose your own adventure" approach to music composition and theory. Instead of throwing students into unfamiliar music to learn unfamiliar concepts, music composition and theory lessons here are centered around more modern genres of music, hopefully more interesting to young students than the three B's of classical music.

What is to be Learned

Students will gain the basics of music composition through learning about chords, voice leading, and instrumentation. These lessons will not be atypical of what you'd find in a typical music theory class, but the approach will be focused on the student's choice of music rather than the typical examples in music theory textbooks. Each genre of music will have selections chosen to exemplify proper chord structures, voice leading techniques, and interesting instrumentation.

The Learners

The target audience for this course will be intermediate music theory students. The goal is for this course to be readily accessible for students of all ages, from middle school to high school and beyond who have a basic understanding of simple music concepts, such as note names, chords, and instruments.

Instructional Context

This will be an online course. A computer will be necessary, as the lessons will be presented through various media including graphics, music, and video. Each genre's lessons will be essentially interchangeable, with the exception of the exact music selections. Self assessment will be coupled with automatic assessment through the "choose your own adventure" context. Lessons will be presented with problems, and problems will have possible solutions. Students will be able to choose different answers to problems, and should a student choose an incorrect answer to a problem, they will be taken to a page explaining why the answer they chose was incorrect, and the student will have an opportunity to return to the problem and try again.

The Problem and the Solution

As stated before, the problem with current music theory instruction is that the music examples used are often selected from music that is disconnected from the environments that modern students find themselves in. Removing music from contemporary life removes a key piece of music education and turns music from a vibrant experience of modern life to an object from the past to study under a microscope. Utilizing current music in this course will hopefully overcome the often boring nature of music theory instruction for students.


The goal for this mini-course is for participants to gain a better understanding of the basics of music theory and composition through an interesting array of musical examples.

Analysis of the Learner and Context

The students in this course will be coming from varied backgrounds and age groups. Music theory can largely be self-taught, given the many resources online. Students in formal music classes may also be interested in the course as a support for what they are learning in the classroom, or to answer questions and gain skills not necessarily covered by other instructors. This course will cater best to students who have a basic to intermediate level understanding of basic music theory concepts and practices.

This course will be completed individually, at the student's pace, on a computer. Material is presented on screen and choices are given, though students can utilize note paper to formulate ideas and work through problems as they engage with the printed media.


In this course, students will learn basic compositional tools and techniques that will help their understanding of music theory and composition.

End-of-Course Objectives

  • The student will demonstrate familiarity with music theory concepts.
  • The student will be able to explain voice leading and chord structures.
  • The student will be able to correctly identify the best compositional techniques from a number of choices.
  • The student will be able to utilize basic compositional techniques in their own writing.

Performance Objectives

Unit 1: Basic Chords and the Chord Map

  • Given a series of chords, students will be able to correctly identify them and their properties.
  • Given the chord map diagram, students will be able to correctly identify the next logical chord in a sequence.

Unit 2: Voice Leading

  • Given several chords, students will be able to identify individual "voices" within a chord sequence.
  • Given several chords, students will be able to identify the next logical chord based on voice leading principles.

Unit 3: Instrumentation

  • Given several instruments, students will be able to identify instruments by name and by relative range.
  • Given several chords and voice structures, students will be able to identify the instrument most likely playing the notes in the sequence.

Unit 4: Composition

Note: Students will be able to choose at this point one of three possible "Unit 4's" to study from. The objectives do not change regardless of the "Unit 4" the student selects.

  • Given a series of chords with missing notes, students will be able to correctly identify the missing notes.
  • Given a series of chords with missing chords, students will be able to correctly identify the missing chords.
  • Given a series of chords, students will be able to choose which instruments play which notes in the series.


  • Students must be somewhat familiar with common instruments.

Curriculum Map

Curriculum Map.jpg

References and Resources

1. Swanwick, K. (2001). Teaching Music Musically. Retrieved from:

2. Apple Inc. (2000-2017). MusicTheory.Net. Retrieved from:

3. Noteflight LLC. (2008-2017). Noteflight.Com. Retrieved from: