Raymond Weiss Mini-Course: Teaching Music Composition and Theory

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Return to: ETAP 623 Spring 2017 |

About The Course


This course, designed for the intermediate student of music theory, is designed to demonstrate basic music composition techniques and theory utilizing contemporary musical examples in order to encourage individual music composition skills.

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

Performance Objectives

Course-level objectives

Task Analysis

Curriculum Map

References and Resources