Course: MUS103
Instructor: Burnham
S 2014

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

  1. This course is a music history course, designed to acquaint people largely unfamiliar with the topic with music styles, pieces and composers from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Because the class is not designed for music majors, Professor Burnham de-emphasized music theory and specific bits of music analysis in favor of the broader trends and themes in music history. This class counts as an LA but is not a music departmental and is not taken by music majors.
  2.  The course moved in chronological order according to different periods of music, beginning with 9th-century Gregorian chants and ending with the Woodstock festival in 1969. Professor Burnham would take 2-3 lectures per music period to discuss the major characteristics of music in that period, who the important composers were and how the music built on what came before it. Because each period emerged as a result of the period that came before it, the class was very comparative. The midterm covered music from the Middle Ages to 1800, while the final covered music from 1800 to 1969.
  3. The challenging part of this course was that it covered a wide range of subject matter and required extensive memorization (closed-book exams). I prepared for this challenge mainly through ‘brute-force’ methods. I listened to the music excerpts several times and wrote out/memorized term definitions, and I read and re-read my lecture notes so that I was aware of the themes of the course.
  4. This course assumes no background knowledge of any of the subject matter. Prof. Burnham used music theory concepts sparingly, and when he did he made sure to discuss what they were, so no musical knowledge was necessary. The course would be easier if one had prior exposure to classical music, but it is completely possible to do well without prior preparation.

Learning From Classroom Instruction

Lecture: Two 50-minute lectures a week, delivered by Professor Burnham. Professor Burnham’s lecture style was often humorous and engaging, and during lecture he would generally discuss the styles and composers of each music period we were looking at, and present analyses of the music excerpts we were required to identify. The chief challenge of lecture is that he did not always adhere to a strict outline in his discussions, so the information he presented us with could seem useless or desultory. A useful tip for lecture is to always keep in mind what the broader theme/time period was, and to fit each particular piece of information into that broader context. Textbook: We didn’t have required readings from the textbook, but the textbook served as a supplement to lecture information and accompanied a CD that contained the excerpts we were expected to recognize on the midterm and final. There is no need to go through the entire textbook systematically, but it could be helpful if there was an element in lecture one was confused about. The most important component of the textbook was the glossary in back, which contained terms we were expected to know for exams. Precepts: Precepts consisted of going over material from lecture, and frequently involved analyzing pieces of music the preceptor would play for us (we were not required to know these). While the preceptor would make precept interactive by asking questions of the students, precept did not feature open discussion as precepts in many other humanities courses do. The key to precept, as simple as this sounds, was to go to lecture and pay attention. It would have been much harder to participate in precept without knowing the lecture information.

Learning For and From Assignments

The class was 30% class participation, 30% midterm and 40% final. ‘Class participation’ consists of 20% precept participation and 10% ‘writing assignments’. The writing assignments were a mixture of analysis (listening to a piece of music provided by the instructors and answering questions about it) and concert review (going to a concert on campus and writing a review on it). In more detail: Tests, including exams and quizzes: Both the midterm and final were divided into four parts. The first part consisted of identifying and answering questions on music excerpts we had been introduced to in class. The instructors would play the excerpt and we would be required to state what it was, who composed it, what period it was from and answer some follow-up questions on it. To prepare for this part, I simply made a list of every piece of music in the class and listened to them over and over again until I knew title, composer, period. I would also read up on other facts about the piece from lecture and from the textbook. We also had to answer questions about one excerpt we had not been exposed to, using principles we had learned in class. The first question was typically about identifying the style of music that the piece belonged to. This was the most difficult part of both the midterm and the final. Part III of the exams consisted of being given a description or definition of some term from class and being asked to supply the term in question. I prepared for this part by going to the glossary in the back of the textbook and reviewing the words and definitions over and over again until I knew them. Part IV of the exams were essay question(s). I didn’t really prepare for this part specifically, and felt that going over the terms and excerpts of music prepared me to write the essays. In general, the exams tested straightforward recall from the lectures, and so reviewing was a matter of memorization. However, there was also some application to new situations (such as the unfamiliar excerpt). Class participation: Going to precept each week and answering questions. I found that simply going to lecture and paying attention to lecture enabled me to answer questions in precept. Writing assignments: A mixture of concert reviews and music analysis assignments. They were short (about a page each) and were graded based on submission so they weren’t very stressful but I’ll talk a little here about the strategies I used for doing them. The concert reviews were of University-organized concerts in Richardson Auditorium, such as PUO concerts. I had to write up a description of what the music was that was played, what strategies or techniques the performers used, and what I thought the strengths and weaknesses were. The key here was to be alert and outline the response during the concert; the review would have been much more difficult to write if I hadn’t done that, because I would have forgotten what happened. The analysis assignments consisted of a provided music excerpt and a list of questions to answer. Questions would be about the structure of the music and the techniques the artist used.

External Resources

In general, I did not make too much use of external resources in this class. McGraw does not offer study help for MUS 103 and I don’t think the Writing Center would have been too much use for the written assignments as they were pretty short and informal. Here are the resources I did use: Wikipedia: Should not be used as a substitute for the lectures or the textbook, but can be useful if one needs to quickly verify a fact on a composer or time period. YouTube: There is a CD accompanying the textbook with the required pieces of music, but you can also just listen to the pieces on YouTube. An efficient way of becoming very familiar with the music is to listen to it while you’re doing other work–this way you can get to know the pieces while also getting your other work done.

What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection

This survey course is not a music departmental and will not be of particular assistance with independent work, but it will give students who take it a broad understanding of music history, starting with the Middle Ages and ending in the present day. Students will know what the major periods of music were (such as the Classical period, Romantic period, etc.), what the defining features and styles of each period were and what the most famous composers/compositions were from each period. They will be able to identify composers that may not have been familiar before, such as Antonin Dvorak or Franz Joseph Haydn, and they will also be able to identify pieces of music that may not have been familiar to them before, such as Dvorak’s New World Symphony. For students who have had previous exposure to classical music and so will already be familiar with the composers/pieces that are covered, the course will give historical context to this knowledge and potentially build on it by introducing pieces/composers with which the student was not familiar. As someone who played classical music since elementary school, this contextualization was the course’s most valuable benefit to me. This class did not have much weekly work beyond attending class and precept–there were no papers or Dean’s Date assignments, and the music analysis/concert review papers took only about a couple hours each. The bulk of the work was preparing for the midterm and final, which involved a fairly time-consuming process of listening to all the excerpts and making notes about them, as well as studying terms and definitions. Note that even if you were P/D/Fing, the exams would still have required some preparation because the questions all had a right or wrong answer, and so a student who knew very little of the material would get a failing grade. One other major item of note is that with this class, as with all Princeton classes, who is in the class is as important as the subject matter in determining how difficult the class will be. This class is known as ‘Clapping for Credit’ and has many students in it who are taking it because they’re looking for an easy class or a not too time-consuming fifth class, and students frequently P/D/F. However, there are also students in the class who had previous exposure to classical music and so would have had an advantage. And the course, while not particularly difficult and very light on workload, is not a joke as the ‘clapping for credit’ name suggests and should not be blown off.
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