Description of Course Goals and CurriculumThe Fall 2014 course, taught by Professor Donnacha Dennehy, primarily encouraged creative music composition though the practical application of music theory fundamentals. MUS 104 is designed for students with little to no background in music theory. The first half of the course is primarily focused on basic theory such as music notation, formation of melodies, and simple harmony. The second half of the course moves on to examine more complex harmonies and instrumentation in a variety of genres. The most challenging part of MUS 104 is also what attracts many students to it: you will go from having little to no experience in music theory to writing your own compositions by the end of the semester. While the fundamentals are taught thoroughly at the start of the course, the content’s difficulty increases steadily throughout the semester.
Learning From Classroom InstructionTwo lectures and two precepts make up the structure of the course, totaling four hours a week. Lectures are large, and primarily focus on teaching the fundamental theory and listening to music that demonstrates it. Precepts typically have approximately 15 other students and focus on explaining and practicing the theory discussed in lecture. Students are expected to participate in discussion as well as ear-training and sight-singing exercises, but the professor and preceptors are very understanding when it comes to singing ability. Students should also be aware that they are required to sing/perform compositions as part of precept participation. While the course instructors understand there is great diversity of singing/musical talent in the class, they expect you to participate to the best of your ability, even if you’re not very comfortable singing in front of others. However, they do their best to make precept a comfortable and encouraging environment for all.
Learning For and From AssignmentsThere are two to three in-class quizzes in addition to weekly assignments that practice/test the theory taught in class. The course also has two large projects that take the place of the midterm/final. The fundamentals introduced at the start of the semester lend themselves to homework assignments that do not require a large time commitment for the first few weeks. However, as the semester progresses, the topics become much more complicated. In addition to the harder material, students are expected to begin composing their own melodies, harmonies, and miniature compositions which require much more time and focus than the initial assignments. Students may get caught off guard four to five weeks into the semester by the increased rigor and the high expectations for the midterm project, which requires you to write a full song with a complex melody and a simple chord-based background. First, if you are completely unfamiliar with music theory, put in extra time the first couple weeks to completely understand the core fundamentals such as reading music and scales. These skills are essential for the entire course. While you may be able to get by with just comprehending these fundamentals in the first few weeks, you will need to be able to use them quickly as the weeks progress and the material becomes more complicated. The reading material provided has a number of exercises to help you practice the theory. It may seem intuitive, but start the assignments as soon as possible. Early assignments may only take fifteen to thirty minutes, but later assignments are much more time intensive. It can be hard to judge how long an assignment will take, so starting the assignments early allows you to stay on top of the work you do. In particular, if an assignment involves composition, expect to spend a significant amount of time working on it. The weekly quizzes primarily test the student’s ability to memorize the theory presented in lecture. While the main focus of the course is on composition, these quizzes almost entirely avoid testing the student’s ability to compose music. The student needs to be aware of the two areas of skill that are valued, and when they should be applied. At the same time, the student needs to also be able to integrate the two skills when necessary. While the professor is certainly knowledgeable and helpful, your TA is the most important person to communicate with. While homework and quizzes are the same across the class, your TA is responsible for all grading. In a class where composition makes up most of the work, the grading can sometimes be somewhat subjective. For that reason, it is important to talk with your TA about what his/her expectations are. Your TA likely has expectations for how much you participate in precept in addition to what needs to be present in your compositions. Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries and ask your TA about attempting something that may be outside the assignment guidelines when you do your compositions. If you are passionate about a form of music that isn’t explicitly covered, talk to your TA about using it in your midterm or final project. For example, a student in my class preferred to write and perform rap music. While the course focuses on melody and harmony, he was able to integrate rap into a harmonic background for his midterm project. When you discuss your interests with the TA and explain what you would like to do, he/she is more likely to grade favorably.
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course SelectionThis is a great course to fulfill a distribution requirement, or just to increase your own knowledge of music. A number of students in the class were already involved with music on campus, but wanted the background to start writing their own music without taking two or three semesters of classes. The course makes no assumptions on your musical background, which makes it feasible for any student at Princeton. By the end of MUS 104, you will have the necessary knowledge of music theory in order to write your own compositions. The foundation built in this class makes it easy to write songs for a variety of instruments. Even if there is something the class doesn’t explicitly cover, the skills from the class make it easier to learn about other musical topics. For example, by learning how to read and write music, it is much easier to start teaching yourself basic piano. Unfortunately, this course does not count as a prerequisite for upper level music courses. However, if you’re interested in taking additional or more advanced classes in the subject, you can take the more intensive theory classes (MUS 105-106) or take the music history companion class (MUS 103).
When Music Is Made