While actual pedagogical practices may not have evolved much since Campbell’s 1982 observation, there continues to be a wealth of music theory pedagogy research. Current research in music theory pedagogy falls into three broad categories: content, philosophy and practice, and assessment. Many articles have been written about the content that we include in teaching music theory, the order and pacing of that content, and the philosophies and histories that inform how we might approach teaching that content. Recent articles have addressed the teaching of inversion, sonata theory, and counterpoint. These discussions may even include anecdotal evidence on how a certain teacher goes about teaching a specific topic, as Schubert describes: “Lately I have experimented with using improvisation as a step towards analysis in an upper-level undergraduate class.” Philosophical articles often deal with course design and teaching philosophies, with many recent publications discussing different teaching styles, like flipped classes, inquiry-driven classes, and problem-based learning, which may help increase student engagement. Additionally, assessment in music theory courses continues to be a popular topic of discussion.
With the influx of new pedagogical approaches and teaching styles in recent scholarship, more focus is beginning to be directed toward student-centered learning. This new emphasis on student-centered learning may be an indication that some teachers and researchers in music theory are beginning to take note of the importance of student engagement and motivation.
Newman, Wehlage, and Lamborn define engagement as “active involvement, commitment, and concentrated attention, in contrast to superficial participation, apathy, or lack of interest” (p. 11). Newman, et al. continue to “define student engagement in academic work as the student's psychological investment in and effort directed toward learning, understanding, or mastering the knowledge, skills, or crafts that academic work is intended to promote” (p. 12). This psychological investment goes beyond simply completing assignments and acquiring desired grades, tasks that may be completed without engaging in the mastery of a topic or skill.
Sharan, Shachar, and Levine further clarify that “student engagement in learning [is] a concept that overlaps with, but is not reducible to, motivation to learn” (p. 85). Ryan and Deci define motivation as “[being] moved to do something. A person who feels no impetus or inspiration to act is thus characterized as unmotivated, whereas someone who is energized or activated toward an end is considered motivated” (p. 54). Within the general description of motivation are two important distinctions: “intrinsic motivation, which refers to doing something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable, and extrinsic motivation, which refers to doing something because it leads to a separable outcome” (Ryan and Deci, 2000, 55). Thus, motivation can be understood in terms of a person's amount of motivation and their orientation of motivation.
How does an instructional design – the combination of course policies, materials, assessment, and teaching philosophies – influence a student's engagement and motivation? Are current students in music theory engaged and motivated in their classes? This dissertation aims to address engagement and motivation in the first-year music theory classroom by investigating student self-theories (a type of mindset in which a person views a construct like intelligence or ability as being either malleable or fixed) and how an instructional design specific to music theory may influence that self-theory. I will also consider how self-theories fit into a larger model of learning, engagement, and motivation. While little research directly addresses student engagement and motivation in music theory, a large body of work in the fields of education and psychology addresses both. By drawing upon some of this outside research, I hope to discover how motivated music theory students are and how we as teachers can create a more motivating and engaging instructional design that ultimately raises competency levels.