Teachers of music theory face a number of challenges when creating courses, including designing their courses and organizing a syllabus based on that design, choosing textbooks (or writing their own materials), making decisions on assessments ￼and grading, balancing skills and concepts, and upholding their own teaching philosophies.
Syllabus. A course syllabus can set the mood for an entire term of a course. In addition to providing important information about course content, learning objectives, materials, evaluation, and a calendar, the syllabus serves as an introduction to the course in tone and philosophy: “Syllabi that reflect the mundane, bureaucratic requirements of the University are at risk of setting an equally banal classroom atmosphere...The syllabus is not simply a contract between teacher and student...[it] should be a manifesto that serves as a founding document detailing the rights of the students and the pedagogy of the classroom” (Heidebrink-Bruno, 2014). While designing a music theory course, White advocates both “self-interrogation and intradepartmental communication” (p. 16) when determining theory course objectives, which include theoretical and musical skills to be dealt with, the relationship of the course to the total school or departmental curriculum, and values like fostering independence of thought, musical values, encouraging and rewarding creativity, imparting respect for scholarship, and developing humanistic or humane values (p. 17). Additionally, M. Rogers highlights three crucial factors: “order, pacing, and emphasis” (p. 170).
Conway and Hodgman offer sample syllabi of many standard music curricula courses as a template, stating that “while the content varies greatly from course to course, the structure of the syllabi remains fairly consistent” (p. 57). The sample music theory syllabus (Conway and Hodgman, 2009, pp. 59–63) offers a course description with emphasis on the common practice period, course objectives, a required textbook (Benward and Saker, 2008), attendance and class participation policies, assignment details, academic honesty policy, examination, quiz, and final project details, grade calculations, and a course schedule. However, there is an additional note that only appears in the sample music theory syllabus:
"As you know from previous Music Theory work, this is not an ‘easy’ class; it will require persistence and tenacity on your part. Expect to spend a couple of hours on each homework assignment, and the grade you receive is the grade you EARN. All aspects of the course (and your musical future) build upon the foundation of knowledge and skill sets acquired with each assignment" (p. 61).
The inclusion of such a statement in a sample syllabus is one piece of evidence that points towards possible negative preconceptions of students when beginning a music theory class that may lead them to be apprehensive toward the subject. Additionally, statements such as these on syllabi may not be conducive to creating an engaging and motivating class. But current research in music theory pedagogy has not addressed student attitudes about the subject, or directed research about student engagement and motivation in music theory courses. While Engaging Students: Essays in Music Pedagogy has begun to address this issue with essays covering a wide range of topics, many essays still only discuss content, philosophy, or assessment.