Improving Residential Music Theory Education with Online Components

Principal Investigator
Prof. Michael Cuthbert, Music and Theater Arts
Fund: d'Arbeloff Fund
Funding Period: AY2015
Department/Lab/Center: Music and Theater Arts

Basic music theory skills—including the ability to read music, to hear music more precisely, and to compose simple pieces in diverse musical styles—are fundamental to nearly every study of music. In a process similar to learning a foreign language, developing music fundamentals requires a continual cycle of study, practice, and feedback. Students come to these classes with a variety of skills and experiences. Traditional modes of teaching music fundamentals both throughout the US and equally at MIT, require students to acquire the relevant skills all at the same rate regardless of whether or not they have previous training in these skills. Students can alternate between bored and frustrated by the fluctuating difficulty of the classes.

The vast majority of the assignments given in music fundamentals courses can be evaluated automatically, with helpful spontaneous feedback within the limits of current technology. We believe that the entire content of a music fundamentals class can be brought online within the MITx framework. There is a great demand for such a class both at MIT and throughout the United States and starting with an EdX course could have great benefits for residential education. However, this project suggests reversing these two stages; that is, creating online and self-paced components to improve MIT residential classes in music fundamentals first and then later releasing it to the world.