Texas Society for Music Theory

Raising Standards of College-Level Music Theory Instruction by Means
of Appropriate Diagnostic Tests, Placement Tests, and Remedial Theory

Nico Schüler, Texas State University

This paper will present the experiences gained during and after a curriculum-revision process at Texas State University. Specifically, the paper will show how a placement exam, given on audition days, led to the opportunity to provide feedback to students, so some of them could fulfill their remedial theory requirements already before starting their university studies; and how the re-design of a remedial music theory course led to higher standards and grades in Theory I through IV and Aural I through IV courses. The paper will also address the issue of students being satisfied with a more rigorous curriculum that includes one semester of remedial theory.

The paper will also discuss concerns that music faculty had with these revisions: Would aural skills / music theory testing on audition dates scare students away? Would it lower the enrollment? Would higher standards in remedial theory courses make students unhappy? The results of two questionnaires will be presented: The first questionnaire was given during the Fall 2002 semester; its results show that students in general (82% of the students) welcome aural / theory testing on audition days and would not turn them away (92% of the students). The results of the second questionnaire, given to students during the Fall 2003 semester (and then again during the Fall 2004 semester), shows, among other things, that with the written theory placement test, more than 90% of the students feel that they were appropriately placed into remedial theory and that 93.3% believe that the placement test (although quite difficult!) was an appropriate exam for such a placement. (Results also show an overall satisfaction rate of 91.5% of the students with the theory instruction at Texas State University, despite a rigorous grading system [and a relatively high failure rate]). The statistical results of both questionnaires will be discussed in detail and conclusions and recommendations for other universities will be made.

Finally, the paper will present ways in which non-music theory faculty can support the music theory (including aural skills) instruction and raise standards in general.