Diversifying Curriculum in Music Theory

Over the summer of 2020 it became obvious to me that I couldn’t let my classes keep pushing the same content in music theory. In spite of several efforts to incorporate diversity in various ways, one thing I have not done is to decentralize the curriculum away from a Eurocentric model. Our state rightly asserts that curriculum should touch on an agreed-upon set of concepts so that there is a level of standardization that transfer institutions can rely on our students learning when taking core-level college music theory classes.

The events of the past year – George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Philando Castile, among others – have awoken me to a reality that I have done far too little work in really addressing and even thinking about giving authenticity to non-European (read: white) musical genres and modes of expression. So this Fall I decided to do things differently. I decided that the agreed-upon set of standards for Theory 3, for instance, have glaring omissions – by not expressly requesting or calling for a range of concepts to discuss in these classes, there is little requirement for or implied validation for teaching hip hop, for example. My work is only beginning, but I’ve started to move the needle.

Here is a slide deck for a presentation I gave to English faculty in a workshop series called “Gaining Perspectives”, which is intended to educate faculty on the history of racism in college curriculum at large, and then invite faculty to engage in introspective work to address racism (even if we are unintentionally creating bias).

In this workshop I mentioned that I created a unit on Hip Hop. I’ll be the first to admit that my acumen in the study of Hip Hop is novice at best, but to me the idea of modeling representation and giving authenticity to Hip Hop as an artistic medium worth academic study is more important than my lack of knowledge on the subject (I didn’t take a course on hip hop as an undergrad – though I got plenty of work learning how to voice a cadential 6 4 chord).

Here are some sample assignments and content:

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