Tim Smith, Northern Arizona University

Graduate Course in Analysis
Offered on the World-Wide Web

Site ©1996 Timothy A. Smith



Virtual Poster, Aug. 23, 1998, Revised June. 18, 2000
Society for Music Theory Virtual Poster Sessions


| abstract | course concept | course development |
| course distinctives | technique & copyright | student projects |

Abstract: Bach: the Baroque & Beyond is a graduate seminar in music theory and analysis that Northern Arizona University delivered via the World-Wide Web in the fall of 1997. The course explored emergent themes of the 18th century which reached heights of tonal complexity in the music of J. S. Bach, and have continued to inspire and inform composers into the 19th and 20th centuries. The underlying proposition of the course is that music composition for the last two centuries probably owes more to J. S. Bach than any single person. While the course was first offered for one unit of graduate credit, it is being expanded to three.

Course Concept: Each unit contains three modules: BAROQUE presents a theoretical concept and its history; BACH demonstrates the concept in one or more works of Johann Sebastian; and BEYOND presents the concept in a work since 1800. The purpose of each unit is to illustrate how musical structure and style in the western classical tradition draw from a continuum of techniques composers have sought consciously to exploit. Many of these techniques originated in the Baroque with pedagogies transmitting them to musicians of the last two centuries having consistently used Bach as model.

Course Development: If necessity is the mother of invention, recourse to the Internet in the teaching of "Bach: the Baroque & Beyond" was inspired by the need to solve an over enrollment problem in an undergraduate Form & Analysis course two years earlier. The solution--putting half the material on the internet--enabled me to use class time to clarify concepts rather than lecture. The then brand-new technology enabled me not only to teach twice as many students as was normal in this course, but also to cover nearly twice the amount of material, incorporating many aspects of a traditional course in Counterpoint as well. That spring of '96 I became a believer in the WWW and taught the course as a web-required offering, again, the following year. The virtual component of "Form & Analysis" continues to grow with the prospect that it, like "Bach: the Baroque & Beyond," may be delivered asynchronously in the future.

Course Distinctives: Whereas the undergraduate "Form & Analysis" mandates class attendance, "Bach: the Baroque & Beyond is truly asynchronous--there are no scheduled classes and no required texts; all of the materials is delivered via the WWW. This means that the professor and students never need to be in the same place at the same time. The web-based format is advantageous to graduate students who may not be able to quit their jobs and relocate families to take courses. "Bach: the Baroque & Beyond" was the first asynchronous course (with no class attendance option) to have been offered at Northern Arizona University, and may have been the first course of its kind in the world.

In music, where most of what we learn is through studying scores and listening, the World-Wide Web is a perfect teaching tool. I've found that I am able to teach more in a two-minute animation, with notes leaping off the page and repositioning themselves, than I could, formerly, in a fifty-minute chalkboard demonstration. The following animation of [0,1,4] segmentations in the Schoenberg Op. 11 No. 1 illustrates.

Schoenberg Klavierstücke Op. 11, No. 1
[Play] [Stop CD]
motive P-form [0,1,4] in yellow; motive I-form [0,3,4] in green


To play this example you must have obtained the CDLink plugin and inserted the
Paul Jacobs CD "Arnold Schoenberg Piano Music" (Elektra/Nonesuch 9 71309-2) CD into the hard drive.

Animation and analysis ©1997 Tim Smith with kind permission of Universal Edition
A.G., Wien and Belmont Music Publishers (USA distributors)
(To restart the animation, reload the page from your web browser.)


So, the World-Wide Web is not just bells and whistles but an extremely effective new technology for teaching. I use the web not to be trendy but because I can communicate more concepts, more clearly, than before. In short, this technology has enabled me to become a better teacher and my students to become better learners. Having said that, I would hasten to add that courses on the WWW are not for everybody.....it takes a particularly well-motivated and disciplined student, one who works well alone, to be successful in this environment ... which is another reason why I decided to do this first with graduate students.

Technique & Copyright Compliance: Obtaining permission to use proprietary sounds and scores is one of the higher hurdles to jump in the development of virtual courses. All scores in my courses, as well as the Canons & Fugues site, were constructed by myself using Finale, Superpaint, and GifBuilder (free gif animation software by Yves Piguet). This latter program was the tool used to create the migrating segmentations--frame by frame--in the Schoenberg example.

Where the music was not in the public domain, I have obtained permission from the publishers and linked to their home pages. It has been my experience that publishers are fascinated with the implications of this emerging technology for their own businesses and quite willing to grant permission for educational and non-profit purposes. In turn I have granted permission to several entities to use my copyrighted graphics of music in the public domain, so long as the graphic remains unchanged, is properly credited, and the user provides a link to my source page.

Sounds are more complicated. The musical examples in these courses may, in the future, be served in RealAudio. However, it will be necessary first to obtain permission from the various artists and recording labels. I decided to delay this phase until the courses were well stabilized in terms of content. Until then, I have used the Voyager application CDLink which complies with copyright by accessing audio examples from compact disk recordings owned by the University or students themselves. Persons interested in learning how to serve and play vcd files on CDLink may refer to my ATMI presentation October of 1996.

Some pages in these courses employ MIDI as an alternative to CDLink and compact disk recordings. I have used both Yamaha MidPlug and Quicktime 3.0 to process these sounds with good results. In general, however, I prefer the CD sound and do not intend to use MIDI in the future.

Student Projects on the WWW: Students are required, in many of my courses, to complete a semester project employing computer timelines synchronized with CD sound. I have made two Hypercard stacks available for this purpose. Occasionally students request to do their projects on the Internet. Three of these projects follow:

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