Theodor Rombouts, The Lute Player

Introduction to Music Theory

Instructor: Nathan Shields
BISR Central
68 Jay Street, #308
Brooklyn, NY 11201

What are the basic structures of western music? What rules and norms—of harmony, melody, and rhythm—unite works as remote from each other in time and style as Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper? What are the acoustic, perceptual, and historical roots of this musical grammar, and does understanding them shape the way we hear and respond to music?

These are some of the questions we will address in Introduction to Music Theory, which aims to equip students with foundational skills for studying, making, and thinking about music. As many thinkers have recognized, music influences and transforms the listener in ways that are no less profound for being obscure or even inarticulable. An understanding of how it does so is thus valuable not only for musicians, but for anyone who has ever wondered how music conveys meaning and affect or how it shapes our social and political environment.

Students in this course will learn to read musical notation; examine the roots of western harmony in the acoustic phenomena of consonance and dissonance; and study melody, rhythm, meter, and form. Finally, they will consider how these various aspects of musical grammar work together to produce the coherent language known as common-practice tonality—which governed European classical music, underlies most contemporary popular music, and continues to function, in a slightly modified form, in jazz.

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm
April 08 — April 29, 2020
4 weeks


Registration Open

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