Analytical Techniques I — Graduate Music Theory at Boston University

For the Spring II 2019 term of my doctoral program, I am taking MT600: Analytical Techniques, the required graduate music theory course. Prior to taking this course, students either have to (a) pass a Music Theory Proficiency Exam, or (b) take MT400: Graduate Theory Review, a remedial theory course that does not count towards the 48 required credits. The rest of this post will detail the Proficiency Exam and MT400 but mostly focus on the structure of the MT600 course.

Proficiency Exam

Taken online, the Music Theory Proficiency Exam asks students to demonstrate a “working knowledge of Western music theory” with a score of 74/106. Questions ranged in value from 1–6 points depending on the level of difficulty. From the Exam Information sheet:

The examination covers basic harmony, analysis, form, chord structures and terminology.

  1. Listening: identification of intervals, and solo line, two-voice and four-voice harmony

  2. Fundamentals: identification and spelling of triads and seventh chords

  3. Counterpoint: questions on fugue and general contrapuntal concepts

  4. Part Writing: questions on figured bass and general principles of voice leading

  5. General Questions: topics including form and chromatic harmony

  6. Tonal Analysis: identification of cadences, modulations and relationships

I had to take the Proficiency Exam twice before I passed. I did well on all sections of the exam except for the questions on general and fugal counterpoint, topics that I have not studied or taught since my undergraduate degree at Iowa State.

MT400: Graduate Theory Review

The recommended sequence suggests students who do not pass the Music Theory Proficiency Exam take MT400 during the Summer I term of their first year followed by MT600 in Summer II. I did not have to take this course, as I passed the Proficiency Exam on my second attempt. Here is the course description from the program website:

Review of fundamental music theory and analysis through the study of chord grammar, voice-leading principles, figured bass, four-part chorale harmonizations and form. Materials are approached through listening, writing and analytical work. Credits from this review course will not apply toward degree completion.

MT600: Analytical Techniques I

Our cohort’s recommended sequence suggests taking MT600 during Summer II of Year 1. I am going out of sequence by taking MT600 during Spring II in place of an elective, allowing me to take MT781: Jazz & Popular Arranging in Summer I and ME538: Rock Band Performance & Pedagogy in Summer II. From the course description on the program website:

Investigations (systemic and empirical) into formal and compositional procedures of selected masterworks from the tonal repertoire. Lectures lead to individual analytical projects.

And from the course description in our syllabus:

Students will review, refine, and master basic analytical techniques for the repertoire of tonal music through readings and weekly analytical exercises and projects. These analyses will address aspects of musical structure and design: pitch and tonal relations; rhythm at the surface and phrase levels; melody; and surface design and texture, among others, as well as levels of relationships among these aspects. The goal of the course is the preparation of a formal, multidimensional analysis of an assigned work.

Our instructor is Mark Berger, and our required texts are Burkhart and Rothstein’s Anthology for Musical Analysis (7th edition) and Stein’s Engaging Music. Similar to previous courses, we will have weekly Live Classrooms, readings, and Discussion Board posts organized around specific topics: Harmony, Form/Structure, Melody, Phrase Structure & Meter, Ambiguity, and Context. The concepts are introduced through online lectures and Engaging Music. We will be asked to discuss the concept through weekly posts and responses on a Discussion Board. Each week there will be optional application exercises to practice analysis with feedback prior to beginning the weekly write assignment. There are two, optional, weekly Live Classrooms that address the application exercises and the assignment, respectively.

It appears that the overall goal of this course is to develop a “multi-layered approach” to analyzing music using the different topics as contexts/lenses. From the section of the syllabus on Assignments:

Upper-level analysis is more than just "accounting" for the Roman numerals and form of the piece; you need to draw on all of your experiences and insights, along with the application of these specific approaches. As the practice of applying music theory is a skill-based set of principles, working with the material at length is critical in order to master them.

I am looking forward to digging in and buffing up my musical analysis skills!


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.