Course Materials: Theory & Aural Skills

Kris Shaffer, CU–Boulder College of Music

syllabus   assignments   writing   twitter   blog

Writing assignments for Semester 4 Theory (MUSC 2111)

Following are details for each of the writing assignment types, as well as submission information.

Twitter essays

Each student will write three Twitter essays over the course of the semester. Dates will be assigned by the instructor, with a few students writing in advance of each class. Please do the following when writing your essay:

  1. Read Jesse Stommel’s article, The Twitter Essay.
  2. Formulate a concise, novel insight about a poem or piece of music we have recently studied.
  3. Compose an essay of exactly 140 characters, including the hashtag #TwitterEssay and either #Lieder or #PostTonal (depending on the genre you are writing about). As Jesse says, “Play, innovate, incite.” It can look like the thesis statement for a longer essay. But try to do something more, or at least more interesting. Push the (very limited) boundaries of the genre you are using.
  4. Submit your Twitter essay to this online form.

Jesse’s article contains some examples. You can also search Twitter for examples. (Note that not all of these results follow Jesse’s rubric. There are many kinds of Twitter essays.)

Each class will begin with a discussion of the Twitter essays composed for that day. The class will vote anonymously on whether or not a Twitter essay merits publication on the class Twitter account. If two-thirds or more of the class vote yes, the tweet will be published. If not, we will work as a class to improve it to reach publishability. The author of the essay will have the final say in any improvements. At the end of a brief discussion, we will vote again. If it still does not pass, or if the author decides to take extra time to work on it, the author will have until the next class to improve it. If it does not pass two-thirds approval on the second attempt, no credit will be given for the essay.

Blog posts

Each student will write one blog post of about 500 words (about two typed, double-spaced pages). Each week, a handful of students (or less) will write a blog post. Dates will be assigned by the instructor.

Like the Twitter essays, blog posts will engage a text, piece of music, or musical concept recently discussed in class. Blog posts should be aimed at a non-specialist audience — either non-musicians or at least practicing musicians who have not studied music theory formally.

When writing blog posts, do the following:

  1. Read Jesse Stommel’s blog post, “What is Good Writing?: A Meditation on Breaking Rules and Grammar Pedagogy”.
  2. Formulate a concise, novel insight about a poem, piece of music, or musical concept we have recently studied.
  3. Gather supporting data/evidence in support of that insight.
  4. Compose a blog post that explains your insight using some or all of your supporting evidence.
  5. Write in clear prose that is generally gramatically correct and logically organized. However, you must also break at least one rule of good writing that you have learned in the past, or use at least one novel feature of web-based writing that is unavailable in print. Do so in the service of communicating your insight more effectively. For example, you can embed a Spotify audio track or a YouTube video. You can alternate between normal and backwards/upside-down text to make a point about symmetry in the musical structure. Incomplete sentences. (See what I did there?) Mixing languages. Something that pushes the boundaries of traditional writing in the way that the poets and composers we discuss push the boundaries of poetic and musical structure.
  6. Write your blog post in a Google Doc. Note whether you’d like the post to have your name, a pseudonym, or “Anonymous” listed.
  7. Share the Google Doc with with editing privileges.
  8. Copy and paste the document’s sharing link on this form.

After submission, authors will receive comments for improvement (see below) by the next class meeting. Authors will then have one more class meeting to improve their writing. At that point, I will evaluate the revised version. If I believe it is up to standard, I will publish it on the class blog and tweet a link from the class Twitter account. If not, I will provide another round of comments for improvement by the next class meeting. Students will have until the next class meeting (two weeks after initial submission) to improve, at which point it will be published and credit assigned, or remain unpublished with no credit given.

Blog comments

For each blog post written by a class member, three students (and the class grader) will be assigned the duty of commenting on the blog post to help improve it for public consumption. Blog posts will be submitted before the first class meeting of the week (Monday/Tuesday). Reviewers will have until the next class meeting to provide constructive comments for improving the post. The goals are simply to help the author better communicate their insight(s) to a non-specialist audience, and to effecively push the boundaries of the written genre. Any comments of substance toward those goals, in advance of the deadline, will “count.”

Wikipedia edits

Students will form their own groups of 3–4 students. Those groups will be assigned two dates by which they will make substantive edits to a Wikipedia article on a piece or concept we are exploring in class.

Each week one group will take a piece or concept that we as a class discuss during the first meeting of the week (Monday/Tuesday), and they will find errors or holes in the Wikipedia article on that piece/concept. The group will then improve the Wikipedia article for the next class meeting (Wednesday/Thursday). Then all students will be assigned that Wikipedia page as a reading for the next Monday/Tuesday. If appropriate, we will include these insights as a focus in our class activity for that day.

I will assess the edits and presentation as pass/not-pass. Generally, any substantive improvement(s) to the article will warrant a pass. If the edit is not completed or does not meet my standard, I will meet with the group to discuss a possible makeup opportunity within the next week. Once a week has passed, no reassessment opportunity will be given.

A link to the edited Wikipedia article, as well as a brief description of the changes made and the reasons for the changes, should be provided on this form before the class in which the edits are due.

Academic papers

Each student will write one standard academic paper. Students can choose a midterm paper on a German Lied or a final paper on a post-tonal work.

These papers should be 1000–1500 words (4–6 pages typed, double-spaced), should have a single analytical thesis, should argue that thesis with supporting evidence and no extraneous details, and should conform to the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th. ed. (This is not a genre in which we will be pushing stylistic boundaries, but instead working on excelling at artful conformity: meeting set expectations while also standing out via a strong argument and/or well crafted prose.)

Examples of model essays from past student work (anonymous) will be provided in advance of the due dates.

Students will also have the opportunity to sign up for a 30-minute consultation on a draft of their paper with me in the week before papers are due.

Papers will be due on the first day of post-tonal studies (Lied papers) or the first day of finals week (post-tonal papers).

Papers should be written as Google Documents (not Word Documents uploaded to Google Drive), shared with with editing privileges, and the sharing link pasted into this form.

Unit I academic paper guidelines