"...I understand that composing helps us learn counterpoint but this is _not_ a composition class. I already took composition and feel like I'm taking it over again. All of the homework is too much composing. I'd rather have a combination of analyzing and learning to write...I also don't learn anything when the teacher improvs on the piano or just by singing. I think this is a waste of time and is completely unnecessary in the highest division theory course. It should be more of a conclusion of the past few quarters while integrating materials."

May 18, 2009 at 12:05 AM | Registered CommenterBen Carson

I decided to post this comment word-for-word (at least the words that were on this topic), because it was particularly useful. This is an example of an issue that I had no idea needed to be discussed, and I'm really glad now, that I do --

This is a composition class (sorry!) -- ALL counterpoint classes work in pretty much this way. Counterpoint is a kind of composition; it is not a kind of theory or analysis. (Maybe if you'd known that going into the class, you wouldn't be so frustrated? But it's *just* the kind of thing that I'd forget to say, thinking it was already understood...)

The goal is to establish your fluency in a style of writing that's considered crucial foundational to modern musical thinking. You get the fluency by writing in it, immersing yourself in it, and through tons of repetition. Most counterpoint courses require you to write more than this -- the only reason I have required less is that I simply cannot make time for any more grading than what we're already doing --

Counterpoint is considered basic to Western music education; everyone has to learn it, not just composers. Performers need to study this -- maybe even more than composers -- because while a composer can choose to write whatever she wants, most working performers have to play a wide variety of music. I don't know any performers who don't play counterpoint. Think of it as a language class, not a poetry class. I play it and sing it for you the same way a language teacher improvises sentences or reads good examples to you, from a book.

In a standard composition class (which is not counterpoint class) the teacher will help you explore your musical personality, help you decide what to write, what to say, and what beauty to express that comes from your own experience. Composition teachers try to give students advanced tools to bring new and complex sounds and ideas into existence that a counterpoint teacher would never begin to address. If I were your composition teacher, I would be trying to teach you to explore your artistic voice.

Counterpoint teachers offer you the building blocks of music that are shared principles among nearly all tonal composers, including examples I've given, but also those working in Hollywood and Broadway. We build atop the foundations you learned in music 13, 14, and 30 (the alphabet, the spelling, the vocabulary, and the grammar), so that you can begin to build complex sentences and paragraphs, and develop music that is persuasive writing, in a foundational style -- we are the "Strunk and White" of music. Counterpoint is not like poetry or drama or fiction. It's just good, effective musical language, it speaks clearly and sensibly to a wide variety of audiences.

May 18, 2009 at 12:27 AM | Registered CommenterBen Carson