The Value of a Music History Survey

J. Peter Burkholder


A music history survey cannot teach everything about every piece students will encounter, but it can offer an overarching framework into which they can fit each new piece. That framework consists of knowledge of other pieces to which they can compare it; of musical styles and genres; of terms and concepts that relate to these pieces; of how these pieces were performed and what their social function was; and of the social values these pieces reflect. Having such a framework is essential for every performer, teacher, or composer. A comprehensive survey offers a map of music history, a sense of a shared universe of music, with an understanding of what musicians do, why they do it, and what they value in the music they perform and compose. The survey can be designed so that students focus on creating this framework for themselves, by articulating appropriate objectives and themes; designing course activities to address them; and linking each topic to the overarching themes so that students make connections between repertoires and to their own concerns.

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ISSN 2155-109X