Joshua Groffman


The college music classroom has changed in recent years. Amidst upheavals in curricula, technology, and student populations, many of us have altered the look and feel of our teaching in profound ways. This paper presents my version of “the change”: a groupwork-based guided inquiry approach to teaching fundamental concepts in the core music theory sequence. My method shares features of its underlying philosophy with techniques of active learning proposed by previous scholarship and driven by a shift in our teaching towards the student-centered classroom and a pedagogical stance rooted in the theory of social constructivism. Many of these pedagogical methods hold it necessary for students to have a grasp of basic terminology and concepts before they can engage in active learning; here, I suggest that active learning can be most valuable when made part of the process of uncovering basic theory concepts itself and propose a protocol for doing so adapted from the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. I seek to make the process consistent with best practices for promoting student engagement and a deeper conceptual understanding of course content, particularly in classrooms that are heterogeneous with regard to students’ academic ability. As well, by having students recreate the intellectual processes of music analysis as they are undertaken by scholars in the field, the guided inquiry method promotes an understanding of what it is, in Michael Rogers’ formulation, to “do”—rather than simply to “learn”—music theory.