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This post was actually inspired by a thread on mitmit in which pwaa and I discuss the relative difficulty of 6.001 and two core harmony and counterpoint music classes, 21M.301 and 21M.302. The upshot of the thread is that 6.001 is more difficult than the music classes; in fact, if the music classes were as difficult, one might be composing portions of a major concerto in 21M.301.

Could the music classes be made more difficult? Perhaps the composition and analysis part, but probably not the sight singing and keyboard labs. The keyboard labs, in particular, could be quite difficult for anyone but experienced pianists, even for the most basic of diatonic four-part harmonies. This is because multiple voices can move simultaneously, which requires a significant amount of coordination and technique. Poorly applied technique here, in an attempt to drink from the firehose, could result in injury. In fact, I'm just starting to learn how to play these types of harmonies, and I have to play them really slowly, using modified fingerings to preserve legato effect while maintaining comfort and safety.

Out of curiosity, I looked around juilliard a bit for some commentary on the courseload. I didn't find much (granted, I didn't look very hard). There are some posts on the auditions, understandably. Everyone has to audition to get into Juilliard for something specific (musical instrument, dance, etc.), whereas at MIT you apply to the school, and if accepted, you get to major in whatever you want, whenever you want. This is one of MIT's biggest selling points. However, I wonder sometimes if a more restrictive policy might prevent students from getting hosed, or at least give them a heads-up that they need extra background in certain areas before taking certain classes.

edit:: deleted broken link

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( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
jessiehl
Nov. 26th, 2006 05:23 pm (UTC)
However, I wonder sometimes if a more restrictive policy might prevent students from getting hosed, or at least give them a heads-up that they need extra background in certain areas before taking certain classes.

It might, but on the other hand, it would cancel out the tremendous benefits for students who either have no idea what they want to major in when they enter MIT, or change major, sometimes drastically. And that's a lot of people.

Freshmen just don't know all the options - how many people really know what a biological engineer does, and would be able to make a decision on whether it's a field they'd want to pursue, after high school. There are students coming in who are interesting in physics but went to high schools that didn't offer physics, and students who want to be math majors on the basic of a strong performance in high school algebra but get turned off when they start having to write proofs. I think any small benefits of a more restrictive policy would be more than negated by the harm that would be done.

And plenty of people take 001 with no background. Prereqs are what gives you a heads up about what background is needed for a class.
gregbo
Nov. 27th, 2006 06:33 am (UTC)
Yeah, you're right. I think the 'tute tries to create an environment where people who are excited and motivated to do things are given a chance to do them. This is much more difficult at places like UC schools, where it's much harder to change majors, take classes outside of one's major, etc.

I think 6.001 is somewhat of a special case, in that it has no prereqs. I see that there is a class called 6.00 that one can take if one doesn't have programming experience. It's not listed as a prereq for 6.001, however. There was a class like that while I was an undergrad (which was canceled after my sophomore year) that some people took before 6.001, but still struggled in 6.001. In fact, I was advised by several people not to take the 6.00 of my day because it wasn't really of much help. Even some of the professors who taught 6.001 said one was better off signing up for 6.001 and being prepared to unlearn everything they'd previously learned about programming.

For comparison's sake, the core classes in courses 2 (MechE) and 16 (AeroAstro) have several prereqs. From what I know of those classes, the material draws directly from the prereqs.

What sorts of classes should be prereqs for 6.001? I'm not sure. I could make an argument that parts of 6.033 and 6.042 form the conceptual basis for 6.001. Perhaps also 18.S34, for problem solving techniques some students may not be familiar with.
jessiehl
Nov. 27th, 2006 03:19 pm (UTC)
I'm not convinced that any class should be a prereq for 001. I haven't had 033 or 042, but my impression is that they cover a whole lot more than would be needed for 001 - and 004 is a prereq for 033, and 001 is a prereq for 004.

I think I would have struggled in 001 no matter what; writing Scheme just never clicked while I was in the class. There were people I knew with absolutely zero CS background who learned the material and did fine. And even people with significant prior CS background found the class hosing. There's just no way around that.

In course 2 or course 16, there's not that much beyond the core classes, so they can afford to put more prereqs in (whereas if they do that in 6, it could really delay people being able to take their headers). And most of the time, the prereqs for those are 1. previous course 2 or course 16 classes - the arrangement of the classes is very sequential, 2. 18.03, 3. GIRs.
gregbo
Nov. 28th, 2006 04:31 am (UTC)
I was thinking more along the lines of a new class being created that covers the parts of 6.033, 6.042, etc. that are useful as a basis for 6.001. Something like the new algorithmic reasoning class that's being proposed.
nhowells91
Nov. 26th, 2006 06:24 pm (UTC)
The deal with music is that on is supposed to be a master in performance. The courseload, depending on the school, varies. There's an expectation that a trained musician will learn basics in sight-singing, style, analysis, basic composition... and then, from there, the requirements vary, depending on track and instrument.

Example: standard voice major in a university setting would require languages, preferably Italian and German, but French fits. Some schools require Spanish as well. These would be your standard two-year course-tracks. We're talking BM degrees here, not BME or BA, or BAA. Then, there would be "diction for singers," which includes learning and using IPA fluently, as well as the "singing rules" for the major languages - some schools will require additional diction courses for languages such as Russian, Czech. This is just pronunciation now. There would be an advanced sight-singing course - learning to read in multiple clefs, as well as extended tonalities. If it's a good program, a very intensive pedagogy course and practicum would be included. If it's a good school, said pedagogical course would include working with an OTL to learn anatomy and physiology, as well as diseases of the voice and potential physical issues, and how to diagnose them (as far as can be done) by sound.

Enter musicology and all the historical basis. There would be multiple courses in music history and musicology. There would be piano skills courses, which in essence is becoming "proficient" in an instrument not usually your own (some people enter with such skills...) Then, acting, theater, theatrical history. Some schools would add stage-craft courses (lighting, sound, scenery, costuming, make-up). Some schools will require dance, movement, fencing, period movement.

So, no, at that level the coursework isn't at all difficult. But, and this is a big but, at the end of the BM, one is expected to be in a place where one can discern whether or not one has the potential to go on and become a literal master at the instrument - does one have the potential to become not a proficient singer, but an amazing, world-class singer? One then approaches the MM program with that emphasis in mind.

In my experience, tracking as a performance person, the MM was a blow-off. There were academics, primarily language deficiencies (there was no Italian in my u-grad) and musicology and advanced theory, but nothing worrisome.

If one progresses, one then is challenged with more progressive things - composition beyond basic; foreign-language reading mastery; research skills and editing skills (turning urtext into usable scores) and so on. I didn't find it all that challenging, other than the juggling of the time-load, because while one does all of that, one is also performing, a LOT.

Of course, that's exactly the track I followed - and in addition to the materials listed for the BM, I completed a core program that was the equivalent of a BA in liberal arts - physics, mathematics, English comp (which I didn't have to take, as I'd placed out of it), speech, biology, other natural and social sciences, other literature courses, psychology, blah, blah, blah.

So, no, it's not MIT - but by the same token, it's not designed to be MIT.

I find, frankly, that MIT music grads (performance) are not prepared. I've only met two, but they were... not good.
gregbo
Nov. 27th, 2006 04:05 am (UTC)
There would be an advanced sight-singing course - learning to read in multiple clefs, as well as extended tonalities.

This reminds me of something that happened at a party thrown by a couple in my chorus. Usually these parties feature some singing. So we were singing a piece we usually perform, but were a little short on male voices. The spouse of one of our altos is a piano tuner, pianist, and oboist. So when I handed him the sheet music I figured he'd at least be able to read it a little bit, enough to follow along. But he wasn't able to do that because we actually perform the piece a step higher than it's written. He has perfect pitch, and it disturbs him when the pitches that are heard or sung are not the same as what's written.

So I wonder for some students attempting to drink from the music firehose, how they approach something like transposition, if they don't have an ear for music? I imagine they understand that everything is being linearly shifted, but what would they do to actually transpose something? I'm not even talking about playing it on the piano; it could be sung or whistled (whatever is more comfortable). What skills do they have to develop to adjust their tonal center, and before they are able to do that, do they attempt to shift every note? (That seems very difficult to me.)

I find, frankly, that MIT music grads (performance) are not prepared. I've only met two, but they were... not good.

Do you know if they entered MIT hoping they'd come out with as much of a music education as people who went to somewhere like Juilliard? Were they aware that they were not prepared? Assuming they went on to performance careers, do you know what they did to fill in the gaps?

I hope my readers who have music backgrounds will comment on this thread.
nhowells91
Nov. 30th, 2006 12:31 am (UTC)
I know that the two women of whom I'm thinking were, when I met them, working at the Institute. I don't know what they came looking for. They did, however, both of them, get "voice performance" degrees.

But here's the thing: I entered university (and that's a point there) with not as much musical background as you might think. And I've sent two students to conservatory and one to Duke with very little musical background other than voice training. See note to other person's comment regarding my thoughts on that.

Regarding transposition - I've heard that those with perfect pitch have those issues, but I'm not one of them. I'm perfectly content to just hear where it goes, and go there. It's not that I don't understand what's going on - but it's less an intellectual thing, and much more of a "just do it" thing. Except, of course, when writing it out, at which time, it becomes a little of both, depending on the state of my eyes, and how tired I am.
nhowells91
Nov. 30th, 2006 12:32 am (UTC)
Oh, and the two MIT grads were failed musicians - they don't have the skills to work as performers (paid) in the business. Both work office jobs, and sing with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.
jessiehl
Nov. 27th, 2006 03:49 pm (UTC)
I find, frankly, that MIT music grads (performance) are not prepared. I've only met two, but they were... not good.

I'm not a music person myself, but this doesn't surprise me. There's no real tracking in the MIT music major - everyone takes pretty similar stuff, except for one class where you can choose between theory/composition, history/literature, or performance. The emphasis of the curriculum is not performance, more theory/composition and history/literature. A student is only required to take two 6-unit (a normal class is 12 units, where theoretically 1 unit = 1 hour/week committment) classes of performance, and a student who decided to pick the performance option in the class that has different track options is still just getting one more 12-unit performance class. There are no foreign language or theater requirements for the major, though such subjects are available if someone wants to supplement their curriculum.

There is an option for performance-focused students who already have substantial skill coming in. They can take 6 units of "advanced performance" every term for six terms and do a senior recital. I suspect that's still not what a performance major at a music school would take. Meanwhile, they're trying to get through the required nine classes of science, engineering, and lab that all MIT students are required to take.

My point being, the curriculum does not seem really designed to produce performers, and there are very few students who come in wanting to be professional performers.
nhowells91
Nov. 30th, 2006 12:44 am (UTC)
My point being, the curriculum does not seem really designed to produce performers, and there are very few students who come in wanting to be professional performers.

True. Prep to be a professional musician and prep to do other things (almost any other thing, though not all) are apples and oranges. One doesn't enter conservatory to become an engineer, either.

This takes me back to Greg's initial comment about making things harder. Getting a music degree can be like drinking out of a firehose, but the difference is that it's not all that intellectually challenging - or at least, it wasn't for me. Granted, I went to a university (two, actually - Central Michigan and the University of Michigan) where I had the choice to double-major if I'd wanted to, had the resource (money) to, and the time. Truth is, I entered music because I wanted to do that. I personally wouldn't have gone to a conservatory because I wanted the liberal arts background in addition to the fine arts training, but I went to universities that had strong music schools that serve as conservatories within the university setting.

I can't speak for the academic-based musical disciplines of composition and theory, or musicology, though I have passed deep proficiencies in all of the above to gain my degrees - and was invited at one point by the UM musicology department to switch emphasis. I can say that, for singers, one doesn't have to be smart. The firehose analogy isn't an academic firehose - it's a firehose that dispenses the water of intensive physical training along with intensive emotional scrutiny, both by oneself and by one's peers and instructors. The preparation is not supposed to be intellectually difficult (to train to be a performer) - the preparation is supposed to determine whether or not one has that "spark" if you will, along with the stamina (physical, emotional, psychological) to withstand the chronic ups and downs of auditions, performances, rejections, rejections, rejections, and the economic ups and downs that require one to step away from one's passionate love of the work, and do something else (usually much less exciting).

It's a very different thing than pursuing something like engineering or physics. My husband says this all the time. He says that if he had to basically go on an interview every time he wanted to work (sometimes multiple times a week) he'd go nuts. Because performance and audition work is that, every time we do it.

Last but not least, for those of us who have chosen to branch out and do something musical, but not strictly performance, there can be an intellectual aspect. The vocal pedagogue, particularly one who wishes to be prepared to work in rehabilitative teaching, works closely with medicine and certain kinds of technology. That's a vastly different thing than being a "mere singer," where, frankly, some of the best of 'em, and I say this with self-knowledge on so many levels, are just plain stupid.

Yep, it's true. Some of the world's best musicians (singers, anyway) are just plain stupid.

So, if one made the coursework any more difficult, they'd just go and study voice somewhere, and start to audition.

Wait! That's Pavarotti... My point made. :-)
gregbo
Sep. 5th, 2007 06:30 am (UTC)
(I've been thinking about this but haven't had a chance to respond until now. If you still want to discuss it, I'd be interested in your thoughts.)

[Prep to be a professional musician is] a very different thing than pursuing something like engineering or physics. My husband says this all the time. He says that if he had to basically go on an interview every time he wanted to work (sometimes multiple times a week) he'd go nuts. Because performance and audition work is that, every time we do it.

Your hubby should consider himself lucky that he doesn't have to do that. I've heard it can be like that for contract software professionals. FWIW, I have to go on an interview every time I want to work (ie. every day that I can line up an interview).

I don't know how much you've been following what I've written, but what sense are you getting from what you've read? Do these interviews seem like auditions to you? Especially the ones where I have to write production-level code. I have no idea what they're going to ask me to do; there is no way I can practically prepare. All I can do is try to get something out of each experience, whether it means I need to brush up on something, learn something new, deal with nervousness, or any number of other things.

Also, what other types of work do you generally try to get? Do you ever audition for non-classical work? How about auditioning for other instruments you play? (This is analogous to me applying for QA positions.) While some things may not apply to these jobs, because they're individual gigs (like contracts), do you ever run into a situation where a condition of the job is how passionate you are about it? For example, when applying for a teaching position, do the interviewers try to figure out if you'll stay only until you land a full-time (or at least, long-term) classical gig?
gregbo
Sep. 6th, 2007 05:08 am (UTC)
Wait! That's Pavarotti... My point made. :-)

BTW, I just heard that he just died.
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