Sunday morning, November 15, 11:30–12:45 CST

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Using Open Educational Resources for Inclusive, Flexible, and Innovative Music Theory Pedagogy

Bryn Hughes (The University of Lethbridge), Chair and Discussant

Music theory pedagogy has recently undergone a reckoning, perhaps best exemplified in Campbell et al. 2014 and Duker et al. 2015. Publications such as Engaging Students: Essays in Music Pedagogy and the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy have championed critical pedagogy and, importantly, have presented this work in open-access formats to ensure the latest scholarship is available to all. SMT’s 2019 plenary session “Reframing Music Theory” was, for many of us, a watershed moment, galvanizing the need to create a more diverse, equitable, and accessible field for our colleagues and students. Despite this enthusiasm, relatively few teachers are prepared to discard their textbooks. Textbooks released by for-profit publishers are rigidly structured, and the field’s dependence on them hinders the creation of a more flexible, inclusive, and accessible curriculum. There are additional limitations with traditional textbooks that impede learning in theory classrooms: (1) they are expensive—a potential barrier for lower-income students and non-college teachers without a large textbook budget; (2) they lack the advantages of an open-access digital format, such as immense customizability or potential for computational pedagogical approaches.

Our alternative-format special session promotes open educational resources (OER) as the cornerstone for building a more flexible, inclusive, and accessible music theory classroom. Through five lightning talks, we demonstrate how we use one particular OER—the new, second edition of Open Music Theory (hereafter OMT2)—in our effort to dismantle the barriers described above.


Bryn Hughes (University of Lethbridge)

Bryn Hughes is Associate Professor of Music at the University of Lethbridge. He teaches music theory, and publishes research on music cognition, popular music, and music theory pedagogy.

In the Trenches Using OMT

Kyle Gullings (The University of Texas at Tyler)

Dr. Kyle Gullings is a versatile, collaborative composer of stage, vocal, and chamber works whose projects have traversed diverse social topics including space travel, nuclear weaponry, mortality, mental illness, and the American Dream. He has been recognized through the National Opera Association’s Chamber Opera Composition Competition (1 of 3 National Finalists) and the SCI/ASCAP Student Composition Competition (two-time Regional Winner), and has been performed across the country through the Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage Festival, John Duffy Composers Institute, Capital Fringe Festival, College Music Society, and Society of Composers, Inc.

Dr. Gullings joined the faculty of The University of Texas at Tyler in 2011, where he is currently Director of the School of Performing Arts and Associate Professor of Music. He is a co-author of a forthcoming revision of, a free, online music theory textbook website. His collection of over 100 theory assignments, Open Educational Resources for Undergraduate Music Theory, is published by the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy.

Dr. Gullings completed his D.M.A. in Composition at The Catholic University of America, where he was also the first recipient of their unique Stage Music Emphasis master’s degree. He holds a B.M. in Theory/Composition from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN. He enjoys running, homebrewing, playing Nintendo, and spending time with his wife Terra and their dogs Ollie and Buddy. Learn more at


When I adopted the “textbook” Open Music Theory (OMT) in 2015, I knew no other instructors making the same leap. As a composer by trade, I felt out of my depth. This first-hand experience informs my talk, which covers the benefits and problems associated with my switch to OMT, and describes our panel’s improvements in OMT version 2 (OMT2).

OMT saves students money. Additionally, it is equally as effective as proprietary texts: average semester grades and course evaluation numbers remained steady after my switch to OMT. This affirms John Hilton III’s 2016 finding that open educational resources (OER) are “comparable in quality to traditional learning resources.”

The most significant challenge of OMT was the lack of accompanying workbook, which I overcame by authoring 109 assignments and other course documents. OMT2 includes all these, together with many newly-designed assignments, as its free and fully-editable companion workbook. Another obstacle was the lack of built-in chapter sequencing, requiring a reevaluation of my four-semester curriculum. This problem is addressed in our third talk, “Not Just a Theory…,” which discusses community creation of OMT2 content guides.

In 2017–18, 13% of U.S. faculty used OER in at least one course, up from 5% two years prior (Babson Survey Research Group 2018). Despite their advantages, there are fewer available OER in music theory than in other academic fields. OMT2 fills this need for theorists, and for the numerous applied instructors, ensemble directors, and other generalists that often teach theory courses. It is adoption-ready and poised to make a difference in classrooms everywhere.

Supporting AP Music Theory: Open Music Theory’s Secondary School Outreach

Chelsey Hamm (Christopher Newport University)

Dr. Chelsey Hamm received her Ph.D. in Music Theory from Indiana University, where she completed her dissertation titled "Charles Ives and Democracy: Association, Borrowing, and Treatment of Dissonance in His Music" in 2016. Dr. Hamm also holds a M.M. in Music Theory and Composition from Florida State University and B.M.s in Music Education, Horn Performance, and Music Theory from Ithaca College. Her research, much of which intersects both music theory and musicology, focuses on theories of musical meaning and criticism, text and musical relationships, and twentieth-century music, especially that of Charles Ives. She also has several additional areas of scholarly expertise, including the history of music theory, especially with regards to medieval music theory documents, music theory pedagogy, and theoretical investigations that examine questions of listener experiences, whether they are expressive, hermeneutic, or phenomenological.

Dr. Hamm has essays published in a variety of journals including the "Indiana Theory Review," "The Horn Call," and "Revista di Analisi e Teoria Musicale," as well as in a collection of essays titled "Histories and Narratives of Music Analysis." Her most recent works have appeared in the "Routledge Companion to Music Theory Pedagogy" and the "Indiana Theory Review." She has also presented at numerous national, international, and regional conferences including EuroMAC, the Society for Music Theory's Annual Conference, the annual Pedagogy into Practice conference, Music Theory Midwest, and the New England Conference of Music Theorists' Annual Meeting. Dr. Hamm is also the author of the "Fundamentals" chapters in Open Music Theory, .

At Christopher Newport University, Dr. Hamm teaches music theory, aural skills, 20th-and 21st- century analytical techniques, and counterpoint. Previously she taught at Missouri Western State University and Kenyon College.


Secondary school AP Music Theory instructors face a myriad of challenges. AP Music Theory courses are often overpopulated, grading intensive, and are sometimes occupied by students who have little fluency in music notation. Additionally, such courses are occasionally allotted little or no funding, leaving instructors to grapple with the ethics of illegally photocopying a desk copy of a textbook, or forcing teachers to pay for textbooks creatively, via parent-led non-profit organizations and even with their own personal funds. Although many collegiate institutions choose not to award non-elective credit for AP Music Theory exam results, these courses remain an important tool in developing successful college music students both academically and artistically.

This lightning talk focuses on many of the unique challenges that AP Music Theory instructors are likely to face and gives an overview of how Open Music Theory’s twenty music fundamentals chapters address these needs. Namely, OMT2 addresses instructors’ needs via workbook assignments, interdisciplinary content, and an interactive online format. OMT2’s music fundamentals assignments are designed with simple and clear directions, and are meant to read at a high-school reading level. These assignments are frequently interdisciplinary in nature, helping students forge content and skills connections across various subjects. OMT2 also exploits the interactive potential of clickable webpages. Similarly, multiple short videos designed for high-school and early-college-level students appear throughout the fundamentals chapters. Finally, OMT2 makes extensive use of hyperlinks to open-access resources and assignments.

Not Just a Theory: How to Put an Egalitarian Music Theory Curriculum into Practice

Megan Lavengood (George Mason University)

Megan Lavengood is Assistant Professor and Area Director of Music Theory at George Mason University. Her primarily deals with popular music, timbre, synthesizers, and recording techniques. Her article on the iconic Yamaha DX7 electric piano sound appears in the Journal of Popular Music Studies. Her methodology for timbre analysis is described in a forthcoming article in Music Theory Online. Her current research projects focus on timbre in drum machines and acoustic percussion. As a pedagogue, she focuses on incorporating popular music as a step toward inclusivity of music students from non-traditional backgrounds. She has headed teams that won grants to redesign GMU’s core theory curriculum to be modular instead of sequential and to substantially expand the open educational resource Open Music Theory. She is also an active performer as a soprano in a Renaissance chamber ensemble.


Within the widespread efforts to diversity the topics we teach our undergraduates, one model is a modular curriculum, in which theory courses are designed to be taken in any order, rather than in a strict sequence. Theory instructors generally seem enthusiastic about implementing modular curricula and giving students the option to take unconventional courses as part of their core curriculum, but textbooks continue to cater primarily to a conservative, traditional curriculum. My lightning talk demonstrates how to use the collaboratively authored Open Music Theory as the primary text for modular courses. OMT2 contains six sections that go beyond a traditional curriculum: jazz, pop, 20th-/21st-c., counterpoint, form, and orchestration.

Each of these sections has been authored by a specialist in that area. As OMT2 continues to grow, further sections could easily be added that cater to other unconventional courses. A new potential problem arises with all open educational resources (OER): too much material may make the course material too difficult for an instructor to navigate, especially for adjunct and other under-supported instructors. Fortunately, OER Commons websites (community-based websites like Humanities Commons) provide an ideal platform for creating Instructor’s Guides on using OMT2 for various courses. I will demonstrate how instructors can access OER Commons to find course structures and instructor resources for courses designed to use OMT2 as their primary textbook. I will also instruct session participants in adding their own courses to OMT2’s OER Commons webpage.

Assessing for Retention: Modeling Creative, Multi-Use Quiz Design

Brian Edward Jarvis (University of Texas at El Paso)

Brian Jarvis is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Texas at El Paso. His research interests include issues of phrase structure & form in musical middles; large-scale music analysis in films by Joel & Ethan Coen; static film cues in P.T. Anderson’s large-ensemble films; and using computers pedagogically to build advanced music-related skills.

John Peterson (James Madison University)

John Peterson is Associate Professor of Music Theory at James Madison University. He’s interested in form and phrase structure, music theory pedagogy, musical meaning, and musical theater. He has presented his work at regional and national conferences, and he has published co-authored work with Brian Jarvis in Music Theory Spectrum, the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, and SMT-V.


A strength of online, open-source materials is their ability to be flexibly adapted by users to fit their particular needs. While it is increasingly common for print textbooks to include access to an online companion site, those materials are, understandably, closely aligned with the terminology, progression of topics, and pacing of the book they accompany. Lack of customizability can be a hindrance if an instructor prefers to present content in a different order, as later assessments may require students to know terminology from earlier chapters. OMT2 uses a combination of online quizzing strategies to combine the best of both worlds: alignment and customizability. In this talk, we introduce two categories of quizzes we created for OMT2: (1) in-line chapter comprehension quizzes using H5P—an open-source quizzing platform that we will introduce; and (2) customizable quizzes meant to be deployed through a user’s Learning Management System (i.e., Blackboard, Canvas, etc.). In both cases, we are focused on developing quizzes that can help students practice not only foundational skills, such as spelling triads and key signatures, but also more complex ones, such as hearing hypermeter or analyzing form. In our presentation, we’ll showcase some of the ways in which we’ve used H5P and our LMSs to develop these quizzes that practice these more complex skills, then we’ll work in small groups to brainstorm ways in which we can further leverage the power of these quizzing platforms to create auto-graded practice of advanced concepts for students.

Computational Methods for Augmented Anthologies

Mark Gotham (Cornell University / Universität des Saarlandes)

Mark Gotham is composer and computational music-theorist. He is currently a Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter at the Universität des Saarlandes working on the DFG- funded ‘Computergestützte Analyse harmonischer Strukturen’ project (Kleinertz and Müller, principal investigators), director of a non-profit for widening access to advanced music theory (‘’), and working as part of a team commissioned by Deutsche Telekom to ‘complete’ Beethoven’s 10th symphony using artificial intelligence.

Apart from teaching and research, Mark has also worked as a versatile freelance musician. Performance highlights include conducting principal players of the London Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra in contemporary music projects. Composition highlights include the debut CD of compositions – ‘Utrumne est Ornatum’ – which has attracted 5-star reviews.

Mark holds a PhD in music theory from the University of Cambridge, an MMus in composition from the RNCM, and a BA from the University of Oxford where he graduated at the top of his cohort. Before joining the Universität des Saarlandes, Mark held research and teaching posts at the Royal Academy of Music; University of Cambridge; Royal Holloway, University of London; and at Cornell University.



Access and Outreach



We have striven to make OMT2 a flexible resource, such that teachers and learners in diverse contexts can extract, re-combine, and adapt the constituent parts according to their needs. This modular approach has natural parallels in the computational world’s commitment to “soft-coding”: working with small parts that can be checked, re-ordered, and re-purposed in myriad ways. This session sets out computational methods for “soft-coding” music theoretic ideas and analyses such that they can be retrieved from a database or score directly for pedagogical uses.

We focus here on the example of harmonic analysis. Musicians have produced harmonic analyses manually for hundreds of years and formalized languages like “figured Roman numerals” for organizing and disseminating their ideas. It is a small step from the establishment of such a language to the definition of a formal, computational standard and from there to flexible re-purposing. This session focuses on automatic retrieval from human analyses for producing large anthologies of examples (thus combining traditional human-curation with digital-age scale) and for making more data-driven and verifiable statements about “general” practice in a particular repertoire context.

Participants will be invited to try out user-friendly methods for encoding analyses (no prior experience required) and thus to contribute to a growing corpus of music theory examples by women as part of a project in association with and We conclude with a brief look beyond retrieval to the automatic generation, comparison, and spell-checker-style “marking” of harmonic analysis for any score (