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Theory Curriculum

About The Special Music School Theory Program

Download the Special Music School Theory Curriculum

The Music Theory Program at Kaufman Center’s Special Music School provides a comprehensive theoretical and experiential music education that coordinates with the students' twice-weekly private instrumental lessons. Components of classical conservatory music theory, solfège and ear training are integrated with Dalcroze eurhythmics, improvisation, composition and exposure to repertory in all grades, K through 8.

The philosophy of the Swiss musician and educator Emile-Jaques Dalcroze, and his approach to music education, inform the curriculum at all grade levels. Students explore rhythmic and tonal concepts in movement, and realize them fully in the study of vocal and instrumental literature. Many musicianship skills are developed through game play and quick reaction exercises, and almost every classroom lesson includes improvisation. Rhythm is studied in depth as a multi-dimensional and vitally expressive component of musical performance.

Within this framework, there is a difference in emphasis between grades K-4 and grades 5-8. In grades K-4 the focus is on a developmentally appropriate, experiential approach to music theory fundamentals. The curriculum introduces a wide spectrum of fundamental concepts in Kindergarten, and in a “spiraling” way returns to them each year with a more advanced approach appropriate to the students’ age. In these early grades, many musical skills and concepts are developed from the students’ experiential work with songs and longer pieces.

Starting in Kindergarten, students learn "fixed-do" solfège and a language of rhythm “syllables” specific to the School. Grades K-4 meet twice a week: once at desks, in the classroom, and once in a larger room more appropriate for movement. Students in grades 5-8 follow a more linear path of learning, assembling over four years a basic set of theory concepts comparable to that of a first-year college theory class. (Students in the 8th grade are given the option of taking the Advanced Placement Test in Music Theory).

Designed so that the students' musical understanding will follow the advanced pace of their instrumental studies, the 5-8 curriculum is punctuated by several large-scale composition and theory-based performance projects. Classes in these grades meet three times a week. One of those classes is a “lab” focused on performance skills. “Lab” skills include graded sight-singing and dictation, as well as a variety of performance tasks reinforcing the theory concepts currently being studied. Grades 6-8 have a separate weekly class in Music History. In the spring of every year, all students in grades 3 and up participate in a school-wide “Solfège Olympics” in which they showcase ensemble music that they have studied in class and learned to sing using solfège syllables.

Though the emphasis of the Special Music School is the study of classical music, students are exposed to contemporary music and music from other genres, in addition to works from the classical “canon.” Folk music of various traditions permeates the early years, and older students are encouraged to "cross over" in their composition projects, incorporating the styles and practices of other music they enjoy.

Throughout the program, each grade is kept together for theory classes; the students are not separated by instrument, length of time in the school, or performance on theory tests and evaluations. With the only criterion for admission to the Special Music School being musical talent, this creates a classroom of students with a large variety of learning styles, capacities and interests.

At Kaufman Center's Special Music School, we believe that playing music without an understanding of music theory is akin to speaking the lines of a play without understanding their meaning. We believe that all of our students possess the ability, through music theory study, to deepen their skills as performing musicians and their creativity as composers.

Find out more about Kaufman Center’s Special Music School.

Download the Special Music School Theory Curriculum


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