Fundamentals of Music Theory

A few days ago I received a Statement of Accomplishment from Coursera for successfully completing the University of Edinburgh’s online offering of the Fundamentals of Music Theory class. Don’t get too excited. While it was a demanding course, my completion was based on getting perfect scores on the five quizzes I took after viewing videos, studying supplemental information, etc.

Again, settle down. The quizzes were multiple choice (mostly), and I was allowed to take each quiz up to five times. I have a Ph.D. and taught college for many years, so, believe me, I know how to take tests.

I had the option of skipping the final exam, and I did. No matter how badly I bombed, my total score was high enough to get me the coveted certificate. Still, I decided, after looking at the final, it was beyond my limited understanding of music theory. In addition, I would have been required to grade three of my fellow classmates’ finals, and I did not want to inflict my “grading” on anyone.

Yes, the final was ridiculous, but I had a blast taking the course and heartily recommend it (or any other Coursera class) to everyone. And I’m not saying this so you too can experience the mental anguish and lost days.

How did I end up taking the class? Some time ago, I hurt my left wrist while repeatedly trying to keep four fingers on four consecutive frets. My stubby, little fingers will never be able to do this, but I stubbornly and stupidly insisted until I developed De Quervain’s tendinosis. It’s a common malady for guitarists and, and oddly enough, middle-aged women. It caused significant pain and made guitar-playing particularly painful, especially when playing power chords.

I used ice, ibuprofen, and a Mueller wrist brace and even stopped playing guitar for about a month, hoping the injury would heal. During the time I put away the guitar, I played around with an old Casio keyboard, and then my friend Drue mentioned an online course she was taking. Intrigued, I scanned the courses and signed up for Fundamentals Of Music Theory.

If you are not familiar with Coursera, it’s a wonderful organization that offers free college-level online courses from many colleges and universities. My Music Theory instructors were professors who taught at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The main instructor was Zack Moir, and he was excellent. Everything you’d want in a teacher.

Some of my classmates (more than 80,000 students signed up for the course) whined and complained (no different from any regular college class) about the difficulty of the course and the instructors. I took many classes as a student and had good and bad teachers. It’s part of the educational experience, and I’ve learned something from everyone who’s taught me. Some more than others, but I’m grateful to everyone who tried.

The course was one of the most challenging courses I’ve ever taken. I would put it up there with a graduate level statistics course I took at Georgia State University in the 1980s. I have been wanting to go outside my comfort zone, and this course was that. Unlike many courses I’ve taken, I had to work very hard in the class.

But I’m thrilled I took it and have signed up for two classes that will start in October: Introduction to Guitar and Developing Your Musicianship.

I’m excited. I think my wrist has healed enough to get real deep into guitar again.

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2 Responses to Fundamentals of Music Theory

  1. Lynn, what a great way to review a very challenging class! I’m up for getting outside of comfort zone as well, but I think going to the Music Theory length would be stretching that zone way far! Still, winter is coming and I think that doing something new in the learning department is a great idea. Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. Lynn Kear says:

    Thanks, Rose. There were times when I probably took the course way too serious, but, overall, I’m glad I took it. I definitely know more now than when I took it, and I’m even thinking of taking it a second time if/when it’s offered.

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