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Bamberger, Jeanne, 21M.113 Developing Musical Structures, Fall 2002. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare),  (Accessed 09 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

21M.113 Developing Musical Structures

Fall 2002

Screen shot of the interface of Impromptu software displaying the theme to The Lone Ranger.
Screen shot of the interface of Impromptu software displaying the theme to "The Lone Ranger." (Image © Oxford University Press.)

Course Highlights

This course features projects which are completed using the computer music authoring environment Impromptu.  An open-source version of Impromptu is available in the tools section of this site. Listen to the theme from "The Lone Ranger" as played on Impromptu. (0.4 kb MIDI file - can be played using QuickTime free version).

Course Description

The goal of this class is practical: to interrogate, make explicit, and thus to develop the powerful musical intuitions that are at work as you make sense of the music all around you. Reflecting, we will ask how this knowledge develops in ordinary and extraordinary ways.


Syllabus (PDF)

"When we go about the spontaneous, intuitive performance of the actions of everyday life, we show ourselves to be knowledgeable in a special way. Often we cannot say what it is that we know. When we try to describe it we find ourselves at a loss, or we produce descriptions that are obviously inappropriate. Our knowing is ordinarily tacit, implicit in our patterns of action and in our feel for the stuff with which we are dealing. It seems right to say that our knowledge is in our action."
Don Schön: The Reflective Practitioner

"The secret of what anything means to us depends on how we've connected it to all the other things we know. That's why it's almost always wrong to seek the "real meaning" of anything. A thing with just one meaning has scarcely any meaning at all.

Rich meaning-networks, however, give you many different ways to go: if you can't solve a problem one way, you can try another. True, too many indiscriminate connections will turn your mind to mush. But well-connected meaning structures let you turn ideas around in your mind, to consider alternatives and envision things from many perspectives until you find one that works. And that's what we mean by thinking!"
Marvin Minsky: Society of Mind

Bamberger, J. Developing Musical Intuitions. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. (DMI)

Bamberger, J. The Mind Behind the Musical Ear. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995. (MBME)

The goal of this class is practical: to interrogate, make explicit, and thus to develop the powerful musical intuitions that are at work as you make sense of the music all around you.

The title of the course is intended as a three-way pun. Developing Musical Structures means:

  • your own musical compositions as developing, emergent structures.
  • complex musical compositions developing, evolving, becoming, structuring over time.
  • mental musical structures developing and learning as they guide musical intuitions.

These developing musical structures will be pursued through four kinds of activities. While the primary focus may be on only one activity at any given moment, the others will always be hovering nearby:

To carry out this agenda, you will be involved in four closely interrelated activities and the questions they will raise. The process is modeled (as much as possible) on the kind of learning that occurs quite naturally in informal settings through observation, questioning, practicing and experimenting, probing for and trying to account for how and why an object, a system, or a living organism behaves as it does.

  1. Experiments in musical composition:
    Composition projects facilitated by the computer music environment, Impromptu, will be a source for interrogating your own musical intuitions. You will explore rhythmic structuring, melodic structuring, scales, intervals, harmony, structural hierarchy, and developmental transformations. Students’ compositions will be discussed and performed in class.
  2. Alternative approaches to musical analysis:
    Differing approaches to analysis of complex musical works will be considered and actively tested.
    • What are musical objects of attention? How can you tell?
    • What features and relations shape the boundaries of musical entities? How are these influenced by context?
    • How can we account for why people hear "the same" piece differently?
    • How does analysis influence "hearings?"
    • Is there such a thing as an "appropriate hearing" of a given composition?
  3. Musical cognition and development:
    What does music cognition research tell us -- for instance:
    • How does musical intuition/knowledge develop and change?
    • Does musical development relate to development in other fields?
    • Is there a "musical intelligence?"
    • What musical parameters are given preference at differing stages of musical development and in differing styles of music?
    • How do the above concerns interact with/influence musical?
  4. Representation:
    Notations, graphics, computer languages and procedural descriptions:
    • What kinds of entities and relations does each capture?
    • How does each reveal or conceal, what we hear -- even what we believe to exist as musical objects?
    • Why do descriptions (notations, analytic categories) often obscure what is intuitively heard and how we intuitively perform?
    • What are the differences between "units of perception" and "units of description?"

The semester culminates in a final project. Students may choose one of three types, a combination thereof, or propose an original design:

  • An experimental research project (cognition, perception, meaning-making)
  • A musical analysis project
  • A performance and analysis of a composition
The Final Project
The Final Project will bring together all the other activities in the course. The project should be chosen early on in the semester with its evolution an essential part of the work. For instance:

If you choose an experimental research project, your questions and your methodology should be developed by mid-term leaving time to carry out the project during the second part of the semester.

If you choose to analyze and compare recorded performances of a piece, the piece should be chosen early in the semester, so that you can trace the development of questions that arise.

For students who choose to study and perform a piece, the piece you choose (in consultation with the instructor) should be one that you find interesting and challenging, and one that is sufficiently complex so as to require thoughtful analysis. Keeping a log of your progress in learning your piece, you will note the problems and puzzles you confront as you go along, how they are resolved, new insights that occur along the way, and how your "hearing" of the piece changes. This log together with an analysis of the piece will be the bases for your final paper.

Log Keeping
Throughout the semester you will be reminded to keep a running log of your work. It’s purpose is to help you reflect on your work -- for instance, to interrogate your decision-making in composing or re-composing, to pay attention to surprises, to question and try to account for your responses.

Looking for patterns and generalizations as derived from observing the results of your work is particularly important when going on to the listening examples. For instance, paying attention to commonly recurring organizing patterns, you will begin to notice that larger and more complex works are elaborations of the same structural aspects you have found in the simple tunes you have been working with.



Bamberger. Developing Musical Intuitions. (DMI)

Bamberger. The Mind Behind the Musical Ear. (MBME)



Introduction to DMI and Introduction to Part I.

Pp. 35-51

To do:
Projects 1.1 & 1.2 (Pp. 7-34)

Paper 1 -- Projects 1.1 & 1.2
Paper Due: Class #2 of Week 2


Weeks 1-2
Melodic Structure

Week 1:

Class #1:
Introduction to Impromptu

Class #2:
Introduction to composing your own tunes
Shared musical structures

Week 2:

Reading: Basics1

Class #1:
Listening examples
Discussion of Basics1

Class #2:
Discussion and performance of student tunes
Due Today: Paper 1


Weeks 3-5
Rhythmic Structure
Simples: Beat, Metric Hierarchies


Introduction to Part II of DMI.
MBME: Pp. 24-44 -- In Class #2 of Week 5

To do: Projects 2.1 & 2.2 (Pp. 67-98)
In Class #2 of Week 4

Listening: Pp. 64-66

Week 3:

Class #1:

Class #2:
Continued discussion and performance of student tunes
Introduction to rhythmic structure
Introduction to Drummer

Week 4:

Basics 2: In Class#1 of Week 5
Hasty. Meter as Rhythm. (Pp. 1-13) (Handout)
Discussion in Class #2 of Week 5

Class #1:
The metric hierarchy; figural and metric structures.

Bhimpalasi & Hindemith: Beat and non-beat
Lanner & Sousa--triple and duple meter

Class #2:
Performance and discussion of percussion pieces
Due Today: Project 2.1 and 2.2

Week 5:

Class #1:
Performance and discussion of percussion pieces (cont.)
Rhythm notations: similarities and differences

Class #2:
Discussion of Hasty
Inventing rhythm notations (MBME -- pp. 24-44)
Multiple meanings of "fast" and "slow"

Weeks 6-7

Rhythm 2


To do:
Project 2.3 (Pp. 99-100; 118-122)

Paper Due: Class #2 of Week 7

Listening (Pp. 109-118; 123-129)

Week 6:

Class #1:

Class #2:
Making and playing percussion accompaniments
Introduction to rhythmic conflict
Listening: 109-118

Week 7:

Class #1:
Rhythmic complexity;
Listening: pp. 123-129

Class #2:
Discussion and performance of student pieces.
Due Today: Paper 2


Weeks 8-10
Pitch Relations


Introduction to Part III of DMI (Pp 136-143)

To do:
Project 3.1
Discussion in Class #2 of Week #8

Week 8:

Class #1:
Introduction to Intervals and structure of scales.

Class #2:
Tonic function and 1->5->1.
Project 3.1 in Class Today

Week 9:

Some Basics 3: pp. 200-211

Reading and doing:
Project 3.2
Due in Class #2 of Week #10

Class #1:
Analysis of Examples 3.1-3.5 and the pervasiveness of 1->5->1: pp. 187-199.

Class #2:
Discussion of final projects

Week 10:

Class #1:

Class #2:
Review of Basics 3 and Projects 3.1 and 3.2.
Quiz: Scales, keys, key signatures, circle of fifths, etc.


Weeks 11-13
Making Music Out of Theory


Introduction to Part 4: p. 213

Reading and doing:
Project 4.1 pp. 214-219

To do:
Project 4.2

Paper 3: Due Class #1 of Week #12

Week 11:

Class #1:
Listening and analysis of large-scale compositions
Beethoven Quartet Op. 59 #2
Discussion of final projects

Class #2:
Discussion of Project 4.1 pieces
Discussion of final projects

Week 12:

Class #1:
Discussion and performance of Project 4.2 pieces
Due Today: Paper 3

Class #2:

Weeks 13-14:

Class #1 - Class #2:
Final projects   Tell A Friend