Da Musically Inclined Bomb

DePauw University's First Year Seminar on Writing about Music

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I really am not a fan of textbooks in general, however...

This blog post is one which initially posed more difficulty for me, because the only class I really have a textbook for is Theory. My French History class mostly studies books of texts, or histories, rather than textbooks. By this I mean we mainly study primary documents, and while we also study books by historians, they are more for the historiography aspect – the professor helps us to identify the type of historian writing the book, so that we better understand its bias. Then I remembered we did have one book that seems more “textbook-ish” in its voice, subject matter and – well, it’s part of a series. So, without further ado…

Daily Life in the Age of Charlemagne, by John J. Butt (I kid you not) is one of the required texts for my French History course. Because of its third-person omniscient voice, broad range of subject matter and the fact that it’s part of the “Daily Life…” series, it qualifies as a textbook. Complete with a table of contents, glossary, index, and even a chronology, the book’s reference section still leaves something to be desired. There is a list of sources, under the misleading heading “For Further Reading”, but nowhere can one find direct references in the text to source material (you tell me, Dr. Spiegelberg, is this plagiarism?). Many generalizations are made about life during the period, which leads the critical student to wonder if the author is speculating, or has hard (undocumented) facts about an age that has few primary sources to learn from. The tone of the book, stereotypically dry and unappealing, doesn’t really add to the overall image. The content is good, however, and does cover many important aspects – the church, the economy, the language, the culture, etc. – of Charlemagne’s rule. It also goes into specifics on certain subjects – for example, the development of techniques to create alloys of certain metals used in currency production – that are at once helpful and headache-inducing.

Our Theory textbook, however, is more helpful and generally more appealing. It features chapter by chapter progression from one facet of music to another, an extensive reference section, numerous examples of score material to reinforce written information, and a “Credits” section, linking sources to text, chapter by chapter. Its explanations are, though a tad music-jargon heavy, not unreadable, and generally rather reference-able. “Key Concept” boxes and “Try It” examples increase readability and learning confidence. As much as I dislike textbooks, I must admit that the Theory textbook far outshines my French History one.


At 10/22/2006 10:40 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

I agree our theory books are good at getting out information

At 10/24/2006 10:11 PM, Blogger Scott Spiegelberg said...

Much of the information in a general textbook falls in the category of universal knowledge. It is information that has been said in so many different sources that no one source needs to be cited as a footnote. Sources should still be provided, but in the lists that you mention. It is the same with Roman Numerals in your theory text. While these were first applied to chords by Vogler in the early 19th century, no contemporary text book would cite him or any other source on explaining how Roman Numeral analysis works.


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