This paper presents a revised two-semester first-year music theory sequence. Based on challenges of student retention stemming in part from students' lack of engagement with the material, their inability to synthesize conceptual understanding across the discipline, and the spiraling cost of course materials, the presenters designed an innovative, alternative curricular model which reinterprets the priorities of the undergraduate music theory experience. The model reconsiders course outcomes, teaching strategies, and means of assessment.
The presenters found dropping the textbook from the list of required course materials to be a liberating decision pedagogically, and one that promoted student engagement and accelerated academic performance. Without altering conceptual content, faculty revised course learning outcomes based on students' primary object of study -- musical scores -- and in accordance with the expectations of professional discourse which comes with engaging music as educated experts. Instructors assessed students' ability to discuss selections of musical literature in both written and verbal settings, and to perform (sing, count, conduct, etc.) passages relating to the musical-conceptual discussion. Faculty devoted more time to student-centered learning activities and daily assignments imitating real-life scenarios, both of which encouraged students to connect the relevance of music theory to their individual professional pursuits. Initial results from the first attempt at the curriculum seem overwhelmingly positive with faculty colleagues confirming that students communicate at a noticeably higher level and appear to have "crossed the threshold" - taking both concepts and craft discovered and practiced in the theory classroom into their practice rooms, applied studios, and rehearsal halls.