Towards an Antiracist Music Theory Curriculum:
Lessons (and Warnings) from the UK's "Set Work" Approach

Rachel Gain, University of North Texas

In this paper, I adapt the "set work" approach of the UK's GCSE and GCE A Level music curricula to provide a framework for a non-tokenistic, antiracist music theory curriculum for North American undergraduates. This method teaches theoretical concepts through the in-depth study of a small corpus of carefully-selected musical works ("set works") covering a broad range of musical styles, including popular and non-Western genres. Each work is analyzed according to multiple parameters including melody, rhythm, and texture using style-appropriate terminology. The traditional scaffolding of concepts is replaced with a scaffolding of depth, in which students initially gain a surface-level understanding of concepts and repertoires -- including those typically reserved for upper level courses -- then later revisit these in further detail. My approach attempts to decenter and deneutralize whiteness, the canon, and the primacy of harmony, tonality, and form, and enable students' critical analytical engagement with multiple musical features and traditions.