Document Type

Conference Proceeding


New Zealand Music Industry Centre


Faculty of Education and Arts


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) / Music Research Group




Paget, J. R., & Smith, S. J. (2013). Keys from the past: Unlocking the power of eighteenth-century contrapuntal pedagogies. Proceedings of New Zealand Musicological Society and the Musicological Society of Australia Joint Conference (pp. 18-30). University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. New Zealand Music Industry Centre. Availableonline here


How did eighteenth-century musicians learn to compose, and how were they able to produce musical works with such comparative ease and fluency? What were the strategies at play that enabled even the most workman-like of composers to produce vast amounts of competent music, and how was it possible for almost any professional keyboard player to improvise a passable fugue? It is only recently that scholars have sought the answers to such questions. Groundbreaking work by Gjerdigen (1988; 2007a), Porter (2000; 2002), Renwick (1995), and others, provides a fascinating glimpse of the working methods of eighteenth-century musicians, and also offers implications for contemporary music theory teaching. Historically, training musicians in the art of composition has been one of theory’s primary goals, and it could be argued that the ability to replicate a musical style is a true litmus test of deep understanding. Theory instruction in Australia, however, often falls short in this regard, confining itself instead to drilling rudiments, basic voice-leading tasks, and superficial analysis such as labeling chords. This paper aims to show how theory teaching can be reenvisioned to include style composition as a pedagogically powerful and rewarding activity. It also highlights the key usefulness of eighteenth-century pedagogies in unlocking windows into the common-practice idiom.

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