CMS Study on Undergrad Music Major Curriculum – Highlights I

The College Music Society (CMS), under the leadership of President Patricia Shehan Campbell recently issued a “Report of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Music Major” (TFUMM): “Transforming Music Study from its Foundations: A Manifesto for Progressive Change in the Undergraduate Preparation of Music Majors.”

We all should read the entire document, but it’s too long to be quoted here. Following are some key sentences that caught my eye:

The task force convened to consider “what it means to be an educated musician in the 21st Century.”

Despite repeated calls for change to assure the relevance of curricular content and skill development to music outside the academy, the academy has remained isolated, resistant to change, and too frequently regressive rather than progressive in its approach to undergraduate education.


…Without such fundamental change, traditional music departments, schools, and conservatories may face declining enrollments as sophisticated high school students seek music career development outside the often rarefied environments and curricula that have been characteristic since music first became a major in America’s colleges and universities.

…three key pillars necessary to ensure the relevance, quality, and rigor of the undergraduate music curriculum. The three pillars are creativity, diversity, and integration. TFUMM takes the position that improvisation and composition provide a stronger basis for educating musicians today than the prevailing model of training performers in the interpretation of older works.

Such an approach will inevitably engage students more fully with the world in which they live and will work professionally. Concurrently, this approach will fulfill the aims of the second pillar of our recommended curriculum: the need for students to engage with music of diverse cultures and the ways in which creative expression, including movement, underlie music across the globe.

In contrast to appeals for curricular change that are largely at the surface level, TFUMM, following a year and a half of consultation, has concluded that fundamental overhaul of university-level music study is necessary if we are to bridge the divide between academic music study and the musical world into which our students and the students of future years will graduate. TFUMM views the following considerations as central: (1) the essential purpose of music study; (2) the nature of foundational musical experiences and understandings; and (3) the content and delivery of a relevant yet rigorous curriculum that prepares students for musical engagement and leadership in an age of unprecedented excitement and avenues for growth. TFUMM believes that nothing short of rebuilding the conventional model from its foundations will suffice for such leadership preparation.