Selected music resources

The list covers (mostly English-language and mostly freely accessible) resources that I have found instrumental and that I hope may prove to be useful for other adult students of music.

  • Petrucci Music Library — huge archives of public domain scores and books on music
    • Music theory — public domain books, a lot of, in English, French, German and whatever languages


A very basic and accessible class covering major scale, major and minor triads, minor pentatonic scale, major and dominant seventh chords, and simple song form in 6 weeks. You compose and play or sing a blues riff as your final project. Twenty hours of fun and uncontaminated joy. Great personality of the professor. The course is very balanced and highly recommended for absolute beginners as well as for aspirant musicians.

  • Fundamentals of Music Theory with Drs Michael Edwards, Zack Moir, Richard Worth, Nikki Moran, John Philip Kitchen, The University of Edinburgh

Perhaps the most problematic and controversial MOOC of all that I ever took. The strong aspects of the class are Dr Zack Moir’s personal enthusiasm and eagerness to monitor discussions and to promptly provide extra material, the quality of discussions, and the quality of the quizzes. More problematic are terseness and quality of the lectures, varying from mediocre to excellent (I would single out Dr John Kitchen as a superb lecturer),  substantial gaps between the content of the lectures and quizzes, and somewhat overcomplicated and controversial end-of-course exam.

While the course is far from inaccessible by novices, the latter are advised to double the upper bracket of the estimated workload (of 1 to 3 hours per week) and to provide themselves with good textbooks on elementary music theory and on rudiments of tonal harmony to close the gaps. It is not necessary to buy an expensive modern textbook; the course goes not beyond Viennese classic harmony, so browse available public domain books (e.g. from Petrucci's, see above) first.

There is an instructive and funny review of the course by another adult student, Mandy Harding.

The first MOOC on (classical) composition. Six weeks of lectures on chords and their voicing, basic harmony progressions, voice leading, texture, creating accompaniment, textural reduction, sequential progressions, non-chord tones, diatonic chord substitution, cadences, parallel period form, melodic writing techniques, chromatic substitution, 2-voice counterpoint, elaborating progressions, Alberti bass, rounded binary form. A twenty-thirty-bar AABA composition as a final project.

What I liked the best were lectures with practical demonstration of certain things: how to turn four-part harmony into three-voice clavier, for example, or how to apply rhythmic patterns to bass and melody and so on. Unlike more theoretical stuff concerning voice leading and characteristic progressions, these things are harder to discover in the books or to learn by one’s own without a teacher.

The worst thing about the course has been the apparent lack of consideration to our progress on the part of its authors. Never in my a dozen or so of completed MOOCs (at Coursera and with other venues) I observed so many questions unanswered by the staff.

Lecture notes for the class are available here. I also produced a version in Russian.

A short introductory class on Western common-practice musical literature. For me, “closer listening” sections were most important (and I would appreciate them extended) but contextual information is also helpful and interesting, and I see there are students with different preferences, so the lectures are well balanced after all.

The content and material have been carefully chosen and well prepared, and both Prof. Coopersmith and Prof. Ludwig are excellent lecturers. Some decisions made were really bold, like the survey of W.-European musical history without lectures dedicated to Liszt and Wagner, or to Chopin, or to Stravinsky. Including such difficult pieces as Bach’s Chaconne or Beethoven’s Grand Fugue was also controversial... but well, it seemed to work for the audience after all! The George Crumb’s work became a revelation to me; it seems his may be a pretty accessible piece.

I find all the performances by Curtis Performs (I watched all the material from the class and several other pieces) ranking from very good to excellent in quality. I would single out the record of Shoenberg’s Pierrot by Anna Davidson. Interviews with Arnold Steinhardt and George Crumb are two gems decorating the class and providing some food for further thought.

What I disliked are: DRM on Curtis Performs material, deficient procedure for peer-reviewing and rather slack (as against other music classes on the Coursera) activity on the forums.

Another, not so short, introduction to classical Western music with another really great professor. The class included, I believe, 20+ hours of lectures. Not so easy as it might seem, with its no-nonsense one-attempt-only quizzes.

There is an earlier Prof Wright's course on the same topic at Open Yale: Listening to Music. This course has a companion book, and the companion book—a companion site. For each lecture, the corresponding chapters are mentioned. You may take automated listening exercises to the chapters at the book's companion site even without buying the book (this may be not obvious, as not obvious is that you need no account with the site to access listening exercises, as against having access to teacher's resources there).

And yet another introduction to (mostly) classical Western music.

There are eight weekly modules in the class. The first two deals with rudiment of music design: notions of beat, rhythm, meter, and tempo; melody; harmony and tonality; dynamics and articulation, texture; form; and instruments. The rest cover music periods from early music to modern.

Special attention is paid to interrelation between music and visual arts, and a lot of material on modern American compositors (Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, John Cage, and William Grant Still) is included.

Each module includes some one to one and a half hours of video materials, links to external recordings of the works analyzed and to additional reading materials, and an extensive quiz.

The class, as its title suggests, specifically focuses on Beethoven's Ninth and covers historical, social, and proper musical (composition and performance) dimensions of the opus. A compact but not-so-easy course. Some rudiments of musical ear are required as well as attentiveness to the content delivered.

Erudite and charming professor, clear picture of development of the group through the years. Musical content of the classes was mostly restricted to issues of form. Having taken the course, you will never confuse AABA with Verse-Chorus song.

While there are montblancs of Beatle-related stuff both off- and on-line, the two great resources on The Beatles are:

    • (non-free) Walter Everett. The Beatles as Musicians (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, 2001).
    • Alan W. Pollack‘s Notes on... series.

Rudiments of musical acoustics. Physical model of sound, anatomy and physiology of human ear, harmonics/overtones, math of basic rhythms, math of intervals and chords. Building a home-made musical instruments as a class project. All in six weeks with several hours of weekly workload.

Requirements mostly restricted to high school math, but elements of calculus would be instrumental for deeper understanding of Fourier series. Some very basic handicraft skills are presumed to complete the project.

A very interesting approach of teaching following parts in scores without even fully understanding notes. Very useful. One vice of the class is abundance of data in proprietary formats, but all the data have been promptly duplicated by the personnel.

A five-week class on biological mechanisms of perception of speech and music by humans. The topics include sound signals and sound stimuli and their perception with the human auditory system, differences and likelihood in the perception of vocalization and vocal tones in speech and of music, biological interpretation of scales, and the impact of cultural differences onto music.

The course is rather a prolonged description of the research field than a proper part of general education. Its real subject is certain topics in biology, not music. Only a number of facts discussed may be of interest for most music student, and these are contained in any decent introductory textbook of music anyhow.

A pure misapprehension it was. The course involved many interesting conceptions (like how modern conceptions of civil society differ from Hegel’s) and discussions of many really worthy persons (like Pablo Casals, Bronisław Huberman, or Ai Weiwei) but did not pertain music as such.

Piano courses

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