Course Syllabus

Introduction to Music (MUS 3)
UC Irvine, Summer Session 2, 2020
Michael Dessen
Teaching Assistants: Alex Lough, Niloufar Shiri, Adib Ghorbani

Course description and learning goals

Welcome! This course will introduce you to new perspectives on music through lectures, readings, videos, writing assignments, and sound collage assignments. We'll explore technical aspects of musical craft as well as broader cultural questions, drawing on diverse examples from Western and non-Western traditions, both ancient and contemporary. The course is designed around four, interrelated learning goals:

Understanding fundamental music terms and concepts
What does it mean to say that a piece of music is in a key? What is meter? Do tuning systems vary across cultures? We'll explore a variety of music concepts from both Western and non-Western music traditions, not only defining terms, but also asking what they reveal about our experience of music.

Thinking and writing critically about music's relationship to culture
Through diverse case studies, you will gain practice analyzing music's relationship to society. Topics might include the use of music in treating dementia patients, intercultural collaboration through music, music as a form of political protest, the economics of streaming, and debates about authorship and intellectual property, as well as studies of specific musical works and artists.

Listening closely to music, with attention on subtle details
Many of us are surrounded by music throughout the day, but rarely listen to a piece of music with the singular concentration we might bring to reading a novel, or to having an important conversation. This course will give you  opportunities to practice focused listening, improving your awareness of sonic details in both familiar and unfamiliar music genres.

Acquiring basic digital audio skills, and using them to create original work
A series of sound collage assignments will introduce basic concepts in digital audio and music production, giving you hands-on experience working with sound in time and increasing your awareness of the craft of composing. No prior musical experience is required, and most of these assignments give you freedom to make many of your own choices, while also including constraints and suggestions to help guide you.

Types of coursework

Assigned lectures, readings, and videos are the core of each unit, so you should set aside time each week for focusing careful attention on them. In rare cases, you may need to pay a small fee to stream a film, but almost all materials will be made available for free, and there is no textbook.

Quizzes will cover the assigned lectures/reading/videos, so you should only take the quiz after completing them. Quizzes do not require memorizing minor, obscure details, but do require fully completing all of the assigned lectures/reading/videos from that week's Module.

Writing Assignments address different topics each week, and your submissions are typically two or three paragraphs in length. You will also complete two peer reviews for each writing assignment.

Sound Collage Assignments with digital audio software require no previous music training, and will introduce you in a hands-on way to working with sound in time. We will use a free, cross-platform software program called Soundtrap, and starting with the second one, Sound Collage Assignments will also include peer reviews.


Quizzes are multiple choice, and are graded automatically by Canvas.

Writing Assignments and Sound Collage Assignments are graded as Complete/Incomplete. If you submit an assignment by the deadline, but it does not fully meet the assignment criteria, the TA will assign it a grade of Incomplete and indicate how you can improve your work. You can then submit a revised version (see deadline schedule below), in order to receive a Complete grade.

Your course grade is determined as follows:

  • Writing Assignments: 40% (6 total, lowest grade dropped)
  • Quizzes: 40%
  • Sound Collages Assignments: 20% (6 total, lowest grade dropped)
  • Peer reviews: See note below for details on penalties and extra credits on course grade

Number to letter grade conversion follows the EEE/Canvas default grading scheme.

Peer reviews

(Note: This section was updated at the end of week 2; see the related announcement for more detail.) At the time of the due date for a Writing Assignment or Sound Collage Assignment, assuming you have submitted the assignment, Canvas will assign you 2 peer reviews (links to submissions by 2 other students). You can find those links listed on the specific page for that assignment (i.e. the page where you read the instructions and submitted the work).

For the peer reviews, you should leave a paragraph in response to your peers' submissions, in the "comment" box on the students' assignment page. You do not need to evaluate whether their work meets the assignment criteria, which is the job of the TAs. Instead, you should share what you found interesting in their work, or any other questions or viewpoints they might consider. We expect you to carefully review their work and leave a thoughtful response of a few sentences.

Your peer review activity will be tracked over the quarter. If you fail to submit adequate peer reviews for the Writing Assignments or Sound Collage Assignment (meaning 5 total of each, since the lowest grade in each category is dropped), or if your peer reviews are consistently only a few words ("Great work!") instead of a thoughtful response of a few sentences, you will be penalized up to 2% on your final course grade.

Weekly deadline schedule

Because this course is fully online with no required synchronous meetings, it demands a high level of organization and careful time management. Each of the five weekly Modules will open on Monday morning (or sooner), and work must be submitted by two weekly deadlines (8/15 update: Note that peer review deadlines are now extended to a later date each week):

  • Due 5pm Friday (starting in week 1):
    • Quiz
    • Writing Assignments (including revisions from previous week, if needed)
    • Peer reviews for the previous week's Writing Assignment
  • Due 5pm Tuesday (starting in week 2):
    • Sound Collage Assignments (including revisions from previous week, if needed)
    • Peer reviews for the previous week's Sound Collage
    • Note: The final Sound Collage Assignment 5 will have a slightly quicker revision deadline

Late policies

Late Quizzes will be penalized by 10% per day late. Canvas adds these penalties automatically based on the submission time.

Writing Assignments and Sound Collages must be submitted on time and no late submissions will be accepted. As stated above, the lowest grade in each of these 2 categories will be dropped. That policy is intended to cover one-time errors missing the deadline, minor illnesses not requiring doctor visits, or similar issues.

In cases of severe illness or genuine emergencies that might justify an extension, you must contact the instructor with an explanation, and you must be able to provide documentation. Please note that it is also your responsibility to have a reliable internet connection at the time needed to submit assignments and take quizzes. You will not be allowed an extension due to a failed internet connection at the last minute.

Getting help

If you have any trouble with the course, it is important to seek help as early as possible. A good place to ask a question is in the pinned Discussion topic "Ask general course questions here!" If you need to send messages to the TAs or the instructor, please send a message through Canvas and write in complete sentences. If you have a question about a specific assignment grade, you can start by sending a message to the TA who graded it.

Academic Integrity

All your work for this course must be entirely your own, and must conform to UCI's policies on academic integrity, which are explained at You may not collaborate with others on any assignments (Quizzes, Writing Assignments or Sound Collage Assignments). Violations of these or any other academic integrity policy will affect your grade and will also be reported. It is extremely important that you carefully review UCI's policies and procedures on academic integrity and understand the nature and consequences of academic integrity violations.

Disability Services

If you have a disability that affects your performance in this course and requires special arrangements, you must document it through UCI's Disabilities Services Center and ensure they send me your contract to the instructor at the beginning of the quarter. You should also contact me in the first week of the course, to make sure we are in communication about any necessary arrangements.