Course Syllabus

Introduction to Music

UC Irvine, Summer Session 2, 2021
Michael Dessen (contact via Canvas message)
Teaching Assistants: Adib Ghorbani, Tomoko Ozawa, Chris Hadley, Isaac Hayes, Hesam Abedini (contact via Canvas message)

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 typically 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. Most Sound Collage Assignments will also include peer reviews.

Course format and engagement

This course is fully online. You will view instructor lectures and other materials, complete assignments, and engage with other students asynchronously in Canvas, and you are not required to attend synchronous meetings. However, the TAs will hold weekly Zoom drop-in office hours. Zoom links and day/times for those office hours will be listed on this page once the course starts.

It is also important that you set up your Canvas Notifications so that you receive both Messages and Announcements quickly, because these two Canvas tools will be used to communicate important information.

Weekly deadlines

This course demands a high level of organization and careful time management. Each of the five weekly Modules will open by Monday morning or sooner, and you must submit the work by by two weekly deadlines:

  • 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 an earlier revision deadline
  • When grades are typically released: WA scores are usually released sometime on Tuesday, so that you have from then until 5pm Friday to complete a WA revision if needed. SC scores are usually released on Friday evening, so that you from then until 5pm Tuesday to complete a SC revision if needed. Quiz scores are usually released on Tuesdays.


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

Writing Assignments and Sound Collage Assignments are graded as Complete/Incomplete. If you submit a complete version of an assignment by the deadline, but it does not fully meet the criteria listed in the assignment instructions, you will be able to submit a revision (details below).

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 are a required part of all the WAs and most SCs, but they are not reflected in your WA/SC assignment grade. Instead, if you fail to submit them, your course grade will be lowered at the end of the quarter by up to a maximum of 10% total (details below).

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

About Revisions

Why they are allowed: Revisions give you an opportunity to improve the quality of your work and learning, in response to feedback from the TA or instructor. Both writing about music (WA assignments) and creating collages with sounds (SC assignments) are often new experiences for students, and we include the revision option so that students who are fully engaging with the assignment are not penalized due to lack of experience.

When they are allowed: If you submit the initial assignment in complete form by the initial due date, you will be allowed to submit a revision. If your initial submission does not reflect a full engagement with the assignment, then you will not be allowed to submit a revision, and your assignment will be graded Incomplete. This would happen, for example, if you submit just one or two sentences for a WA assignment that asked for a thoughtful, 2 paragraph response.

How to submit them: If you receive a grade of Incomplete on an SC or WA, start by going to the assignment page (where you submitted the work) and reading the TA’s comments, so that you know what needs to be addressed. If you have questions about their comments, it is better to message them directly (using the Canvas Inbox) rather than use the comment box on the assignment page. When you have completed your revised work, you must submit it the same way as the initial one, by uploading it as an assignment submission on the assignment page. (Canvas will keep both versions and make the difference clear to us.) Do not submit your revised work in the “comments” field; if you do this, it may not be graded. For Sound Collage assignment revisions, you should upload new versions of both the audio and text file, unless one of them did not need to be changed at all, in which case you can indicate that to the TA in a comment.

When to expect the revised grade: The TAs will typically grade assignment revisions after the revision deadline for that assignment has passed. If you do not see a revised grade within one week after that date (which is typically 2 weeks after the initial assignment deadline), then you can message the TA to ask about it.

Peer review details

Finding them: At the time of the due date for a Writing Assignment or Sound Collage Assignment, if you have submitted the assignment, Canvas will automatically assign you 2 peer reviews, by providing links to submissions by 2 other students. If you did not submit the assignment by the deadline, you are still required to do the peer reviews, but in this case they will be manually assigned to you within the 24 hours following the assignment deadline. In either case, you can always find links to your assigned peer reviews listed on the assignment page (that is, the page where you read the instructions and submitted the assignment).

Doing them: To complete the peer reviews, you should leave a paragraph in response to your peers' submissions, using 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. You will not receive credit for a short response such as "Great job."

Impact on your grade: Peer reviews are a required part of all WA and most SC assignments but they are not included in the assignment grade itself. Instead, your peer reviews are tracked over the entire course and your overall course grade will be lowered at the end of the quarter if you do not complete them. If you fail to submit adequate peer reviews for the Writing Assignments or Sound Collage Assignment, 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 a maximum of 5% per category on your final course grade. For example, if you don't turn in any peer reviews all quarter in either category, your final course grade would be lowered by 10%.

Late policies

Please note that it is your responsibility to have a reliable internet connection at the time needed to submit assignments and take quizzes. You will not be given an extension due to a failed internet connection at the last minute.

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

For Writing Assignments and Sound Collages, no late submissions will be accepted but the lowest grade in each of these 2 categories will be dropped. You are strongly urged not to use this policy to simply skip an assignment, because it is intended to allow for assignments missed due to minor illnesses or one-time errors. Exceptions to these policies will only be made for severe illness or genuine emergencies, in which case you should contact the instructor as soon as possible and be prepared to provide documentation.

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 should start by sending a message to the TA who graded it. For general help and questions, you can also drop in on the instructor or TA Zoom office hours described above, which can be found under the Zoom menu in Canvas.

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.