One of the challenges that has always faced Barry Kolman, professor of music at Washington and Lee University, is teaching the fundamentals of music theory to students who know nothing about music and often find it a very dry subject.
His solution? He's written his own book on the subject. "The Language of Music Revealed," Kolman's first book, was published earlier this year by Universal Publishers.
"Quite honestly, music theory can be drier than the Sahara desert," said Kolman. "It's not like music history where you can play a Beethoven symphony, an excerpt from an opera, or jazz and rock and roll. Even with the excitement I try to bring to the class I was finding the subject boring myself."
Six years ago, when Kolman couldn’t find a textbook he liked and that engaged the students, he decided to write the book himself. Initially aimed at his students, he also wanted the volume to be useful to any intelligent reader who wants to learn to read and write music.
"You would be surprised at how many amateur composers there are who like to write songs," he said. "Maybe they can plunk out a melody with one hand on the piano. This book will teach them how to play harmony with their left hand, and which chord goes better with a certain part of the melody and why."
Kolman included a lot of graphics, cartoon characters and a few jokes here and there to guide the reader through music theory. "I introduce a cartoon character to act as a guide, and he appears throughout the book in many manifestations," he said. "Sometimes he's stern, sometimes he's a jokester and sometimes he introduces a brand new concept in an unusual way. But each time he appears, he's really helpful. It's an approach to learning music theory you won’t find anywhere else."
Kolman introduced the book to his Music 100 class last year in manuscript form, receiving positive feedback from the students along with some suggestions that he incorporated into the final version.
Kolman conducts the University-Shenandoah Symphony Orchestra (USSO), along with teaching music fundamentals, introduction to music, applied clarinet, and conducting. He is a frequent guest conductor of orchestras around the world.
He received his B.Mus. in music education from the Crane School of Music, his M. Mus. in clarinet performance from Illinois State University and his Doctor of Arts degree in conducting from the University of Northern Colorado and was awarded the Dean’s Citation for Excellence for his graduate research.
"The Language of Music Revealed" is available at bookstores and online, as well as at W&L's University Store (http://bookstore.wlu.edu).