Stanford Offers Free Online String Quartet Course

(Photo: Jeffrey Betts, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Jeffrey Betts, Creative Commons)

Stanford University has announced a free online course, currently open for enrollment, which delves into the early evolution of string quartet and classical music.

The class, “Defining the String Quartet: Haydn,” was designed to be of interest to both musicians and those who do not hold any prior musical knowledge.  Participants will explore the origins of the string quartet through the eyes of Joseph Haydn, its first high-profile supporter.

Offered to students to complete at their own pace, the course was co-founded by Stephen Hinton, who is an Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities and professor of music history at Stanford, in addition to members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the ensemble-in-residence at the school.  The quartet has recorded a number of pieces specifically for the course to help illustrate Hinton’s discussions, which take place in the Bing Concert Hall and Studio.

Each member of the quartet is also a faculty member with the school’s Department of Music, teaching students with a variety of backgrounds and interests through seminars, master classes, and interdisciplinary collaborations.

The course includes a total of six lessons that cover two main areas of study.

“In the first part we trace the origins of the medium, which go back to the 17th and early 18th century,”said Hinton, an expert in German classical music. “In the second, we zero in on the history-shaping contributions of Haydn, the acknowledged ‘father of the string quartet.’”

“Haydn’s compositions for the medium of the string quartet helped to establish it as a genre in its own right,” Hinton noted. “They define the formal conventions and aesthetic values that have secured the string quartet a special significance in Western musical culture.”

The idea for the course came from the previously offered class, Quartet Conversations, that had been created for Stanford Continuing Studies students by Hinton and the quartet, in addition to the freshman seminar, The Classical String Quartet, which had been co-taught the quartet and Hinton.

However, teaching online comes as an entirely new experience for musicians and the professors alike.  Hinton said it was completely different than teaching in a classroom, saying a large team of people were involved, which required a high level of coordination. Hinton added that the entire process took the better part of a year to complete.

He went on to say that the online model offered a number of advantages for musical appreciation.  The modules allow participants to focus on singular parts of a course at a time, on their own pace, with the ability to review the material whenever they would like to do so.

A new technology was put to use in the creation of the course as well.  Developed by Craig Sapp at Stanford’s Center for Computer Assisted Research in the Humanities, musical notations light up as they are played, which offers increased comprehension for participants.

Quizzes and exercises developed by Stanford musicology doctoral student Victoria Chang are also used to test comprehension and knowledge as students advance through the course.

Those who successfully complete the course are offered a statement of accomplishment that details their level of participation and achievement marked as either “entry-level” or “advanced.”