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Blog 244

Blog 244

A Moodle course project: teaching music theory online

By Diane Kolin


My field is music. When one think of music, images of performers, concert places, in-person bands and orchestras, come to mind. But there are activities that can be studied in writing, in books, or online. Some of these consist of learning music theory. During the 2022 BOLD Institute online training, I took some pleasure to imagine an online course on some music theory called Counterpoint. Before digging more, here are some definitions and concepts, so that you can understand what will follow.

According to the Grove Music Online, counterpoint is a “combination of simultaneously sounding musical lines according to a system of rules” (GMO, 2001).  These sets of rules are called “species” and are used for music composition. We talk about first species counterpoint, second species, etc. It always involves a fixed melody, or Cantus Firmus in Latin, and a combination of notes following one of the species rules, either above the melody (in the higher or “melodic” range), or below it (in the lower or “bass” range).

The objective of the BOLD institute is to imagine an online course using several techniques that we can integrate to a Moodle platform, accessed through eclass. Step by step, we think of an online course idea by describing it with words, then we divide it into several section, then we create several types of contents; finally, we publish our mock course in a sandbox, and we present it to the classmates.

How do we apply counterpoint to an online learning environment? This is what we will see together in this article. It might inspire you to find a good online teaching subject if you want to take the course. I recommend it, I learned a lot and had fun discussing options and problems with the instructors and the other students. It is always helpful to brainstorm with others.

Online course content

If I had to teach this course for a full term, I would have created sections for all five species of counterpoint, but for the mock course I created a section for first species, and an almost empty section for second species as a placeholder. The parts following the first species will be built on the same model.

The first step is to define sections and sub-sections. Here are those I chose for this course:

1. General

    1.1 Course Announcements

    1.2 Welcome to this course

2. First Species Counterpoint for two voices

    2.1 What to expect from this course?

    2.2 Introductory video to First species counterpoint

    2.3 First species CP for two voices - Rules and examples

    2.4 Discuss with your peers

    2.5 Rules for First species CP for two voices

    2.6 After completing your activities

3. Second species Counterpoint (empty, created for test)

    3.1 Complete activity

4. Let's wrap it up

    4.1 Give us your feedback

General section of the course

[Image caption: Overview of the full mock course on eclass]


In this section, I offer a forum for course announcement that will be used during the full course, and a “Welcome” section to give the overview of the content, the rules, and a welcome message.

Clickable links to the general sub-sections

General: Course Announcements

This section could be used by the course director to announce topics related to the course, and by the students to ask questions. It is always useful to have a section where an interaction between instructors and students is possible.

Two examples of forum posts entitled “Any questions? Ask them here” and “Course announcement”

General: Welcome to this course

Along with the welcome message, this section could contain extra resources such as a link to York’s Land Acknowledgement, the course syllabus, something about Academic Honesty and Integrity, about Student Accessibility Services, about the Writing Centre, and any other link that might be useful to the students. I add information on the “Mark as done” buttons that can be found in several sections. Depending on the template used, the feature might works differently, but this feature can help students and instructors to track progress in the course.

Welcome message and useful instructions

First Species Counterpoint for two voices

Step one: Before starting

An introduction and content specifically prepared for First Species Counterpoint are added here. Since I don’t have a lot to say, I added an illustration that represents this section. Don’t forget the accessibility features: each image should contain an alternative text and/or an image description or caption.

An illustration for First species counterpoint composition

Step one: Before starting: What to expect from this course?

This section explains what can be found and what to do in this module. It does not to be very dense, but it allows to give some principles and tell the students what they should expect.

A list of items and topics that can be found in the First Species Counterpoint section

Step two: Introduction content

Two sub-sections are available in this section that introduces concepts and examples of First species counterpoint.

Clickable links to the introduction content sub-sections

Step two: Introduction content: Introductory video to First species counterpoint

I have to admit that this is the part that took the longest, but also the one for which I had the most fun: I learned how to create an interactive video in H5P format. I created an introduction video for students to watch, with a link to the video transcript, some definitions, questions, quizzes, and an evaluation at the end. Unfortunately, this technology does not seem to be supported in the recent version of Moodle. To give you an idea, I took several screenshots. It first requires recording a full video without interactions, but you should already know what interaction you want to integrate when you record your video. Then, using an H5P software editor (I used Lumi), I added the interactive elements, exported my final H5P video, and inserted it to my course. The video consisted of an introduction of First species counterpoint, giving origins, definitions, explaining the rules, and giving examples.

What this section looks like:

Introductory video to First species counterpoint section, with explanation and interactive video

Several screenshots of the video:

Title and link to the transcript
Highlighting and displaying important information
Displaying references
Cover page of the first complete theory book for counterpoint
A quiz for the students, asking: “What are the five species?” next opening a window allowing students to choose within the multiple-choice options

Step two: Introduction content: First species CP for two voices - Rules and examples

Now it is time to listen to some examples and apply theory to practice. This page gives several examples to listen to and shows how it transcribes to a music score. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, it shows the difference between a melody above and below the fixed melody (Cantus Firmus). At the end of the listening exercise, I give another audio example and ask the students to use the forum to discuss it (see next sub-section). The students must answer the following question: “What do you think is incorrect in each of these examples? Use the Forum to discuss the examples with your peers.”

Note that there is a typo in my mock course: it is written “foices” instead of “voices.” Sorry for that.

Audio and score excerpts to illustrate First species counterpoint above and below the Cantus Firmus

Step three: Discuss counterpoint with your peers

One sub-section is available in this section that allows students to comment the previous exercise.

Clickable link to the discussion sub-section

Step three: Discuss counterpoint with your peers: Discuss with your peers

Discussion forum for the students to answer the question in the listening section: “Did you listen to the examples in the introduction? What feedback do you think Salieri gave Schubert? Yes, even famous composers like Franz Schubert were first students before

becoming great composers and musicians. We all learn! And we all make mistakes. But then we learn from our mistakes. Now it is your turn to be the teacher. What is wrong in Schubert's compositions?”

Empty forum, waiting for the students’ answers

Step four: Submit CP assignment

One sub-section is available in this section that allows students to submit their First species counterpoint assignment.

Clickable link to the assignment submission sub-section

Step four: Submit CP assignment: Rules for First species CP for two voices

In this section, students have to submit their assignment: “Please list at least three rules for first species CP and give the definition of a step, a skip and a leap. Provide the Roman numeral value for the first and last chord.” The answers to these questions are in the introductory video.

The submission form comes with instructions and deadline

Step five: Progression follow-up

One sub-section is available in this section that allows students to mark the section as complete.

Clickable link to the completion sub-section

Step five: Progression follow-up: After completing your activities

Instruction to mark the section as complete: “Once you have completed each activity, you can mark this section as done. Click on the "Mark as done" button to mark the section as complete.”

The “Mark as done” button allows the students and the instructors to track the completion of sections of the course

[Insert image 2-5-1-First species counterpoint-Follow-up-1.png]

Second species Counterpoint (empty, created for test)

One sub-section is available in this section, but it would normally contain the same model as the First species counterpoint: course about Second species counterpoint composition, musical examples, forum discussion, assignment, mark as done.

Clickable link to the activity

Second species Counterpoint (empty, created for test): Complete activity

As a placeholder, I have included a mock activity. This can be marked as complete on the same page, which of course would not be the case if there was a full activity to complete. I would have separated the submission and the “Mark as done” button.

There could be more than one activity to complete in this section

Let's wrap it up

One sub-section is available in this section that allows students to fill a feedback form.

Clickable link to the feedback form

Let's wrap it up: Give us your feedback

I think it is important to allow the students to provide feedback: what they thought about the course, the content, the quality of the teaching, the assignments, and what could be improved.

The button opens a feedback form


As mentioned earlier, I have appreciated all the steps of creating this online course. Although I will probably never teach it in this format, it made me think of the way I could apply what I have acquired to other topics, or even how it could help my activities outside the academic world. The process of thinking of the structure and the content, and finding or creating all the elements you consider useful for the students, requires all our organization skills. We also learn to deal with new technology and new techniques that could be integrated to our teaching. I am sure I will reuse some of these in my future courses. Enjoy your learning, and feel free to reach out if you have any question or feedback after reading this article.

About the Author

Diane Kolin is a PhD candidate in Musicology in the music department, School of Arts, Media, Performance, and Design. Her diverse research interests include Critical Disability Studies, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Franz Liszt, and her dissertation focuses on professional musicians, composers, and music specialists with disabilities. Between her duties as editor in chief of the Journal of the French Beethoven Society, Diane frequently writes about Liszt and Beethoven in peer reviewed journals. The study of Beethoven’s deafness and Diane’s personal history led to her research in disability and music. Her collaborations with disabled musicians in the professional musical world allow her to expose new ideas on making music more accessible to a broader audience. Diane is also a voice teacher and a singer who advocates for more accessibility in orchestras, choirs, and music education.