Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Lynne Orr


A state college in the mid-Atlantic United States requires a music theory course for 4 of its undergraduate music programs. In the 6 years prior to this study, students had difficulty with the course, with many failing or withdrawing. Tinto's theory of student retention served as the foundation of the conceptual framework for this study, the purpose of which was to identify challenges to successfully completing the course. This purpose was reflected in the study's driving research question focused on students' experiences regarding challenges to success. In this instrumental case study, 12 students and 2 instructors participated in individual interviews, and 7 students participated in a focus group. Initial coding was used for the 1st-cycle coding phase. Axial coding was used for the 2nd cycle. Seven themes emerged through an iterative categorization protocol: 3 student-related themes, 3 college-related themes, and 1 theme relating to solutions for overcoming challenges to success in Music Theory I. Although data indicated that students experienced diverse challenges to success, the need for additional help was most evident. Thus, a logical project for this study was a music theory lab designed using best practices for course redesign and adult learning found in the literature and developed to support student learning of the concepts presented in Music Theory I. This study may contribute to positive social change by providing an opportunity for students at the college to receive academic support structured to meet their learning needs and improve their performance in Music Theory I, which may prevent students from withdrawing from or failing the course.