Music Theory

Degrees Offered:

Bachelor of Arts/Science (B.A./B.S.) *Not currently offered

Please note: The theory and history options within the music major are under review and may be changed.  During this time, we are not admitting new students to these options.  Current School of Music students who officially declared one of these options by Spring 2012 will be able to complete the current program.

Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science Degree

Admission Requirements

Please see information on the School of Music Application Process.

For admission, you will audition on your major instrument or voice for the appropriate faculty. The performance audition is for admission into the School of Music, not into the performance studio. (Private lessons are not required for the theory, history or composition major and would be available only if space would permit.) Please visit Areas of Study for audition requirements for your instrument or voice.

Official acceptance into the Theory program will be determined after completion of one year of music theory and a written petition to the Music Theory Area.

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Admission requirements

Please see information on the School of Music Application Process

  • Writing sample(s): Music Theory candidates will submit one or more papers for review by the area faculty; at least one of the papers should have a significant music-historical, analytical, or theoretical component. The faculty will be looking to assess the quality of the applicant’s prose, whether the applicant has some awareness of the literature (usually through references to journal articles or other published writing), musical sophistication, an ability to articulate and sustain an argument, and a sense of musical and intellectual adventure.
  • GRE scores: There is no minimum score for admission, but your GRE scores will be assessed holistically as a basic component of your application file. Please send your GRE scores to UW-Madison via ETS (school code 1846).

Degree Requirements

The M.A. in music theory is a two-year program that culminates in a thesis on a topic of the student’s choosing.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Admission Requirements

Please see information on the School of Music Application Process

  • Writing sample(s): Music Theory candidates will submit one or more papers for review by the area faculty; at least one of the papers should have a significant music-historical, analytical, or theoretical component. The faculty will be looking to assess the quality of the applicant’s prose, whether the applicant has some awareness of the literature (usually through references to journal articles or other published writing), musical sophistication, an ability to articulate and sustain an argument, and a sense of musical and intellectual adventure.
  • GRE scores: There is no minimum score for admission, but your GRE scores will be assessed holistically as a basic component of your application file. Please send your GRE scores to UW-Madison via ETS (school code 1846).

Degree Requirements

Course requirements for the Ph.D. in music theory include seven seminars and a four-course minor in a cognate discipline related to the dissertation. In addition to the dissertation, doctoral students in music theory must demonstrate proficiency in two foreign languages, write comprehensive examinations on completion of the coursework, and present a public lecture on their dissertation research.

Doctoral Minor – Required for all Doctoral programs

The purpose of the doctoral minor is to add breadth and depth to the D.M.A or Ph.D degree. To insure coherence a minor program must be approved by the appropriate department, a student’s advisor, or the Director of Graduate Studies, and must include courses at the 300-level or above. Typically, a minor requires 12 credits of work.

Students have a variety of options, including completing an internal minor within the School of Music (e.g., a D.M.A. conducting student who minors in ethnomusicology or a Ph.D. in music theory who minors in clarinet performance), completing a minor in a department outside the School of Music (e.g., a D.M.A. in horn performance who minors in Women’s Studies or a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology who minors in East Asian studies).

Students may, in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, devise a distributed minor that brings together courses from a variety of departments around a particular topic or area of interest. For example, a D.M.A. student in voice devises a minor in vocal health that includes courses in communicative disorders, or a Ph.D. student in musicology devises a minor in Medieval History that includes courses in art history, history, and languages.

ABOUT THE PROGRAM

By design, our graduate program is small, matriculating at most two or three masters and doctoral students each year. Our small numbers make for a high degree of interaction between faculty and graduate students, who also work with us as teaching assistants in the undergraduate curriculum. The course requirements for both the MA and PHD are flexible and loosely drawn, allowing graduate students to tailor the degree to their own musical and intellectual interests. Although there is a core curriculum for both degrees — two semesters of the history of music theory, one semester of Schenker, and one semester of post-tonal music theory — students are encouraged to take seminars and classes with our ethno/musicological colleagues, and in other departments, in effect giving them leave to construct their own curricula. Our seminars are determined by the interests of both faculty and students, and in recent years have included such topics as the role of diagrams in music theory, Debussy and Bergson, recent developments electroacoustic and computer music, the string quartets of Bartok, and the writings of David Lewin. We also offer instruction on a collaborative basis, allowing students to focus even more intensively on their own musical and music-theoretical interests. What holds the graduate curriculum together is a strong cultural and critical focus, an interest in situating both music and thought about it among the various historical and discursive practices in which it is embedded.

In all of these courses, one of our main concerns is to help our graduate students to develop as writers. In the masters program, the emphasis is on writing papers students will submit in support of applications to PHD programs, either here or elsewhere. In the PHD program, the emphasis is on nurturing the skills needed to research and write a dissertation. In both curricula, however, the principal question is the same: What does it mean to write creatively and engagingly about music?