Music Theory

ESM Theory FacultyMusic theory plays a central role in the education of every Eastman student. The study of theory includes a wide range of subjects, from hands-on training in musical skills to advanced research on musical structure and music’s cultural context. The goal of the Eastman theory department is not only to provide students with a solid technical foundation, but also to encourage their ongoing intellectual engagement with music as an art form.

At the graduate level, the School offers the Master of Arts in Theory Pedagogy, and the Doctor of Philosophy in Theory, achieved after the Master of Arts is awarded upon completion of initial coursework and exams. The curricula for these degrees are designed to promote above all rigorous standards of musicianship and scholarship, including the knowledge to be a productive scholar. Students in the doctoral program complete a core curriculum followed by courses related to their dissertation, including relevant courses at the University’s River Campus, where applicable. Graduate students in the theory department normally teach within the undergraduate core curriculum as part of their graduate award, and this contributes to the outstanding record of placement for Eastman theory PhD alumni. For more information on graduate study at Eastman, including a video that features current doctoral students highlighting their educational experiences at our school, see the Graduate Studies webpage.

Graduate students may choose to work on the production of Intégral, a leading refereed journal devoted to the publication of research on a broad range of musical topics, but with special emphasis on articles that relate theoretical and analytical study to compositional practice and performance. The theory department presents lectures and symposia involving faculty and students, including topics in recent times such as music semiology, sonata forms, and musical space. Many distinguished guests are invited to present their research at Eastman Theory, among whom have been Kofi Agawu, Jean-Jacques Nattiez, Janet Schmalfeldt, Eugene Narmour, Charles Smith and Joseph N. Straus.

Theory contributes to every student who passes through Eastman engaging, as the school’s mission statement says, ‘the fundamental issues of his or her art…to become an effective cultural leader in society.’  In the context of a world-class performing school with many DMA performance students, theory faculty also offer courses for non-theory majors providing an introduction to and consolidation of music-analytical research on tonal and post-tonal repertories.

The theory department offers a wide variety of courses designed to meet the interests and needs of students from their first year through the doctoral level, covering a broad range of Western art music in the context of a school where popular music and world musics are also pursued at undergraduate level and as research. At the undergraduate level, a comprehensive program in theory and musicianship is required of all students. In addition, several specialized and advanced courses are also offered, designed either for composition and theory majors or as electives for students in other areas. Majors in theory include the MA in theory pedagogy, a successful and vibrant program developed in recent years. The heart of our graduate courses is the specialized work of students pursuing advanced studies and research in music theory.

The undergraduate core curriculum is a five-semester sequence. This sequence is divided into two coordinated series of courses, one to develop aural musicianship and another to develop music-analytical and written compositional skills. Placement in theory classes depends upon the ability, background, and individual needs of each student, as determined by written examinations and interviews during orientation.

The Bachelor of Music in Theory offers flexible pathways. Four semester courses (one of which must include counterpoint) beyond the core curriculum are required. Students may select courses within the department, including acoustics, computer applications, music cognition, intermediate or advanced keyboard skills, and independent studies as well as composition, orchestration, and arranging courses offered in other departments. Required courses include comprehension and analysis, and a thesis-writing seminar. The broad spectrum of learning offered in the sciences and arts across the University of Rochester’s undergraduate programs offers a rich resource for our students with many opportunities for electives and dual degrees.