A comprehensive program in theory and musicianship contributes to the education of every undergraduate Eastman student, with courses for the well-rounded musician, including analysis, style composition, improvisation, and music making. Graduate students engage in advanced study with a world-class faculty to develop original research and innovative teaching.
Music 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.
The undergraduate core curriculum consists of five sequential semesters of study, with coordinated skill-development in written and aural skills. All students learn to analyze a range of works in diverse styles and compose short compositions in specific styles. Coordinated aural skills classes develop the ability to transcribe music, improvise, and read music of progressive complexity at sight. Students who need to review music fundamentals will take an introductory course in their first semester; those who exempt the review course will have the option to take a topical seminar of their choice as their fifth semester of study. Placement in theory classes depends upon the ability, background, and individual needs of each student, as determined by written examinations and interviews during orientation. A four-semester honors track is also offered for students with appropriate background, and students can audition to major in theory as undergraduates.
The core curriculum is the required program of study for all undergraduates at Eastman. Students pursuing the BM in Music Theory enroll in additional advanced courses, and their studies culminate in a senior thesis project, presented both as a written document and in a public lecture.
The Bachelor of Music Theory is offered to students who successfully interview for admission to the program based on their musical and theoretical skills, and on their potential for music-theoretical research and academic writing. In addition to the core courses required of all Eastman undergraduates, theory majors complete two years of secondary language studies, additional advanced courses in style composition, keyboard skills, and analysis or music cognition, and write a senior thesis under the guidance of a faculty advisor. The thesis research is presented in written form and as a public presentation during the final semester of study.
Students with a strong interest in pursuing a music theory teaching career have two options: the MA in Music Theory Pedagogy or the Advanced Certificate in Music Theory Pedagogy. The latter is pursued concurrently with another Eastman degree (usually MM or DMA), and many of its requirements can be counted toward both programs. Pedagogy study requires strong practical skills in analysis, keyboard, and sight singing. Students will gain practical experience teaching and will study contemporary research in music teaching and learning.
Eastman’s thriving Music Theory community consists of faculty members with expertise in a vast range of music-theoretical topics, as well as a roster of distinguished guest speakers and scholars, and abundant opportunities for interdisciplinary projects: offering students the groundwork to create their own significant original research.
Few theory programs can match Eastman’s scholarly breadth and excellence; fewer still can call a world-class School of Music their home. Because of our strong ties to the performing community, Eastman theorists maintain a vital tradition of practical musicianship. Our students may take lessons and play in ensembles. They cultivate musical skills on par with their scholarly abilities, giving them the confidence and know-how to empower a new generation of rising musicians.
Employers at colleges and universities across the country know that an Eastman degree is a mark of excellence. That’s why our graduates are among the most sought-after candidates on the job market—and why so many of our PhDs find long-term employment in a highly competitive field. Our alumni include many of the field’s most visible scholars, working at a host of major institutions including Yale, CUNY, Cornell, Oberlin, the University of Minnesota, the University of Michigan, the University of North Carolina, and Florida State University. Our PhD has also prepared some graduates for work in allied fields, such as software engineering.
No matter what you choose as a major, Music Theory will play a central role in your Eastman education. The goal of Eastman’s 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.
We invite you to explore our many programs and courses here, and hope to welcome you to Eastman one day!
Bachelors of Music Degree (BM)
This major is for students who have reached an advanced level of aural and written theory skills. First-year admission is rare; it is more common for a student with another major, such as applied music, to add the theory major after completing the core theory curriculum at an advanced level.
Applicants must submit a written paper with their application forms by the application deadline. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the applicant’s writing ability. This paper need not be on a musical topic. (Note that this is not a prescreening requirement; all applicants to this program will be scheduled for an audition/interview.)
Undergraduate theory applicants will be interviewed by the theory faculty. Interviews are not conducted at regional audition centers; all theory applicants must audition and interview in Rochester.
On the same day the applicant interviews in Rochester, he or she will also be scheduled for an audition on his or her applied instrument or voice.
A small fund is available to provide free individual tutoring for undergraduates who are identified by their instructor as needing special support in aural and written theory classes in the core curriculum or who have a documented learning disability. Only students registered for a core theory course and in good standing with respect to attendance and participation may apply for this tutoring, which may be initiated by speaking with the course instructor. The department normally allocates tutoring based on the student’s work around the third week of the semester. This assessment is revisited after the midterm examination, at which time tutoring may be discontinued, or new students added to the program. Students recommended for tutoring sign a contract outlining the expectations for participation; failure to attend a session without notifying the tutor in advance may result in discontinuation.
Master and Doctoral Degrees
Graduate study in music theory at Eastman provides students with a solid technical foundation, and also encourages their ongoing intellectual engagement with music as an art form. The department maintains the highest academic standards based on clear aims and learning outcomes at all levels, and on significance, originality and rigor in the research outputs of graduate students.
Applicants for graduate study in music theory must have an undergraduate degree in any area of music study, with significant coursework in the area of music theory beyond the core (advanced analysis, counterpoint, and/or composition). Prospective students are required to submit GRE scores and two research papers on music theory, preferably analytical in nature. Based on these materials, a limited number of candidates will be invited to interview for admission.
Interviews have three parts: a discussion of the student’s research interests, a musical skills assessment (keyboard and sight singing), and at-sight music analysis. To prepare for the interview, students are advised to familiarize themselves with Eastman’s faculty and offerings and to practice their skills: sight-singing diatonic and chromatic melodies, playing at sight and realizing figured bass at the keyboard, and talking through the form and harmonic motion of unfamiliar compositions.
The Theory Department offers a number of summer courses every year, ranging from MM and DMA requirements to special-topics courses, including online-only courses.
Initiatives and Events
Members of the Eastman Music Theory faculty acknowledge the need to address the issue of antiracism in all our work, be it teaching, research, or service.
The general consensus among music theorists is that it was unacceptable for the Journal of Schenkerian Studies Vol. 12 (2019) to publish an anonymous piece; that Prof. Ewell should have been given a right to reply to all the responses to his position; and that those responses should have been based on his written views rather than a verbal presentation. The Eastman Music Theory Department endorses that consensus.
Moving forward, we commit to open dialog between our graduate students and faculty about the content of our curriculum, with the objective of fostering what the Eastman School of Music terms an inclusive environment.
Music, science, and engineering play pivotal roles in the University of Rochester and in the broader Rochester community. The Music and Sound Initiative serves as a focal point for enhancing and expanding research programs that span these disciplines. It welcomes new participants and encourages students who wish to engage in interdisciplinary study in these or related disciplines to contact us.
Due to generous faculty and alumni donations to a new fund in support of student research, applications are invited from music theory students for grants to support specific research projects. Grants will typically be made in amounts of $300 or less.
E-mail Department Chair for more information on how to apply.
Faculty and students from Eastman and a consortium of other institutions in the region meet four times per year to hear speakers from around the world and to present our own research.
The Theory Department gathers weekly for a Colloquium series that features guest lecturers, professional development sessions, and presentations by our own faculty and students. Guest lecturers in recent years have included David Huron, Philip Ewell, Joseph Straus, Mark Spicer, Ellie Hisama, Robert Hatten, Jocelyn Neal, Daniel Harrison, Yayoi Uno Everett, Michael Klein, Danny Jenkins, and John Roeder.
eTheory is the Eastman School of Music’s innovative online course, which prepares entering first-years for theory placement exams. The course can also be used by non-Eastman students for an introduction to theory fundamentals, including intervals, counterpoint, chords and figured bass, and phrase models. The online course includes over 200 sets of writing, playing, listening, singing, and conducting exercises, and provides immediate feedback on all new concepts. The course was designed by Professor Steven Laitz and a team of professionals at the Eastman School of Music’s Institute for Music Leadership.
Join hundreds of students who have successfully prepared for graduate level theory courses and placement exams by studying music theory with Eastman School of Music’s fully-integrated graduate theory review course. This self-directed course allows you to work at your own pace, monitoring your own progress, with a musically immersive interface that’ll have you singing, playing, and listening throughout.
A scholarly, peer-reviewed journal refereed by its professional editorial board. Published since 1987, the journal pursues an implicit mandate to explore and exploit the increasing pluralism of the music-theoretic field. It is published annually by the graduate students in music theory at the Eastman School of Music.