Composition & Music Theory M.A., Ph.D.

Students at meeting.Composition M.A.
Composition Ph.D.
Theory M.A.
Theory Ph.D.
Minor in Theory Pedagogy
Contacts

Composition Studies

The composition faculty teach individual composition lessons at two levels: 025:179 Composition, primarily for undergraduate composition students working toward the Bachelor of Music degree; and 025:223 Advanced Composition, for graduate composers in the M.A. and Ph.D. programs.

Professor Lawrence Fritts directs the Electronic Music Studios, and teaches a two-course sequence in composition with electronic media (25:250 & 251). All composition students participate in a weekly composition seminar (25:156), a forum for occasional guest speakers and for student presentations. Both the student-run Composers Workshop and the Electronic Music Studios present concerts of works by composition students. Composition students and faculty also participate in the Midwest Composers Symposium, which meets annually at one of several member institutions for two days of concerts of music by student composers.

The Center for New Music, directed by Professor David Gompper, presents a number of concerts of contemporary music each semester, often including thesis compositions by student composers. The Henry and Parker Pelzer Prize in Composition is awarded annually to a graduate student in composition who demonstrates substantial creative achievement. See also: Composition Resources

Master of Arts in Composition (M.A.)

Degree Requirements

The M.A. degree in composition requires a minimum of 34 postbaccalaureate semester hours, of which at least 24 must be earned at The University of Iowa.

Specific Admission Requirements
  1. A minimum undergraduate grade point average of 3.0, documented by official copies of transcripts.
  2. Three letters of recommendation.
  3. A current resumé including a list of compositions with instrumentation, performances of compositions, and a summary of composition study listing composition teachers.
  4. In addition to the UI Graduate College application, applicants should submit three scores and if possible CD or cassette recordings of original compositions. (These materials should be sent to the School of Music Academic Office.) Admission to the composition degree program requires a favorable evaluation of the portfolio by the composition faculty, and approval by the Head of the Composition/Theory Area and the Associate Director of Graduate Studies. Students applying for fall admission should submit a complete application by February 1; later applications will be considered if openings remain.
Area Language Requirement

Before admission to the M.A. Final Examination the student must demonstrate ability to read professional literature in either French or German (other languages must be approved by the composition area). The language requirement must be satisfied before the student will be permitted to schedule the M.A. final examination.

Area Keyboard Examination

The student must demonstrate basic keyboard ability in one of two ways: (1) take and pass (with a B or better) the course 025:153 Keyboard Harmony, or (2) take and pass the final examination for 025:153 by arrangement with the organ faculty. The keyboard requirement must be satisfied before the student will be permitted to schedule the M.A. comprehensive examination.

Master of Arts Thesis Composition
  1. The thesis composition must be at least ten minutes in duration and for a medium which demonstrates technical mastery, without exceeding the possibilities of actual performance by School of Music forces. Whenever possible the thesis composition should be tested in a reading session or performance prior to the Final Examination.
  2. Before the end of the second year of residency the student must present a proposal for the thesis composition to the composition faculty. The thesis proposal should
    • Describe the planned composition
    • Nominate a member of the composition faculty holding a regular (tenured/tenure-track) faculty position in the School of Music as the thesis advisor and chair of the thesis committee
    • Nominate two additional composition faculty (regular or visiting) as members of the thesis committee. Approval of the thesis proposal and the nominations of the advisor and thesis committee requires a vote of the composition faculty. The committee membership must be endorsed by the Composition/Theory Area Head, and forwarded to the Associate Director for Graduate Studies.
Master of Arts Final Examination

A written examination, administered in three four-hour sessions, evaluating the student’s mastery of:

  1. Music history and literature of all periods.
  2. Music analysis.
  3. Practical skills in harmony, counterpoint and composition.

The Final Examination committee is distinct from but may have the same members as the thesis committee. The Final Examination committee consists of three faculty members; at least two, including the committee chair, must be from the composition faculty. A visiting faculty member may serve on but may not chair the committee. The final examination committee is nominated by the student in consultation with the thesis advisor, and approval of its membership requires a vote by the composition faculty. The committee membership must be endorsed by the Composition/Theory Area Head, and forwarded to the Associate Director for Graduate Studies.

Doctor of Philosophy in Composition (Ph.D.)

Degree Requirements

Full-time residency is required for two semesters (minimum of 9 s.h. course work), or if the student holds a teaching assistantship of 25% or more, the residency requirement may be fulfilled with three semesters of 6 s.h. course work.

Admission Requirements
  1. A minimum grade point average of 3.0 in previous graduate study, documented by official copies of transcripts.
  2. Three letters of recommendation.
  3. A current resumé, including a list of compositions, performances of compositions, and a summary of composition study listing composition teachers.
  4. In addition to the UI Graduate College application, applicants should submit a portfolio of scores and if possible CD or cassette recordings of original compositions. Admission to the composition degree program requires a favorable evaluation of the portfolio by the composition faculty, and approval by the Head of the Composition/Theory Area and the Associate Director of Graduate Studies. Students applying for fall admission should submit a complete application by February 1; later applications will be considered if openings remain.
Area Keyboard Requirement

The student must demonstrate basic keyboard ability in one of two ways: (1) take and pass (with a B or better) the course 025:153 Keyboard Harmony, or (2) take and pass the final examination for 025:153 by arrangement with the organ faculty.

Ph.D. Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Examination is to be taken not later than the end of the second semester of residency. It is based primarily on a reading and listening list provided the examinee early in the semester in which the examination is to occur. The examination comprises both a written and an oral component. The written component takes place during a single four-hour sitting which is set aside to address questions submitted to the examinee by the examination committee, comprising all available members of the composition faculty. (The committee must have at least three members.) Questions typically deal with analysis, concepts in theory and composition, problems in counterpoint, orchestration and the like. A student who has had the M.A. Final Examination in Composition at the University of Iowa may, at the discretion of the Area faculty, be allowed to substitute that examination for all or part of the written component of the Qualifying Examination. The oral component of the examination normally occurs within two weeks of the written component, allowing time for Area faculty to read and discuss the latter. Oral questioning by the examination committee typically follows up issues in the written examination, as well as probing subjects broadly related to the examinee’s specialization.

A student who does not qualify has the option of being reexamined once, in a complete or partial examination, during the semester, summers excepted, following the first Qualifying Examination.

Area Language Requirement

The student must demonstrate ability to read professional literature in either French or German (other languages must be approved by the composition area). The language requirement must be satisfied by the end of the student’s final semester of course work.

The Comprehensive Examination

The examination is normally taken in the final semester of course work. The examination must be scheduled through the School of Music academic office. The student and academic advisor complete the Doctoral Plan of Study, and the Request for Comprehensive Examination form nominating the examination committee members. The Area Head forwards these to the Associate Director for Graduate Studies for approval and submission to the Graduate College. The examination committee has five members, including at least three members of the Composition faculty, a faculty member from Theory, and a member of another Area (typically music history). The committee is chaired by a tenured member of the Composition faculty.

The Ph.D. Thesis Composition

The Ph.D. Thesis Composition culminates a series of works in varied media and is typically of sizable proportions (at least 15 minutes’ duration) and for a medium which demonstrates technical mastery and professional competence. By the final semester of residency the student must submit to the composition faculty a thesis composition proposal that:

  • Describes the prospective composition
  • Nominates the thesis composition advisor
  • Nominates the Final Examination Committee. The advisor must be a regular member of the composition faculty. The Final Examination Commitee must include at least five members: three from the composition faculty (including the advisor, who is normally a tenured member of the composition faculty), one from another area in the School of Music, and one faculty member from another academic unit in the UI Graduate College. The proposal and nominations of the advisor and committee must be approved by a convened meeting of the Composition/Theory Area faculty, endorsed by the Composition/Theory Area Head, and forwarded to the Associate Director for Graduate Studies of the School of Music.

Whenever possible, the thesis composition should be tested in a reading session or performance prior to the Final Examination.

Music Theory Studies

As a small department within a large School of Music, we offer graduate students the best of both worlds: excellent access to research libraries, stimulating performance opportunities, and ample teaching opportunities, all with a maximum of individualized attention from faculty. 

In addition to advanced studies leading to the M.A. or Ph.D. in music theory, we offer a theory pedagogy minor that prepares graduate students specializing in music performance to teach college-level music theory. Our weekly Colloquium lecture series brings distinguished guest speakers to campus as well as provides a forum for our own faculty and graduate students to share their recent research.

The theory area at The University of Iowa comprises a small group of scholars doing cutting-edge research in areas such as transformational theory, popular music, critical theory, modal theory, and history of theory. Our research expertise spans the Renaissance era through the early 21st century.

Master of Arts in Theory (M.A.)

Degree Requirements

The MA in music theory requires a minimum of 32 post-baccalaureate semester hours, of which at least 24 must be earned at The University of Iowa.

Admission Requirements

Applicants must submit the following items to the Office of Admissions:

  • Application for Graduate Admissions—Items A-C
  • Application for Graduate Admissions—Items G-J (signed and dated)
  • $60 nonrefundable application processing fee (must accompany your application)
  • Official academic records documenting a minimum undergraduate grade point average of 3.0 (4.0).
  • Official TOEFL score report, if applicable

For more information, visit Graduate College Admissions.

Applicants must submit the following items to the School of Music Academic Office:

  • Application for Graduate Admissions—Items A-C
  • Application for Graduate Admission—Items D-F (including your Statement of Purpose—Item E on a separate sheet)
  • Official academic records
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • If applicable, Application for Graduate Awards
  • Two papers demonstrating theoretical training, analytical skills, and focused critical interpretation

Students applying for fall semester admission should submit a complete application by January 15. Late applications will be considered only if openings remain. Applicants are strongly encouraged to contact members of the theory faculty with questions about the program, to discuss the applicant’s interests and prior training, or to arrange meetings and observe classes during a campus visit.

Financial aid for graduate students in theory typically takes the form of a 25% teaching assistantship that involves working ten hours per week in freshman or sophomore theory classes, which meet daily. The duties include grading papers, attending theory lectures, and teaching aural skills and sight-singing to a section of ten to fifteen students twice a week. TAs are automatically eligible for in-state tuition. Non-native speakers of English must be certified for teaching assistantship duties by passing an on-campus English speaking and comprehension test.

Before classes begin in fall semester, the music theory faculty tests the keyboard proficiency of newly appointed TAs. TAs with insufficient keyboard facility for teaching aural skills must enroll in 025:153 Keyboard Harmony. The faculty tests the TAs concerned again at the end of fall semester. Those whose skills remain insufficient will be removed from aural skills teaching duties.

Language Requirements

The student must demonstrate the ability to read pertinent scholarly literature in French or German. (Based on research needs, the student may petition the theory faculty to substitute another language.) This requirement must be fulfilled before the student takes the MA final examination, preferably during the first year of residency. This requirement can be met in one of the following ways:

  1. Completion with a passing grade on the final examination of two semesters of a graduate-level reading course approved by the theory faculty.
  2. Two years of course work in French or German while enrolled as a graduate student.
  3. Written examination administered by the theory faculty. The exam will consist of a short article in the designated language, about which the student will answer a series of questions and of which she or he will translate a short excerpt.
Musicianship Examination

The student must demonstrate basic keyboard sight-reading and sight-singing competence. Musicianship examinations are offered once a semester. The student may take the examination as many times as necessary to pass.

Alternatively, the student may fulfill the keyboard requirement by (1) passing 025:153 Keyboard Harmony with a grade of B or better, or (2) passing the final examination for 025:153 by arrangement with the organ faculty.

M.A. Final Examination

In the fourth semester of study, the student must pass a written final examination evaluating mastery of the following subjects:

  • Analysis of tonal and post-tonal music
  • Theoretical concepts and methodology
  • Music history and literature

The examination will be evaluated by a committee of two members of the theory faculty and one member from another area in the School.

The student must pass the musicianship examination and satisfy the language requirements before taking the MA Final Examination.

M.A. Thesis

The student must submit a thesis that demonstrates thoughtful engagement with the concepts and methodology of music theory and presents original thinking in some recognized field of the discipline.

After passing the final examination, the student shall choose a thesis topic in consultation with a tenured or tenure-track member of the music theory faculty who will serve as supervisor for the thesis. The student must submit a formal proposal including a summary of the proposed research, a review of pertinent literature, an outline, and a bibliography. The student and supervisor shall choose a committee of three faculty members, ordinarily including two from theory and one from another area in the School. The student and the student’s advisor shall complete and submit the Application for Approval of M.A. Thesis Committee & Topic: Academic Areas, together with the thesis proposal to the Area Head for Composition and Music Theory. Once approved by the student’s committee and endorsed by the Area Head, the thesis proposal and application shall be forwarded to the Associate Director for Graduate Studies.

When the student and advisor agree that the thesis is satisfactorily complete, the student shall make a public oral defense of the document before the committee. The defense must be held at least thirty days before the date for the first deposit of the thesis at the Graduate College in the term during which the student wishes to graduate.

Doctor of Philosophy in Theory (Ph.D.)

The Ph.D. in music theory requires a minimum of 72 post-baccalaureate semester hours, and residency at The University of Iowa of two semesters of 9 s.h. without an assistantship, or three semesters of 6 s.h. while holding at least a 25% assistantship.

Admission Requirements

Applicants must submit the following items to the Office of Admissions:

  • Application for Graduate Admissions—Items A-C
  • Application for Graduate Admissions—Items G-J (signed and dated)
  • $60 nonrefundable application processing fee (must accompany your application)
  • Official academic records
  • Official TOEFL score report, if applicable

GRE scores are desirable but not required.

For more information, visit Graduate College Admissions.

Applicants must submit the following items to the School of Music Academic Office:

  • Application for Graduate Admissions—Items A-C
  • Application for Graduate Admission—Items D-F (including your Statement of Purpose—Item E on a separate sheet)
  • Official academic records
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • If applicable, Application for Graduate Awards
  • MA thesis or the equivalent demonstrating theoretical training, analytical skills, and focused critical interpretation

Students applying for fall semester admission should submit a complete application by January 15. Late applications will be considered only if openings remain. Applicants are strongly encouraged to contact members of the theory faculty well in advance of applying with questions about the program, to discuss the applicant’s interests and prior training, or to arrange meetings and observe classes during a campus visit.

Financial aid for graduate students in theory typically takes the form of a 25% teaching assistantship that involves working ten hours per week in freshman or sophomore theory classes, which meet daily. The duties include grading papers, attending theory lectures, and teaching aural skills and sight-singing to a section of ten to fifteen students twice a week. TAs are automatically eligible for in-state tuition. Non-native speakers of English must be certified for teaching assistantship duties by passing an on-campus English speaking and comprehension test.

Before classes begin in fall semester, the music theory faculty tests the keyboard proficiency of newly appointed TAs. TAs with insufficient keyboard facility for teaching aural skills must enroll in 025:153 Keyboard Harmony. The faculty tests the TAs concerned again at the end of fall semester. Those whose skills remain insufficient will be removed from aural skills teaching duties.

Applicants who wish to be nominated for a University of Iowa Presidential Graduate Fellowship must submit all application materials December 1. GRE scores are desirable but not required. For more information about the Presidential Graduate Fellowship Program, visit the Graduate College Fellowship program website.

Language Requirements

The student must demonstrate the ability to read pertinent scholarly literature in French or German and one other language. (Based on research needs, the student may petition the theory faculty to substitute another language for either French or German.) This requirement must be fulfilled before the student takes the comprehensive examination, preferably during the first year of residency. This requirement can be met in one of the following ways:

  1. Completion with a passing grade on the final examination of two semesters of a graduate-level reading course approved by the theory faculty.
  2. Two years of course work in each language while enrolled as a graduate student.
  3. Written examination administered by the theory faculty. The exam will consist of a short article in the designated language, about which the student will answer a series of questions and of which she or he will translate a short excerpt.
Musicianship Examination

The student must demonstrate competence in six areas of practical musicianship:

  • Sight singing
  • Dictation of a chorale
  • Keyboard sight reading
  • Realization of throroughbass OR harmonization of a melody from chord symbols
  • Keyboard sight reading of a string quartet score
  • Reduction at the keyboard of an orchestral score

Musicianship examinations are offered once a semester. The student may take the examination as many times as necessary to pass.

Qualifying Examination

At the end of the second semester of study or the beginning of the third, the student must pass a written examination evaluating foundational theoretical knowledge and analytical skills with regard to a reading and score study list determined by the theory faculty. The examination consists of a four-hour written component and an oral component. A student holding an MA in theory from The University of Iowa may, at the discretion of the theory faculty, be excused from the qualifying examination.

Comprehensive Examination

At the end of the fourth semester of study or the beginning of the fifth, the student must pass a written examination evaluating mastery of the following areas:

  • Analysis of tonal and post-tonal music
  • History of music theory
  • Concepts and methods of music theory
  • Music history and literature

The examination will be evaluated by a committee of five members of the graduate faculty, at least three of whom must be from the theory faculty. The Graduate College requires a member from the relevant department outside the School when a field outside music is included in the examination.

The student must pass the musicianship examination and satisfy the language requirements before taking the comprehensive examination.

Dissertation

The student must submit a dissertation that represents an original contribution to the knowledge of the discipline.

After passing the comprehensive examination, the student shall choose a dissertation topic in consultation with a tenured or tenure-track faculty member who shall serve as supervisor. The student shall submit a formal proposal for the dissertation to the area faculty. The proposal shall include a synopsis of the argument and a prospectus for research to be conducted, a tentative chapter outline, and a bibliography. The student and area faculty will then meet for a presentation and discussion of the proposal. After securing approval of the area faculty, the student and supervisor shall choose a committee of five members of the graduate faculty, at least two of whom must be from the theory faculty. The Graduate College requires a member from a department outside the School.

When the student and supervisor agree that the dissertation is satisfactorily complete, the student shall make a public oral defense of the document before the committee. The defense must be held at least thirty days before the date for the first deposit of the dissertation at the Graduate College in the term during which the student wishes to graduate.

Theory Pedagogy Minor

Any student admitted to a graduate degree program in the School of Music may take this minor by completing the required courses. Students whose results on the theory advisory examination place them in 025:240 Analytical Techniques must complete that course before being admitted to the minor.

Course Requirements (18 s.h.)
  • 25:145 Counterpoint before 1600 OR 25:147 Counterpoint after 1600 (3 s.h.)
  • 025:236 Music Theory Pedagogy (3 s.h.)
  • 025:237 Music Theory Colloquium (two semesters; 0 s.h.)
  • One of these:
    25:247 Post-Tonal Analysis (3 s.h.)
    25:311 Advanced Post-Tonal Theory and Analysis (3 s.h.)
  • One of these:
    25:249 Tonal Analysis (3 s.h.)
    25:312 Advanced Tonal Theory and Analysis (3 s.h.)
  • Six semester hours from these:
    25:241 History of Music Theory I (3 s.h.)
    25:242 History of Music Theory II (3 s.h.)
    25:256 Special Topics in Theory and Analysis (3 s.h.)
    25:311 Advanced Post-Tonal Theory and Analysis (3 s.h.)
    25:312 Advanced Tonal Theory and Analysis (3 s.h.)

Contacts

For more information on the theory and composition area at The University of Iowa, please contact:

Please visit http://academicmusiciowa.com to learn more about our recent scholarly activities, our current students and alumni, colloquium series, and other events.