Earn your PhD in Composition

The composition faculty teach individual composition lessons at two levels: undergraduate composition for students working toward the Bachelor of Music degree and graduate composition for composers in the MA and PhD programs.

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.

Professor Jean-Francois Charles directs the Electronic Music Studios, and teaches a two-course sequence in composition with electronic media (MUS:4250 and MUS:4251). All composition students participate in a weekly composition seminar (MUS:3230), 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.

How to apply to the program

Specific 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
  5. Applicants must submit a portfolio of three scores and recordings (mp3/wav/aiff) of original compositions; materials should be sent directly to David Gompper.

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 Director of Graduate Studies. Students applying for fall admission must submit a complete application by the application deadline; later applications will be considered if openings remain.

View full requirements and apply

Requirements and program planning

This information is intended to assist in your course planning but is not intended to serve as an official guide to graduation requirements. To confirm progress toward graduation, you should consult your advisor.

Download course checklist

Course offerings

  • Introduction to Graduate Study in Music (MUS:5300), 2 semester hours

Review of Undergraduate Theory (MUS:5200): Required of all graduate students who do not pass the advisory examination in music theory. It must be taken before completing 9 semester hours from the following list of theory courses. This course does not count toward graduate degree requirements.

Students exempt from MUS:5200 through the advisory examination in music theory must complete 9 semester hours from the following:

  • Counterpoint Before 1600 (MUS:4200), 3 semester hours
  • Counterpoint After 1600 (MUS:4201), 3 semester hours
  • Jazz Theory (MUS:4730), 3 semester hours
  • Tonal Analysis (MUS:5235), 3 semester hours
  • Non-Tonal Analysis (MUS:5236), 3 semester hours
  • Analysis of Popular Music (MUS:5237), 3 semester hours
  • Special Topics in Theory and Analysis (MUS:5240), 3 semester hours
  • History of Ideas in Music (MUS:6210), 3 semester hours
  • Theoretical Approaches to Music (MUS:6211), 3 semester hours
  • Theory Pedagogy (MUS:6215), 3 semester hours
  • Advanced Tonal Theory and Analysis (MUS:6250), 3 semester hours
  • Advanced Non-Tonal Theory and Analysis (MUS:6251), 3 semester hours
  • Advanced Theory and Analysis of Popular Music (MUS:6252), 3 semester hours

Only one 4000-level course (taken at the University of Iowa or equivalent transferred in from another institution) may count toward the 9 semester hours required. Up to 6 semester hours can be counted from the master's degree, upon written approval of the Director for Graduate Studies.

Select from the music history courses in the following list:

  • Music and Gender (MUS:4320), 3 semester hours
  • Medieval and Renaissance Music (MUS:4325), 3 semester hours
  • Baroque Music (MUS:4330), 3 semester hours
  • 18th-Century Music (MUS:4335), 3 semester hours
  • 19th-Century Music (MUS:4340), 3 semester hours
  • 20th-Century Music (MUS:4345), 3 semester hours
  • Advanced Jazz History (MUS:4350), 3 semester hours
  • American Music (MUS:4355), 3 semester hours
  • Jazz Matters (MUS:4360), 3 semester hours
  • Studies in Film and Music (MUS:4610), 3 semester hours
  • Teaching Music, History, and Culture (MUS:6305), 3 semester hours
  • Topics in Musicology (MUS:6310), 3 semester hours
  • Historical Approaches to Music (MUS:6312), 3 semester hours
  • Topics in Ethnomusicology (MUS:6314), 3 semester hours
  • Foundations of Ethnomusicology (MUS:6315), 3 semester hours
  • Renaissance Music Notations (MUS:6326), 3 semester hours
  • Music Editing (MUS:6375), 3 semester hours

  • Advanced Composition (MUS:5220), 2 semester hours
    • Note: Four semesters required
  • Seminar in Composition (MUS:3230), 1 semester hour
    • Note: Four semesters required
  • One of these:
    • Composition: Electronic Media I (MUS:4250), 3 semester hours
    • Electronic Music Production (MUS:5820), 3 semester hours
  • One of these:
    • Composition: Electronic Media II (MUS:4251), 3 semester hours
    • Interactive Music (MUS:5800)
  • Counterpoint Before 1600 (MUS:4200), 3 semester hours
  • Orchestration (MUS:4220), 3 semester hours
  • Composition PhD Thesis (MUS:7960), 1 to 4 semester hours

Choose 6 semester hours from the following:

  • LOUi: Laptop Orchestra (MUS:3190:002), 1 semester hour
    • Note: Repeatable course
  • Spectral Nature of Sound (MUS:3280), 3 semester hours
  • Creating New Musical Instruments (MUS:3285), 3 semester hours
  • Counterpoint After 1600 (MUS:4201), 3 semester hours
  • Advanced Non-Tonal Theory and Analysis (MUS:6251), 3 semester hours

French, German or Italian proficiency (other languages must be approved by the composition area) or the substitution of relevant computer programming language proficiency. Students can satisfy the proficiency requirement in one of the following ways:

  • Completion of the fourth semester of the language at the undergraduate level with at least a grade of B, within the last 10 years.
  • Testing out of the fourth semester of the language at the University of Iowa. Placement exams in French, German, and Italian are offered each semester by the UI Examination Service, 300 Jefferson Building.
  • Written examination administered by the composition 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.
  • Two semesters of one or more programming languages with a grade of B or above.
  • A research project that employs one or more programming languages (C, Java, Pure Data, MAX, Csound, or SuperCollider, etc.) that produces compositionally, musically, or pedagogically useful source material. Students wishing to pursue such a project should discuss their ideas with their professor and the area head. The project is submitted as a short, written document with relevant examples.

Demonstrate basic keyboard ability in one of two ways:

  • Take and pass Keyboard Harmony (MUS:4210) with a B or better
  • Take and pass the final examination for MUS:4210, by arrangement with the organ faculty

Each student is required to sit for this exam no later than the end of the first year of study (end of the second semester). Its purpose is to test foundational knowledge of the western classical repertoire in three areas:

  • Listening
  • Score identification
  • Theoretical knowledge

The exam has two components:

  1. 4-hour written portion
  2. 1-hour viva voce a week later, where the student meets with the faculty of the composition/theory area to review answers.

If the student fails, they can retake the exam no later than the end of the following semester. If they fail a second time, they are no longer considered a candidate for the PhD degree and must leave the program. If the student fails any portion of the exam, they must retake that section by the beginning of the following semester.

In order to prepare for this exam, the student is asked to generate a list of ten compositions that covers the breadth and depth of the western classical repertoire, starting with early medieval forms (Machaut) and running through the mid-twentieth century (mid-1950s, post WW2). The student must seek approval of their list by the faculty of the composition area early in the semester, because the purpose is to become acquainted so well with these works that they should be able to answer any question regarding form and content.

Two hours will be given over to analytical questions based on these 10 pieces. The exam also includes a listening portion of 10 compositions, where any work of the standard western classical repertoire would be played (1-minute on/1-minute off) in a “drop-the-needle” format. The student must identify composer, title, and date of composition. Finally, the exam includes a score ID, where 10 works are chosen and the student must identify composer, title, and date of composition based on a single sheet from within the piece.

Create your academic path

You'll find degree overviews, requirements, course lists, academic plans, and more to help you plan your education and explore your possibilities.

View General Catalog

Current course list

The MyUI Schedule displays registered courses for a particular session and is available to enrolled students. The list view includes course instructors, time and location, and features to drop courses or change sections.

View Current Courses

Add a minor

Any student admitted to a graduate degree program in the School of Music may add a theory pedagogy minor by completing the required courses.

Composition faculty

Joshua Albrecht

Joshua Albrecht

Music Theory
Assistant Professor
Portrait of Matthew Arndt

Matthew Arndt

Music Theory
Associate Professor
Portrait of Jean-François Charles

Jean-François Charles

Composition, Digital Arts
Associate Professor
Composition/Music Theory Area Head
Portrait of David Gompper

David Gompper

Director of Center for New Music
Interim Director of Orchestras
Kati Meyer

Kati Meyer

Music Theory
Visiting Assistant Professor
Portrait of Sam Young

Sam Young

Assistant Professor of Instruction

Practice and perform

Need to book a music room, request an accompanist, check out audition information, rent a locker, or use a recording studio? Visit the Music Callboard for all scheduling and policy information.