Earn your PhD in Music Theory

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 PhD 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.

How to apply to the program

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

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

12 semester hours required; up to 6 semester hours can be counted from the master's degree upon written approval of the Associate Director for Graduate Studies

Select from the following courses:

  • 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
    • Note: This course is repeatable.
  • 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

Two electives outside the School of Music for 3 semester hours each (6 semester hours total)

Either of these (3 semester hours):

  • Counterpoint Before 1600 (MUS:4200), 3 semester hours
  • Counterpoint After 1600 (MUS:4201), 3 semester hours

All of the following (12 semester hours total)

  • Music Theory Colloquium (MUS:4290), 1 semester each
    • Note: This course is taken a minimum of 4 semesters for 4 semester hours of coursework total. It is recommended that you attend colloquium every semester in residence.
  • Theoretical Approaches to Music (MUS:6211), 3 semester hours
  • Music Theory Pedagogy (MUS:6215), 3 semester hours
  • MA Thesis (MUS:6950), 2 semester hours

Two of the following (6 semester hours total)

  • Tonal Analysis (MUS:5235), 3 semester hours
  • Non-Tonal Analysis (MUS:5236), 3 semester hours
  • Analysis of Popular Music (MUS:5237), 3 semester hours

Three of the following (9 semester hours total)

  • 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
    • Note: This course is repeatable.
  • Advanced Tonal Theory and Analysis (MUS:6250), 3 semester hours
    • Note: This course is repeatable.
  • Advanced Non-Tonal Theory and Analysis (MUS:6251), 3 semester hours
    • Note: This course is repeatable.
  • Advanced Theory and Analysis of Popular Music (MUS:6252), 3 semester hours
    • Note: This course is repeatable.

The student must demonstrate the ability to read pertinent scholarly literature in two languages determined in consultation with the theory faculty. 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:

  • Completion with a passing grade on the final examination of two semesters of a graduatelevel reading course approved by the theory faculty.
  • Two years of course work in each language while enrolled as a graduate student.
  • 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.

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

  1. Sight singing
  2. Dictation of a chorale
  3. Keyboard sight reading
  4. Realization of thoroughbass OR harmonization of a melody from chord symbols
  5. Keyboard sight reading of a string quartet score OR improvising on an instrument

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 either of these options:

  1. Passing Keyboard Harmony (MUS:4210) with a grade of B or better
  2. Passing the final examination for MUS:4210 by arrangement with faculty.

At the end of the second semester of study or beginning of the third, the student must pass an examination evaluating foundational theoretical knowledge and skills, in part with regard to a reading and score study list determined in consultation with the theory faculty.

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.

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.

Consider a minor

Thinking of pursuing another area of focus for your degree? Any student admitted to the graduate program in the School of Music may add a theory pedagogy minor by completing the required courses.

Music theory faculty

Dr. Joshua Albrecht in a Voxman Music Building classroom, smiling at the camera in a green shirt and gray blazer

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.