Earn your MA 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 MA 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

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

  • Application for Graduate Admissions
  • Official academic records documenting a minimum undergraduate grade point average of 3.0 (4.0).
  • Official TOEFL score report, if applicable

Applicants must submit the following items to the departmental section of the graduate application:

  • Official academic records
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • CV/resume
  • Statement of purpose
  • Two papers demonstrating theoretical training, analytical skills, and focused critical interpretation

Students applying for fall semester admission should submit a complete application by the application deadline. 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 Keyboard Harmony (MUS:4210). 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.

View full requirements and apply

Requirements and program planning

download course checklist

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.

  • Introduction to Graduate Study in Music (MUS:5300), 2 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
    • Note: This course is repeatable.
  • 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 1945-Present (MUS:6350), 3 semester hours
  • Music Editing (MUS:6375), 3 semester hours

One elective outside the music theory area for 3 semester hours

All of the following (9 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.
  • 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

Two of the following (6 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.
  • History of Ideas in Music (MUS:6210), 3 semester hours
  • Theoretical Approaches to Music (MUS:6211), 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

The student must demonstrate the ability to read pertinent scholarly literature in a language determined in consultation with the theory faculty. 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 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 will be translated by a short excerpt.

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 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.

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

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

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.