Welcome to the Music Theory Department!

Theory Department Mission Statement

The Music Theory Department comprises a diverse faculty, including professional music theorists, composers, scholars in education and musicianship, and performers. We are united by our shared desire to teach our students every aspect of musicianship through a thoughtful and holistic approach.

The educational mission of the NEC Theory Department is to help students experience the close connections between musical understanding, creation, and performance. We believe that this mission is best achieved by honoring and nurturing the diverse perspectives, interests, and strengths of our faculty, and recognizing each of our students as individuals with unique interests and needs.

Our students aspire to be excellent performers, composers, scholars, and teachers, so our courses are designed to promote creative learning through which they will gain extraordinary insight into the music they perform and love.


Music Theory Curriculum

NEC's music theory faculty help you refine and develop the musical intuitions that you already possess, exploring how music enriches and deepens and how music is experienced, whether as a performer, composer, or listener.

At the undergraduate level, you will take courses that are designed to help develop every facet of your musical abilities through intensive training in sight singing, part writing, ear training, keyboard harmony, and music analysis. Since performance is enhanced by musical comprehension, you will learn the nature of tonality and musical languages, how to analyze musical form, and how music is organized in time.

Also at the graduate level, we see music theory as a means for developing the general skills that underlie musical performance and composition. In order to meet your needs in today’s rapidly changing world, the graduate curriculum draws on both concepts and practices of diverse historical and cultural traditions, and on a wide range of disciplines: artistic, intellectual, and scientific. While ensuring that you are equipped with the basic tools to understand your craft, we have also taken the lead in exploring the artistic and scientific frontiers of that craft. Our faculty aim to prepare the Conservatory’s performers and composers, as well as prospective theorists, technically and conceptually for active roles in this evolving musical universe.


This one-semester course assists you, if you were not able to learn basic elements of music prior to beginning college. You will learn scales, intervals, triads, key signatures, and the like through notation, ear training, and keyboard harmony. You must pass this course, through a departmental exam, before continuing on to Harmony I and Solfège II.


This four-course sequence develops essential music skills. You will attain fluency in sight singing and sight reading through a fixed-do pedagogy, where the focus is on problem solving in performance instead of memorizing materials. Solfège and rhythmic development are measured by sight singing drill and practice in class, and exams. Appropriate clefs are used to negotiate various transpositions. Aural development is measured through daily drill and exams. Competence in each semester is demonstrated by passing a departmental exam.


A three-course sequence introduces the concepts and practices basic to the Common Practice period. You will develop facility and fluency with music of the 18th and 19th centuries through four complementary approaches: part writing, ear training, analysis, and keyboard harmony. Music of the tonal masters is incorporated into the sequence from the beginning, and ear training is a major component of the sequence.

You will take Solfège I and, if necessary, Rudiments during the first semester. Students who 1) pass the Rudiments entrance exam or the Rudiments course final and 2) pass Solfege I enroll in Solfege II and Harmony I in the second semester. The second year builds on skills developed in the first. Students take Solfège III and IV, along with Harmony II and III.


Specialized courses are offered for the third and fourth years. You will take two 300-level courses, with at least one focusing on a 20th-century topic. Courses focus on 19th- and 20th-century musical languages, harmony, form and analysis, specific styles, periods, and composers. In addition, electives are available in 16th- and 18th-century counterpoint, improvisation, advanced solfège, solfège for singers, and microtonal music.

Interested in applying? Click here for information about our application process.