Music Theory

Lyle Davidson, Theory Department Chair

“The study of music theory helps students understand the meaning behind the melody.”  

This is how one private teacher sums up the importance of music theory for students studying an instrument. The Preparatory Theory Program is designed to help students do that, and thus more fully realize their musical potential. Directly supportive of the private instrumental lessons, the theory program links and integrates skills and concepts. Theory courses emphasize knowing the skills and concepts of theory both as—and through—making music, perceiving music, and reflecting on music. Classes are kept small (around 12 students) to ensure necessary individual attention.  

Theory classes are experiential in nature, with in-class activities designed to develop and support perceptual and reflective awareness of what is involved in making and playing music. In the context of mastering the concepts of theory, students gain significant skills in sight singing, rhythm reading, and related aural skills. Benchmark tests, appropriate for each level, are given at the end of each semester. These tests must be passed in order to gain admittance to the next level. Written evaluations of students include a progress report in mid-January and a final evaluation at the year's end.  

Successful completion of the Certificate Program (all levels of the Theory Program) should prepare students for advanced placement in college theory programs.


Rodney Lister, Composition Department Chair

The composition department offers students a variety of ways to explore their interests in music composition. For students who think of themselves primarily as performers, but would like a taste of what writing music is like, we offer a Composition for Performers class. The Young Composers’ Seminar is for younger students (8 and older) who would like to learn both about making pieces and how to write them down. For older students as well as younger students with more experience or a more pronounced interest, there is the composition seminar, which includes students from a large age range, and, following an older sibling/younger sibling model, develops the student's ability to think about composition in cooperation with their peers in a very serious ways.

None of these classes have a theory prerequisite; all of them aim to meet the student at the student's level of interest and expertise and move from there. We seek to develop a community of composers. Private instruction is also available for students who desire more individual attention, and student composers interested in an organized, developed curriculum can participate in the Certificate Program.