From the Faculty

Welcome to the Music Theory Department!

The Music Theory Department comprises a diverse faculty, including professional music theorists, composers, scholars, 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

Undergraduate Level

The undergraduate curriculum strives to nurture every facet of your musical abilities. By offering comprehensive musicianship training and encouraging problem-solving and critical thinking, it aims to equip you with the necessary skills to excel in performance, composition, and a broader understanding of music. You will take courses that are specifically designed to foster the development of your musicianship skills through experiential learning and intensive training in sight singing, score reading, ear training, music analysis and model composition. Through your coursework, you will explore building blocks of diverse musical languages and how they shape musical masterworks.

FUNDAMENTALS of Musicianship

This one-semester course is designed to support students who were not exposed to foundational knowledge of basic music elements prior to college. Throughout the course, you will acquire knowledge of fundamental building blocks, including music notation, scales, intervals, and triads, and explore their practical application in analysis of repertoire, performance, and composition. By the end of the course, you will have developed a solid grasp of these essential musical elements and how they contribute to various aspects of music.

Music Literacy and Musicianship

Music Literacy and Musicianship (MLM) is a sequence of four courses that focuses on the acquisition of music literacy and musicianship skills essential to any professional musician. Using “fixed-Do” Solfège as a common language throughout the sequence, students develop mastery in sight-singing tonal, modal and posttonal melodies; performing rhythmic patterns involving changing subdivisions and meters; conducting regular and irregular meters with tempo and expressive nuances; reading vocal and instrumental lines in any clef and transposition level; and understanding larger textures through “sing-and-play” exercises and arranging.

Analysis and Composition

The Analysis and Composition (AC) curriculum promotes conceptual understanding through active music-making and creative work. In keeping with this hands-on approach, students demonstrate their musical understanding through multiple “modalities”: playing, singing, hearing, music-writing, score reading, and analysis. The first year of the curriculum focuses primarily on tonal harmony and voice leading, with special attention to the way harmony relates to rhythm, texture, and musical form. The second year covers late 19th and early 20th century. During each semester, students apply their skills and knowledge through creative projects, which explore the relationship between analysis, composition, and performance.

Music Theory Electives

Music Theory electives provide a wide range of topics and embrace diverse repertoires, including African, Asian, Near-Eastern and Western musical traditions as well as contemporary trends. Students are encouraged to work on individual and team projects, including presentations, performance, composition, analysis, and scholarly research. By participating in Music Theory electives, students have the opportunity to broaden their musical horizons, engage with different cultural traditions, and actively contribute to the field through their own creative and analytical endeavors.

Music Theory Electives

The Music Theory Minor provides the necessary foundation for further in-depth theoretical studies, including the possibility of pursuing a theory major or double major at the graduate level. Additionally, the Music Theory Minor strengthens students’ skills and knowledge required to excel in teaching assistant positions at graduate schools.

Graduate Level

Our graduate electives cover a vast array of theoretical topics, compositional practices, and skills relevant to the increasingly demanding level of contemporary performance, composition, scholarship, and pedagogy. While thoroughly examining the repertory and analytical methods that pertain to the Western Canon, our electives extend to the classical traditions and performance practices of cultural areas as diverse as India and Ghana. An exceptionally strong feature of our graduate curriculum is its commitment to exploring the frontiers of contemporary musical thought in theory, composition, and pedagogy. We are proud to offer one of the widest selections of courses on 20th and 21st century topics among conservatories in the United States, and we constantly strive to stay at the forefront of developments in our individual fields of expertise.

For more information about our course offerings, please view the Academic Catalog.

Interested in applying? Click here for information about our Application Process.