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Music Composition and Theory


Programs in music composition and theory teach people the principles of creating and arranging music.

Music composition and theory programs include topics such as:

Some programs offer a choice of focusing on studying and writing concert music or scoring music for films and other media.


Many colleges and universities offer bachelor's, master's, or doctoral (PhD) degree programs in music composition and theory. A bachelor's degree usually takes about four years of full-time study. A master's degree typically requires two years of study beyond a bachelor's degree. Doctoral (PhD) degree programs usually require two or more years of study beyond the master's degree.

See schools that offer this program.

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Program Admission

You can prepare for this program by taking courses in high school that prepare you for college. This typically includes four years of English, three years of math, three years of social studies, and two years of science. Some colleges also require two years of a second language.

Many schools also have the following requirements:

You may also need to demonstrate proficiency in keyboard or vocal skills in an audition.

Below is a list of high school courses that will help prepare you for this program of study:

Graduate Admissions

Admission to graduate programs is competitive. You need to have a bachelor's degree in music and good grades. If you're pursuing a doctoral degree, you may also need a master's degree in music composition or theory.

Additional requirements at most schools include:

If you concentrate in music theory, you typically have to submit an example of your scholarly work in music, such as a research paper.

You also usually have to pass diagnostic exams in music history and theory. This is especially true if you didn't major in music. The exams help determine whether you need to take undergraduate courses to prepare for graduate-level course work.

Typical Course Work

Program Courses

In this undergraduate program, you typically take courses such as the following:

You also usually have to fulfill a performance requirement by participating in an ensemble group.

Graduate Program Courses

Graduate course work tends to vary depending on the program and your individual focus. However, the outline of a typical graduate curriculum looks like the following:

In a master's degree program, your thesis might actually be an extensive original composition combined with a detailed analysis of your work. It might also include a performance of your composition.

Some schools require only music theory students to pass reading proficiency tests in one to two languages other than English. But other schools require this of both composition and theory students. Common languages you need to be able to read are French, German, or Italian.

Things to Know

Only a small percentage of musicians earn a living with their compositions. However, this program of study is flexible enough that you could combine it with studies in a related field such as music education or music business and management.

You typically need to play one or more musical instruments or have singing skills in order to compose music for different instruments. It also helps to learn how to arrange, harmonize, and use electronic instruments, synthesizers, and related computer applications.


East Side Area

Central Washington University

Washington State University - Pullman

Whitman College

King-Snohomish Area

Cornish College of the Arts

DigiPen Institute of Technology

Seattle Pacific University

Shoreline Community College

University of Washington - Seattle

Spokane Area

Eastern Washington University

Gonzaga University

Whitworth University

Tacoma Area

Pacific Lutheran University

West Side Area

Western Washington University