Music Theory and Composition - NIU - School of Music

Areas of Study


Music Theory and Composition

Welcome to the Music Theory and Composition Area.  This page will introduce you to the faculty and to our current undergraduate and graduate curricula.  If you have any questions concerning courses, requirements, or degree programs in music theory and/or composition, please feel free to contact the Theory/Composition Area Coordinator.

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Undergraduate Core

The required undergraduate core curriculum in the School of Music includes 4-5 semesters of Music Theory and 4 semesters of Aural Skills. These courses, open only to undergraduate music majors, provide essential foundation knowledge, skills, and tools for all music students, regardless of specialization, concerning the basic principles of tonal harmony and musicianship, musical form, and 20th-century compositional and analytic techniques.

The core music theory and aural skills courses meet three times weekly and involve reading, writing, performing, discussing, and listening to music—as well as regularly assigned study and individual skill development outside of class. In addition, instructors and student assistants provide many hours of individual tutorial support as needed. The language and perspective gained through these integrated curricula allow students to develop a deeper understanding of the music they hear, read, and perform--and to be able to discuss music intelligently with others—including their teachers, peers, and their own future students. You can read descriptions of these and other Music Theory area courses in the Undergraduate Catalog.

Graduate Core

The Master of Music core curriculum provides the essential academic foundation of graduate level study in music at NIU. The core includes courses in research methods, music theory, and music history, as well as a final recital, thesis, composition, or project. Music theory courses that satisfy this requirement are: MUSC 617 Music Theory Pedagogy, MUSC 618 Tonal Analytical Techniques, MUSC 619 Post-Tonal Analytical Techniques, and the Seminar in Music Theory and Composition, MUSC 604. To be eligible for most of these courses, students must first resolve any undergraduate-level deficiencies by successfully completing the Graduate Music Theory Review (MUSC 601). Priority enrollment in all of these courses will be given to students admitted to the Master of Music degree program.  You can read descriptions of these and other Music Theory area courses in the Graduate Catalog.

The research methods, music theory, and music history area courses in the graduate core involve reading, writing, discussion, and student presentations. Support services for non-native speakers of English are available through The Writing Center (Stevenson Towers South, Lower Level) and the ESL Center (Reavis Hall 306B).  However, maximum advanced English language proficiency training is highly recommended, since aural comprehension, speaking, and writing skills are all essential to successful completion of these courses.

Degree Programs in Composition and Music Theory

The composition major is Emphasis 3 of the Bachelor of Music degree program. In addition to the instrumental or vocal audition required by the School of Music, admission to this small and selective program requires submission of a composition portfolio. For this purpose, we request scores and (CD, mp3, or YouTube) recordings of three recent works exhibiting variety in terms of both instrumentation and style.

The Master of Music degree program permits qualified graduate students to major in Music Theory and/or Composition under the Individualized Specialization option. An audition is not required, but a portfolio of compositions and/or scholarly writings must be submitted as part of the application. In composition, we request scores and (CD, mp3, or YouTube) recordings of three recent works exhibiting variety in terms of both instrumentation and style. In music theory, we request two recent analytic papers.

Portfolios may be mailed directly to the School of Music to the attention of the Theory/Composition Area Coordinator.  Send copies only, and if you wish your materials returned, please also include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for this purpose.  Alternatively, pdf papers, scores and mp3 files may be e-mailed directly to:

On a space-available basis, undergraduate and graduate students who are not currently composition majors may also study composition for one or more semesters. While there are no specific prerequisites to this individualized study, preference will be given to undergraduate students who have successfully completed most of the core music theory and aural skills curriculum, and to graduate students who have completed the graduate music theory review or demonstrated proficiency in music theory preparation. For some students, secondary composition study has led to their subsequent admission to the composition degree program.  


Music Theory and Composition area faculty members are musicians whose scholarly and creative work has been published, performed, recorded, and presented throughout the United States and internationally. These professional activities enable us to provide our students with the benefits of our broad experience in both classroom and individualized instruction. We are all “lifelong learners” who value education and love to teach.