Music Theory and Composition Major Guide for 2012-2013

What is Music Theory and Composition

Music Theory is the study of the content and construction of music.  Composition is the process of creating musical works.  Music Theorists and Composers are practitioners who exhibit technical competence as well as a broad knowledge of music, literature, musical style.

Career Opportunities in Music Theory and Composition

The Bachelor of Music degree with a concentration in Music Theory and Composition prepares students to:

  • become teachers of music theory in high schools.
  • pursue graduate studies in theory or composition to later become a teacher of theory or composition at the college level.
  • pursue graduate programs in related areas (e.g. recording or arts management).
  • analyze and comment on music (i.e. become a music critic).
  • compose and arrange art music or music for films, videos or TV.

Salary Trends in Music Theory and Composition

As with any degree, pre-professional experiences (for example, internships, tutoring part time teaching, composing and arranging for various groups/situations) increase your chances of obtaining the job you want and will affect your potential salary. Graduates with a Bachelor of Music degree in theory composition usually start the jobs listed above with a salary between $38,000-48,000. Salaries for composers for film and TV music vary widely and can be from $2000/TV episodes to $500,000 for a feature length movie.

High School Preparation

To prepare for a degree in music theory and composition:

  •  Take part in the chorus, the bands, and the orchestra in high school.
  • Take private music lessons to help prepare for your audition.
  • Study the pieces you play. Analyze them. Research the history or the composer and the composition.
  • Take any music theory, ear training, music history, or appreciation courses offered by your school.
  • Listen to as much music and as many varied types of music as you can.
  • Attend concerts.
  • Take piano lessons.
  • Arrange pieces for various ensembles or compose your own music.
  • Learn a musical notation computer program such as Finale or Sibelius.

How to Major in Music Theory and Composition

All new music students in music theory/composition (freshmen and transfer) must perform an audition on their major instrument  and interview with members of the music theory/composition faculty.

The audition and interview should be completed on the day of your audition.  No student progresses to a major in music theory/composition until the audition and interview have been successfully completed.

Information on the audition process can be found on the School of Music web site (  Applicants are strongly urged to register for an audition as early as possible.

Requirements for Music Theory and Composition

You will take the music core curriculum:

music theory and ear training
form and analysis
music history and world music
applied music (lessons)
and ensembles

and courses specific to your major:

composition lessons
sound recording and synthesis
computer music transcription
practicum (internship)

In addition, you are required to present a senior recital of your own compositions.

Highlights of Music Theory and Composition

Most students in the Theory/Composition program regard their Senior Recital as one of the major highlights of their program.  For this recital, composition students arrange for other students to perform several of their pieces.  Some ambitious students in the past have even arranged for orchestral composition and concertos.  The recital usually lasts between 30 and 60 minutes and is open to the public.

Another highlight is the Music Theory Practicum.  During their two semesters of Music Theory Practicum, Theory/Composition majors receive supervised experience in the theory classroom.  They assist a faculty member by tutoring students, constructing and grading tests or homework assignments, and preparing class materials.  Student may even get to teach a theory class or two. This course is usually taken during the senior year, but may be taken in the junior year as well.


Ready for the World logoReady for the World

The theory/composition faculty members encourage their majors to acquire a wide range of experiences.  If students can afford and have an interest in studying abroad, the faculty will work with them to make this opportunity as easy as possible.  Learn more about UT’s Ready for the World initiative to help students gain the international and intercultural knowledge they need to succeed in today’s world.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, offers study abroad programs in Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, South America, and North America. Program lengths vary from mini-term trips to the entire academic year, and students may choose to fulfill general education requirements, study a foreign language, or take courses within their majors. In addition, UTK offers students opportunities for international internships.

Students are highly encouraged to begin planning early in their academic career and to consult with an academic advisor about the best time to study abroad as well as what courses to take abroad. For more information about program options, the application process, and how to finance study abroad, please visit the Programs Abroad Office website.

Sample Curriculum

Following this four-year plan will help you stay on track to graduate in four years.  Milestone courses have been identified as the minimum courses that must be completed.

Sample Curriculum Bachelor of Music Degree, concentration in Music Theory/Composition
Freshman Year Credit Hours
English 101, 102 3,3
Music Theory 110, 120 3,3
Music Theory 130, 140 1,1
Musicology 110 3
Music Technology 340 3
Music Ensemble 1,1
Music General 200 0, 0
Music Keyboard 110, 120 1,1
Music Technology 290 3
Quantitative Reasoning 3
Milestone Courses: English 101, two courses in Music 200, Music Theory 110 and 130, Musicology 110 and two music ensemble courses
Sophomore Year Credit Hours
Music Theory 210, 220 3,3
Music Theory 230, 240 1,1
Music Performance 294, 295 1,1
Music Technology 390 3
Musicology 210, 220 3,3
Music Ensemble 1,1
Music General 200 0, 0
Music Keyboard 210, 220 1,1
Cultures and Civilizations 6
Milestone Courses: English 102, two courses in Music 200, Music Performance 294, Music Theory 120 and 140 and two music ensemble courses
Junior Year Credit Hours
Music Theory 310 3
Music Theory 420 3
Musicology 380 3
Music Performance 1,1
Area Study 4
Music Ensemble 1,1
Music General 200 0, 0
Electives 5
Natural Sciences 4,3
Communication Studies 210 3
Senior Year Credit Hours
Music Theory 430, 440 3,3
Music Performance 1,1
Area Study 4
Music Ensemble 1,1
Music Education 310 3
Music General 200 0, 0
Social Sciences 6
Music Theory 490 2
Electives 4
GRAND TOTAL (minimum) 120

For More Information

See the Music Theory and Composition area web site:

Or contact the Music Theory/Composition area:

Dr. Barbara Murphy, CoordinatorSchool of Music
1741 Volunteer Blvd.
211 Music Bldg
Knoxville, TN 37996-2600
(865) 974-3241





The information on this page should be considered general information only. For more specific information on this and other programs refer to the UT catalog or contact the department and/or college directly.