Music Theory and Composition Major Guide for 2011-2012

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 not only technical competence, but also a broad knowledge of music, literature, musical style, and an insight into the role of music in the life of humankind.

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,
  • analyze and comment on music (i.e. become a music critic),
  • compose and arrange art music or music for films or TV,
  • 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).

Salary Trends in Music Theory and Composition

As with any degree, pre-professional experience (for example, internships, tutoring and part time teaching) increases your chances of obtaining the job you want and will affect your potential salary. Graduates with a Bachelor of Music degree in theory composition may usually start with jobs listed above with a salary between $35,000-45,000.

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.
  • Compose your own music. Practice writing with musical notation.
  • 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,
  • interview with a member of the music theory/composition faculty,
  • and take a music theory placement examination.

The audition, interview, and theory exam should be completed on the day of your audition.  No student progresses to a major in music theory/composition until the audition, interview, and entrance examination 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, including

  • music theory and ear training,
  • form and analysis,
  • music history and world music,
  • piano,
  • applied music (lessons),
  • and ensembles.

Courses specific to your major, including

  • composition lessons,
  • sound recording and synthesis,
  • computer music transcription,
  • orchestration,
  • counterpoint,
  • and conducting.

In addition, you are required to present a senior recital of your own compositions.  You are also required to take two semesters of Music Theory Practicum.

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 orchestras.  The recital usually lasts between 30 and 60 minutes and is open to the public.

New in Fall 2009 is the Music Theory Practicum.  During their two semesters of Music Theory Practicum, Theory/Composition majors will receive supervised experience in the theory classroom.  They will assist a faculty member by tutoring students, constructing and grading tests or homework assignments, and preparing class materials.  Students will meet weekly with their faculty mentor.  This course will usually be 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.


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.

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.