Master's Degree in Music Theory

Integrated excellence in both research and pedagogy is at the core of the music theory area. Graduates of our program excel at both.

I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to earn a Master's degree in Music Theory at MSU. I had outstanding professors that I model my own teaching after. I was intellectually challenged by the courses, which opened the door to find my own research interests. I felt ready to teach in higher education immediately after graduation.

Ivette Herryman Rodriguez '17 (MM Music Theory), now an Assistant Professor of Music Theory and Composition at SUNY Potsdam

Degree Overview

The Master's degree in Music Theory offers outstanding scholarly training in the analytical approaches, skills, and research methods of music theory. Through theory pedagogy seminars, actual classroom experience, and mentoring by faculty whose doors are always open, students also become skilled teachers. Our students earn admission to highly competitive doctoral programs in music theory and consistently land collegiate teaching positions. Learn more about the successes of our alumni and our current students.  



Graduates of our Master's program have a head start. One of the reasons why our students are so successful is that we offer in a Master's program many courses that scholars often do not encounter until doctoral study:

  • Research seminars on rotating topics
  • A proseminar that views the discipline of music theory through a wide-angle lens
  • post-tonal proseminar that builds analytical and research skills related to post-tonal music
  • Two semesters of Schenkerian analysis
  • Two semesters of functional keyboard skills
  • Two semesters of music theory pedagogy (one of only three institutions in America to offer two semesters, and the only one without a doctoral program in music theory)
  • Analytical seminars on contemporary music
  • Workshops in tonal and modal counterpoint
  • Musicology seminars on rotating topics

Learn more about the specific courses in our graduate curriculum.


Capstone Experiences

Each student completes two capstones experiences, intended as direct preparation for future work as scholars and in job interviews:

  1. Research Presentation: a capstone essay and public presentation in the form of a conference presentation, both emerging from one of the research seminars or the second semester of music theory pedagogy. The presentations take place at our music theory colloquium, a twice-monthly meeting of music theory graduate students and faculty. Many of our students have presented these same papers at national, regional, and graduate-student conferences, and most students present more than one research project during their time at MSU.
  2. Teaching Demonstration: simulating the teaching component of a job interview, each student teaches two class meetings of undergraduate theory and/or aural skills courses that the student is not currently teaching. Mentored by a member of the theory faculty, this is the culmination of pedagogical training that has encompassed pedagogy coursework as well as in-the-trenches teaching assignments.


Co-Curricular Learning 

Dr. Cynthia Gonzales presents a guest lecture during music theory colloquiumLearning takes place in informal ways, too. A vibrant guest-scholars program brings seven renowned guests each year to the MSU campus to interact with students. In addition, a bi-weekly music theory colloquium serves as a music theory "studio class," where faculty and students present research-in-progress and the community discusses professional development issues (such as writing a curriculum vitae or cover letter). Finally, faculty members prioritize accessibility and work constantly with graduate students on projects and problems that interest the students. Learn more about the mentoring opportunities in the music theory area. 



Graduate assistantships and fellowship monies are available to students pursuing a Master's degree in Music Theory. Learn more.


Interested in Applying?

Learn more about our application requirements and timeline. Or see our answers to frequently asked questions. Or contact us to learn more, set up a campus visit, or schedule a phone conversation. We would love to hear from you.