Music Theory


Departmental Procedures

This document is provided for information purposes only. Wherever it may conflict with the current Bulletins of the IU Jacobs School of Music or the Graduate School, those Bulletins or approved changes take precedence.  For more information on the graduate music theory program, you are invited to contact the chair of the Music Theory Department and to consult this web site for additional information.

1. Admission

See also the current Jacobs School of Music Bulletin. For more information on admission to the school, see the Jacobs School of Music Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, 1201 E. 3rd Street, Bloomington, IN 47405-7006, 812-855-7998, musicadm [at] indiana [dot] edu.

The music theory department offers the Master of Music (MM) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees. Admission to the graduate program is based on the following:

For all external applicants:

  • A completed application to the Jacobs School of Music, available from the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid.

  • Three letters of recommendation from professors (preferably in music theory) with whom the student has worked.

  • Transcripts of all previous academic work. The Jacobs School of Music requires at least a 3.0 grade-point average in all previous degrees for acceptance into any graduate program; the theory department usually expects more than this minimum.

  • GRE General Test scores.

  • Appropriate writing sample(s). For prospective master's students, this is typically a major music analysis paper (eight pages or more) from an upper-level undergraduate class. Prospective PhD students may submit one extensive music analysis paper (20 pages or more), a master's thesis or similar large project, or two or more contrasting shorter papers. Papers on theoretical or analytical topics are preferred. If the submitted writing sample does not include analysis of tonal music, applicants are encouraged to also submit one or more items providing evidence of their understanding of tonal music. Examples might include a harmonic analysis of an extended passage of music or a model composition in a contrapuntal or other style.

  • A personal interview. Applicants who are invited for an on-campus interview will meet with the department chair and other members of the theory faculty, and must also complete an audition for an Associate Instructorship. These interviews and auditions are scheduled during audition weekends by the Jacobs School of Music Office of Admissions and Financial Aid.

For internal MM students applying to the PhD program:

For internal applicants, the process of application to the PhD program is more streamlined. Applicants must still complete application to the Jacobs School of Music, available at the link above. Application fees will be waived. The department does not require letters of recommendation, transcripts, or test scores. Applicants need only to submit two writing samples as described above. These materials should be submitted in PDF form to, no later than the third Monday of the spring semester.

In most cases a student approved for admission to the PhD program in music theory will be expected to have a completed master's degree by the time of initial enrollment at Indiana University. If the master's degree is not completed by the end of the first semester of enrollment in the PhD program, the student will not be permitted to register for classes in the second semester. In exceptional cases, however, admission to the PhD directly from a bachelor's degree may be considered.

Both master's and doctoral students are officially admitted into the Jacobs School of Music and directly into the music theory program on the basis of admissions documents and the on-campus interview. Admission recommendations are made by a departmental committee; final admission is made by the Dean, in conjunction with a Jacobs School of Music admissions committee. Doctoral students must also apply to the Graduate School, which awards the PhD.

2. Financial Aid

All qualified music theory majors are guaranteed teaching experience in an extensive undergraduate core theory program of written theory and musical skills. An Associate Instructor position provides a monthly stipend, tuition remission sufficient to cover a normal program of graduate courses, and insurance benefits. Master's students who qualify can generally expect two years of financial aid; doctoral students can generally expect three years of financial aid (five years total for those completing both degrees at IU). Coordinator positions are awarded to especially qualified students; these positions include a larger stipend and more tuition credit. A personal audition is required for all Associate Instructor positions and should be requested on the graduate application form.

Some applicants will qualify for supplemental fellowships. Special fellowship awards of up to $18,000 per year plus tuition and an additional year of fellowship support beyond the term of the AI appointment are awarded annually to highly qualified doctoral music theory majors. There are also special fellowship programs for minority students. A 3.75 grade-point average for any college and graduate study is required for fellowship consideration.

3. Proficiency Requirements; Validating Prior Coursework
Music theory and music history proficiencies

All entering graduate students in the Jacobs School of Music take the several general graduate proficiency exams in music theory (written theory, aural theory, and sight-singing) and in music history and literature during orientation week.

Performance proficiency

Both master's and doctoral degrees require that a student demonstrate performance ability in one instrument or voice at a level equivalent to the end of the second year for elective undergraduate students in that area. Proficiency may be demonstrated by auditioning for a faculty committee in the appropriate department; this must be done within the first two semesters of enrollment. Students should consult the chair of the appropriate department for more information.

Keyboard proficiency

All graduate students in the Jacobs School of Music must pass a keyboard proficiency exam or its equivalent. Keyboard proficiency requirements for MM and PhD music theory majors are described here.

Validating prior coursework

Doctoral students who have not completed a master's degree in music theory at IU must either enroll in or validate the master's level "foundation courses": T551 Analytical Techniques for Tonal Music, T555 Schenkerian Analysis, T556 Analysis of Music Since 1900, T565 Stylistic Counterpoint, and T591 Teaching of Music Theory (see the PhD degree requirements for more information). Students may attempt to validate only courses for which they have already completed a similar course with a grade of B or better. Written exams are taken to validate T551 and T556. The remaining courses may be validated by an interview with, and submission of appropriate materials to, the current instructor of the course. Doctoral students are expected to take T550 Readings in Music Theory, which will substitute for one semester of T658, though exemption by interview with the instructor and submission of appropriate materials is available for those who believe they qualify. Any required doctoral course for which a student has taken an equivalent course at another school may also be validated by interview with the instructor, with subsequent approval of the department chair. The requirement is then waived and another course may be substituted.

4. Registration for first semester classes

The Jacobs School of Music's Director of Graduate Studies has a general meeting with all graduate students prior to first‑semester registration. For theory majors, this meeting is followed by an advising appointment with the department chair. No more than 9 credits (plus ensemble for master's students) are recommended as a typical semester load for students with AI appointments (12 credits is the maximum). The tuition remission that accompanies the AI award is sufficient to cover a typical course load. There is no charge for ensemble credits.

5. Advising; doctoral committees

The department chair acts as advisor for all master's students. If an Outside Area is selected (rather than 6 credits of general electives), the appropriate form must be submitted to the Music Graduate Office. An outside area can become a minor by taking 6 additional credits, for a total of 12.


For doctoral students, the chair acts as the primary advisor for coursework-related advising in the early years of the program. During the first year, the student should discuss with the chair matters such as minors, electives, and languages. A minor in Music History and Literature or in Musicology is required for all music theory PhD students; a second minor is optional. A minor-field approval form must be submitted to the Graduate Office for each minor. The courses to be taken toward each minor are approved by the department involved and the Director of Graduate Studies.

During the second year, the department, in consultation with the student, will recommend appointment of a doctoral advisory committee, which is formally appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies. The advisory committee includes three music theory faculty members, one of whom serves as chair of the committee. The advisory committee also includes one representative of each minor field. To find out how minor-field representatives are assigned, the student should contact the department involved. The members of this committee can assist with course selection in their respective areas, guide the student in preparation for the public lecture and qualifying exams, evaluate the public lecture, administer and grade the qualifying exams, and locate and deal with problems that might arise. The student's academic record will be available to the committee chair.

6. Curricula

Current and anticipated course offerings are posted here.  Course descriptions from the current bulletin are provided here.


The master's curriculum consists of 33 credit hours, plus a 2-credit tool subject. Students typically complete the degree with two years of full‑time study. Below is a suggested plan for MM music theory students.

Year 1 Fall Year 1 Spring
T551 (strongly recommended) T550 (strongly recommended)
M539 or M501 if needed T555 (recommended)
T556 or other core or elective M501 if needed, or elective
ensemble ensemble
Year 2 Fall Year 2 Spring
T565, T591, and/or T658 T599 (required in last semester)
M539 if needed T658 or other remaining core courses
elective if needed elective if needed
ensemble ensemble
  • T551 Analytical Techniques for Tonal Music should be taken in the first semester if at all possible. It is a prerequisite for several other required courses.

  • T550 Readings in Music Theory should be taken during the second semester. It provides general background in music theory literature and the bibliographical/research skills which are particularly important for the various T658 seminar topics.

  • M539 Music Bibliography should be taken early in the program if possible. Students who have taken a similar course elsewhere may take a validation exam to waive the M539 requirement. Contact the Music Graduate Office for details.

  • Some theory courses are typically offered in the summer, along with M539, M501, and several music history and literature courses.


The doctoral curriculum consists of 90 credit hours. For a student with an AI appointment, it should be possible to complete the coursework in three years (6 semesters at 9 credits per semester). A typical distribution of credit hours would be:

  • Credit for master's degree (30 credits)

  • Major courses (24 cr.; T623, T624, T658 x 6)

  • Minor in Music History and Literature or Musicology (12 cr.)

  • A second minor or general electives (12 cr.)

  • Dissertation (12 cr.)

  • Tool subjects (not counted as part of the 90 credits): M539 (2 cr.) and proficiency in two languages or one language and a research skill, as approved by the department of music theory and the Director of Graduate Studies.

It is not feasible to produce a semester‑by‑semester course plan for doctoral students. In general, any necessary proficiency courses should be taken as early as possible. Time limits are as follows: coursework must be completed and qualifying exams started within seven years after matriculation; once qualifying exams are started, all exams must be completed within one year; after the qualifying exams, the dissertation and all degree requirements must be completed within seven years.

7. Degree Exit Requirements

The zero‑credit T599 Master's Degree Comprehesive Review is a departmental review of the student's coursework in the master's degree, which is to be submitted in a portfolio by the third Monday of the semester of enrollment. The department may use it as the basis for an admission decision into the Ph.D. program for those students who wish to continue.


Styles exam: Passing the doctoral styles exam is prerequisite to any written or oral qualifying examinations.

Written qualifying exams: All required major-field coursework must be completed before the written major-field qualifying exam in music theory may be scheduled. This coursework includes the approval of a dissertation prospectus as part of the required course T650 Dissertation Topic Workshop.

The specific content of the written major-field qualifying exam in music theory is determined by the chair of the student's advisory committee in consultation with the committee members. The major-field exam will be in this format:

There will be four questions, one on each of the following topics: (1) the history of music theory, (2) theory and analysis of tonal music, (3) theory and analysis of post-tonal music, and (4) a topic whose focus is determined by the student's advisory committee in consultation with the student. The fourth question may be on a specialized area that has been the subject of one or more T658 seminars the student has taken, or on a topic developed in the dissertation prospectus. Another option is for the the fourth part of the exam to involve additional work in the same area as one of the first three questions (so that in effect the exam is in three parts, one of which is twice as long as the others).

At least two of the questions will be based on specific musical compositions. The advisory committee will provide scores for those questions two weeks before the scheduled examination. The scores will be picked up from the Music Graduate Office. The committee may identify the pieces in advance and may give specific instructions on what to prepare (research on the music, analyses following one or more particular methods, etc.). The student will not be permitted to bring notes or annotated scores to the examination; clean copies of scores and all other necessary materials will be provided at that time.

The student should discuss appropriate study strategies with the chair and members of the advisory committee. If the student fails the exam first time, it is possible to retake once all or any part of the exam, as the committee requires.

Students are generally required to take written qualifying exams in their minor fields. The department involved is responsible.

Public lecture: The public lecture must be completed by the time the oral qualifying exam is taken.

Oral qualifying exam: After all written qualifying exams are passed, the student may schedule the oral qualifying exam. Members of the advisory committee, usually including the minor‑field representatives, will be present. The focus of the oral exam is left to the discretion of the members of the advisory committee. It may follow up on questions from the written exam (or the student's responses to them) or may cover new topics.

Topic proposal: The dissertation topic proposal may be submitted either before or after qualifying exams are completed. The department encourages students to develop the proposal as early as possible.

General information about qualifying exams and the development of a topic proposal is available from the Graduate Office, as is a style guide for dissertations. Also see the Jacobs School of Music Bulletin. All written and oral qualifying exams must be completed within one calendar year.

Dissertation: The Music Graduate Office publishes information concerning dissertations.