Bachelor of Arts in Music Theory

The BA Music Theory prepares students for graduate work in music theory. Less intensive than the Bachelor of Music (BM), the BA permits students to focus on a more generalized liberal arts education and may facilitate a double major in a subject outside music.

Degree requirements include:

  • Theory (core) (15 credits)
  • Aural Skills (4 credits)
  • Class Piano (2 credits)
  • Music History & Literature (13 credits)
  • Upper-Level Seminar Courses (6–8 credits)
  • Ensembles (4 credits)

Undergraduate students seeking more advanced training in composition and music theory may wish to pursue the Bachelor of Music in Composition, which includes courses in counterpoint and orchestration, in addition to applied composition.


Master of Music in Music Theory

The MM Music Theory is intended for students wishing to pursue advanced studies in music theory. The majority of students who enroll in the program do so in preparation for doctoral study, either at UMass or at other institutions. (Recent program alumni have continued at CUNY, The University of Indiana, UC Santa Barbara, The University of Western Ontario, and The Eastman School of Music.) Others use the MM program as a stepping stone to various career paths.

Graduate students in Music Theory take a range of introductory and specialized courses and gain extensive teaching experience, working closely with experienced professors. The program of study is designed to broaden students' knowledge and abilities in a number of areas, including general music and musicianship, analysis, oral and written communication, and pedagogy. To this end, students follow a two-year curriculum of classes culminating in a thesis document. The curriculum comprises a mixture of core classes (for example, Bibliography, General Readings in Music Theory, History of Theory, Pedagogy of Theory), electives in music theory and history, and thesis credits. Students typically take three courses (9 credits) per semester. 

In addition to this training, many Master's degree students receive hands-on experience as teaching assistants in undergraduate theory and aural skills classrooms. The standard Teaching Assistantship covers full tuition plus health benefits, and offers a competitive stipend.

MM Music Theory (Thesis Track) Requirements


PhD in Music Theory

Admission to this program is currently suspended.



Certificate in Music Theory Pedagogy

This certificate in available to both:

  • Matriculated students pursuing the MM in another music concentration
  • Non-matriculated students (not current MM students)



This graduate certificate program will prepare students to teach music theory in a variety of educational settings. It is intended primarily for graduate performance majors who might teach this topic at a summer music school, at a college, or as part of their private studio lessons (to give just a few examples). Music education majors who might one day teach AP Music Theory could also benefit from the certificate program. This credential will certify that students have acquired professional teaching skills in theory, making them more competitive on the job market.

Non-matriculating students will usually complete a certificate within one academic year (two semesters). 

Matriculating master's students will usually distribute a certificate's four required courses (12 credits) evenly over two years of study, taking one course per semester.


Certificate Requirements

Prerequisites: Matriculated students must have a baccalaureate degree with a music concentration before beginning coursework. 

GPA Requirement: A grade of B (3.0) or higher in each course counted toward a certificate

Application Process: There is no formal application for this certificate program, but students must pass an audition to be accepted into an applied studio, if applicable.



General Education Theory Courses

Fundamentals of Theory (Music 110; fall, spring, summer). GenEd: AT


Undergraduate Theory Courses

All undergraduate Music majors and minors take courses in theory and aural skills.

Theory I (Music 112; fall). Rudiments (review); two-voice counterpoint; fundamentals of harmony and voice leading. Analysis and composition.

Theory II (Music 113; spring): Diatonic harmony, sequences; basic forms (period, sentence). Analysis and composition.

Aural Skills I (Music 114; fall): Music listening and reading skills: basic rhythm and meter; diatonic melody. Sight-singing, dictation, transcription, and error detection.

Aural Skills II (Music 115; spring): Music listening and reading skills: basic rhythm and meter; diatonic melody and harmony. Sight-singing, dictation, transcription, and error detection.

Theory III (Music 212; fall): Chromatic harmony: applied chords, tonicization/modulation, modal mixture, the Neapolitan sixth chord, the augmented sixth chords, chromatic sequences. Analysis and composition.

Theory IV (Music 213; spring): Form: binary, ternary, sonata, rondo. Analysis and composition.

Aural Skills III (Music 214; fall): Music listening and reading skills: intermediate rhythm and meter; chromatic melody and harmony. Sight-singing, dictation, transcription, and error detection.

Aural Skills IV (Music 215; spring): Music listening and reading skills: advanced rhythm and meter; modulation; form. Sight-singing, dictation, transcription, and error detection.

Theory V (Music 312; fall, spring): Twentieth-century compositional techniques: diatonic modes and artificial scales; free atonality; serialism. Analysis and composition.


Graduate Theory Courses

All Master's students majoring in music take graduate courses in music theory, chosen from a wide range of topics. Comprehensive examinations for all graduate students in music include a music-theory component. 

General Readings in Music Theory: Study of the major developments in modern music theory through close readings of seminal sources. Topics include Schenkerian analysis, motivic analysis, cognitive theory, GMIT and network theory, diatonic set theory, and theories of form. Class discussions/debates, response papers, in-class presentations, and a final oral exam administered by a panel of the faculty.

History of Music Theory: Exploration of the history of music-theoretical thought from ancient Greece through the twentieth century. Readings from primary and secondary sources.

Pedagogy of Music Theory: Approaches to the teaching and learning of music theory, aural skills, and related subdisciplines. Examination of research and textbooks. Teaching observations.

Analytical Techniques for Tonal Music: Techniques of music analysis derived from the theoretical work of Heinrich Schenker.  Principles of voice leading, prolongation, structural levels, and reduction. Analytical applications in common-practice period music.

Analytical Techniques for Post-Tonal Music: Introduction to the theory and analysis of post-tonal music. Basic concepts including pitch class, pitch-class set, normal form, set-class, serialism, symmetry, and interval cycles. Analytical applications.

Motivic Analysis: Historical and current approaches to the analysis of musical motives developed from the writings of Reti, Schenker, and others. Concepts and techniques of motivic theory and their analytical applications.

Analysis of Counterpoint: Analysis of counterpoint from various music eras and styles. Imitation, round, canon, invention, sinfonia, fugue and other forms.

Analysis of Rhythm and Meter: Investigation of recent scholarship in rhythmic and metric theory. New approaches to the relationship between rhythm and other music parameters. Analytical applications.

Musical Forms: Analysis of musical form, concentrating on common forms in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. Topics include binary, ternary, sonata, rondo, and concerted forms, and their associated harmonic structures.

Analysis for Performance: Explorations of connections between the musical score and its performance. Application of analytical insights to performing, comparison of different interpretations, and study of performance practice.

Analysis of Opera: Special approaches to the analysis of opera, including aspects of harmony, form, signification, and affect in music. Analysis of representative works from seventeenth- to twentieth-century opera.

Analysis of Post-1945 Music: In-depth study of selected post-1945 musical works with the goal of understanding compositional techniques and analytical strategies. Topics include integral serialism, indeterminacy, aleatory music, minimalism, electronic composition, and post-modernism.

Counterpoint: Writing of contrapuntal music, including invertible counterpoint, various canonic devices, and fugue.


Music Theory Faculty

Professor, Music Theory; Music Theory Area Coordinator
A headshot of Brent Auerbach.
Dr. Auerbach's research focuses primarily on extending the concept of the musical motive as it pertains to analysis. Other research interests include the group-mathematic properties of harmonic sequences, pedagogy, and the aesthetics of Baroque composition and counterpoint.
A headshot of Brent Auerbach.

Senior Lecturer II, Music Theory

Jason Hooper
Jason Hooper is a music theorist specializing in the theory and analysis of tonal music, historical and contemporary theories of form, and new approaches to theory pedagogy. His articles and reviews appear in Music Theory Spectrum, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Rivista di Analisi e Teoria Musicale, and Theory and Practice. Jason was co-editor (vol. 44), editor (vol. 45), and associate editor (vol. 46) of Theory and Practice and previously served on the editorial boards of Intégral and Indiana Theory Review.
Jason Hooper

Assistant Professor of Music Theory

A headshot of Catrina Kim in front of a window.
Catrina's work in Romantic form focuses on fragmentary treatments of the sonata and the slow introduction in the music of Fanny Hensel and other nineteenth-century composers; articles on Hensel's chamber music is forthcoming in Music Theory Spectrum and Modeling Musical Analysis, edited by John Peterson and Kim Loeffert (Oxford University Press). Catrina also writes on the intersections of music theory pedagogy with service, labor, diversity, and feminist thought; this work appears in Theory and Practice, Music Theory Spectrum, and Expanding the Canon: Black Composers in the Music Theory Classroom, edited by Melissa Hoag (Routledge Press; coauthored with Aaron Grant).
A headshot of Catrina Kim in front of a window.

Assistant Professor, Music Theory; Honors Program Director

A black and white photograph of Miriam Piilonen.
Miriam Piilonen is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Theorizing Music Evolution: Darwin, Spencer, and the Limits of the Human (forthcoming with OUP), a critical examination of ideas about musical origins, with emphasis on nineteenth-century music-evolutionary texts by Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer. Miriam’s research interests span a range of topics in the history of music theory, composition and songwriting, electronic music and sound production, and new media studies.
A black and white photograph of Miriam Piilonen.

Lecturer in Music Theory

A headshot of Alan Reese.
Alan Reese is a music theorist specializing in post-tonal analysis, as well as music and politics. His interest in post-tonal music includes analytical approaches to the compositions of Karol Szymanowski, Grażyna Bacewicz, and Undine Smith Moore. Meanwhile, his research on the intersection between music and politics focuses on post-9/11 country music, as well as the influence of neoliberalism in the music theory classroom.
A headshot of Alan Reese.

Associate Professor, Music Theory; Graduate Program Director

A headshot of Christopher White.
Christopher White remains an avid organist, having studied with Haskell Thompson and James David Christie. As a member of the Three Penny Chorus and Orchestra, he has appeared on NBC's Today Show and as a quarterfinalist on America's Got Talent. He currently serves as secretary for the New England Conference of Music Theorists.
A headshot of Christopher White.