Master of Arts (MA) in Music Theory

The Master of Arts in Music Theory program at Boston University is designed for students seeking to acquire a secure foundation in scholarly music theory prior to entering doctoral study. This foundation can be crucial to success in graduate school and beyond, bridging the gap between undergraduate curricula and advanced PhD programs. Through a series of graduate courses and seminars, students develop a close familiarity with essential approaches and techniques for the theory and analysis of tonal and post-tonal music. Emphasis is also given to secondary fields of interest such as musicology, composition, and performance. MA candidates benefit from the greater surroundings of a major school of music, its distinguished faculty, and an energizing community of fellow students.

Learning Outcomes

  • Understanding of prevailing approaches to the theory and analysis of tonal and post-tonal music.
  • Facility in essential analytic and research techniques for tonal and post-tonal music and related topics.
  • Proficiency in communicating theoretical concepts and analytical observations both verbally and in writing.
  • Knowledge and skill in related fields such as music history and literature, musicology and ethnomusicology, composition, and performance.
  • Artistic judgment and skills for navigating the professional world.

Degree Requirements

The Master of Arts is granted upon successful completion of a program of study, a comprehensive review, and a terminal project appropriate to the student’s field of specialization. Students must earn a minimum of 32 course credits with grades no lower than B− in graduate-level coursework. All degree requirements must be completed within five years of the date of matriculation.

Proficiency Examinations

All entering Master of Arts students are required to take a proficiency examination in the area of music theory. The examination is administered online before the start of classes. Incoming students are notified of the exam dates and contents in advance and are responsible for taking it by the specified deadline. Exam results are used for purposes of advisement and may establish prerequisite or required coursework. Material covered in this examination is commonly presented in most undergraduate degree programs in music. No retakes of the exam will be permitted.

Required Courses

Any deficiencies identified by the proficiency exams must be addressed as soon as possible, regardless of whether or not the student plans to take other courses in these areas. Students may not take advanced graduate courses in a particular area OR graduate until all deficiencies have been addressed. Prerequisite and other required courses may include:

  • CFA MH 401 Graduate Music History Review
  • CFA MT 401 Graduate Music Theory Review
  • CFA MT 601 Analytical Techniques 1
  • CFA MT 602 Analytical Techniques 2

Language Requirement

Reading proficiency is required in one language, chosen from German, French, and Italian. Students may demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language by passing its corresponding reading course at the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences: GRS LG 621, GRS LF 621, or GRS LI 621. Students may also satisfy the requirement by passing a foreign language examination, administered once each semester by the School of Music.

Music Theory Program Outline

CFA MT 761 Advanced Tonal Analysis 3 cr
CFA MT 762 Advanced Contemporary Analysis 3 cr
CFA MT 665 Schenkerian Analysis 1 3 cr
CFA MT 861, 862 Seminar in Tonal or Post-Tonal Theory 3 cr
CFA MT 621, 641, 642, 671, 672 Composition 2 cr
Musicology 3–4 cr
CFA MU 795 Thesis 3 cr
Approved electives in music theory, composition, musicology, or related fields. (May include Applied Music or ensemble participation.) 11–12 cr
Total credits 32 cr

Terminal Project

Each student must undertake a thesis that will demonstrate the student’s competence in analytic techniques and the ability to do significant research on theoretical matters. The thesis proposal, prepared in consultation with the departmental advisor, must be approved by the Music Theory faculty.

Master of Arts Comprehensive Reviews

A satisfactory comprehensive review or examination is required for graduation. The faculty in each major area determines standards for this review and its format, and conducts the evaluation. In each case, the comprehensive review concentrates on the major area and other related fields. Unsatisfactory performance on this review may require remedial work and/or a repetition of the review after counseling with the student’s advisor.