MA in Music

The MA in Music is offered by the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GRS) in close collaboration with the College of Fine Arts (CFA) School of Music.

The degree in Master of Arts in Music is for:

  • Students who are working toward entrance to a program for the PhD
  • Performers with academic interests
  • Students preparing for various positions in the music industry, e.g., music publishing, music criticism, concert management, music broadcasting, and music recording
  • Students working in cognate areas of the humanities that require deeper insight into music
  • People who desire a wider knowledge of music literature and historical principles to satisfy their personal interests and growth

A minimum of 32 credits is required for the degree of Master of Arts.

Proficiency Examinations

All entering graduate students are required to take a theory proficiency examination immediately upon beginning their studies at Boston University. The proficiency examination includes basic harmony, ear training, form and analysis, orchestration, and counterpoint.

Any student who fails to achieve an acceptably high level on the proficiency examinations must fulfill prerequisite work in a manner to be determined and administered by the Department of Music faculty. Students may not register for advanced courses in areas of deficiency until the deficiencies have been resolved. Prerequisite coursework may not be credited toward degree requirements. Proficiency examinations are given only at the regularly scheduled dates, two times each year. Schedules are available from the School of Music, or by emailing

Placement Exams

All incoming students must take proficiency exams in music history and music theory. These exams are administered just before the start of the fall semester and the results are used to inform course selections. Students who are found to be deficient in either area may be assigned remedial coursework as determined by their advisor. This remedial coursework will not count towards the requirements of the degree.

Fields of Specialization and Coursework

Candidates choose one of the following fields of specialization:

Historical Musicology

Students should take the Pro-Seminar in Musicology and Ethnomusicology (CFA MU 828) in their first semester and Research and Bibliography (Music) (CFA MU 749) in their first year.

There are no further specific course requirements for the Historical Musicology MA specialization, but students should customize their program in consultation with their advisor according to the following distribution:

  • 17 credits from among graduate-level courses in musicology, ethnomusicology, and music theory
  • 4 credits of approved non-music electives
  • 4 credits in Master’s Thesis (CFA MU 795)


Students should take the Pro-Seminar in Musicology and Ethnomusicology (CFA MU 828) in their first semester.

Other requirements are as follows:

  • 8 credits in Research Methods in Ethnomusicology (CFA MU 829) and Contemplating Ethnomusicology (CFA MU 830)
  • 16 credits of approved music and non-music electives (these courses can come from areas such as anthropology, musicology, music education, history, or specific area studies)
  • At least two semesters of World Music Ensemble (CFA MU 567), either as student, auditor, or instructor (worth 0 to 1 credit)
  • Knowledge of the undergraduate survey course Musical Cultures of the World (MU 340/350), either as auditor or teaching assistant
  • 4 credits in Master’s Thesis (CFA MU 795)

Music Theory

Requirements are as follows:

  • 3 credits in Research and Bibliography (Music) (CFA MU 749); 6 credits in Advanced Tonal Analysis and Advanced Analysis in Contemporary Music (CFA MU 701, CFA MU 702)
  • 3 credits in a Seminar in Theory (CFA MU 801 or CFA MU 802); 3 credits in Schenkerian Analysis (CFA MU 620); 3 credits in History of Music Theory II (CFA MU 852)
  • 3 credits in either History of Music Theory I (CFA MU 851) or Advanced Schenkerian Analysis (CFA MU 720)
  • 3 credits in an advanced musicology course
  • 2 credits in a composition course chosen from Fugue (CFA MU 605), Modal Counterpoint (CFA MU 606), Advanced Topics in Counterpoint (CFA MU 705), and Advanced Tonal Composition (CFA MU 706)
  • 4 credits of approved electives; and 2 credits in Master’s Thesis (CFA MU 795)


Requirements are as follows:

  • 2 credits in Music Research Techniques (CFA MU 649)
  • 18 credits to be chosen from Graduate Composition (CFA MU 575), Advanced Topics in Counterpoint (CFA MU 705), and Orchestration I, II (CFA MU 703, CFA MU 704)
  • 6 credits of graduate-level musicology courses
  • 6 credits of approved electives

Music Education

Requirements are as follows:

  • 12 credits of music education courses
  • 6 credits of graduate-level musicology and music theory courses
  • 12 credits of approved electives
  • 2 credits in Master’s Thesis (CFA MU 795)

Language Requirement

All MA candidates must select their languages in consultation with their advisors.

Students who choose to fulfill a language requirement through a GRS Reading Seminar (e.g., GRS LF 621, LG 621, LI 621, etc.) should obtain a copy of the Report of Examinations form from the department’s administrative coordinator to be signed by the Chair and then submitted to the GRS Records Office. Students who fulfill a language requirement by examination will have this form submitted on their behalf.

Comprehensive Exams

MA candidates in the Historical Musicology specialization must pass a Comprehensive Exam. This exam must be taken at the beginning of the fourth semester of course work. The exam will be oral and will consist of a one-half hour round of questions from members of the faculty on fundamental repertory of Western music. Candidates must display a general knowledge of and familiarity with this repertory and its history.

MA candidates in the Ethnomusicology specialization must pass a Comprehensive Exam. This exam must be taken at the beginning of the fourth semester of course work. The exam will be oral and will consist of a one-half hour round of questions from members of the faculty on the theory, history, and practice of ethnomusicology. Candidates must display a general knowledge of the field and its history.

Terminal Project

Candidates in the Historical Musicology, Ethnomusicology, and Music Theory specializations must write a thesis. Students should discuss and formulate a topic with their advisor by the end of their second semester. The student will first submit to the Chair of the department a proposal of approximately 10 pages in length, consisting of:

  • A description of the subject to be addressed and the methods of research involved
  • A chapter outline
  • A bibliography

Spring graduates must submit their proposals to the chair no later than November 15 of their third semester. After the proposal has been approved, the candidate may enroll in Master’s Thesis (CFA MU 795). Please note that a separate thesis title approval form must be submitted to the Graduate School Office. For further information about this form, see the Graduation Information page.

The candidate must submit the final draft of the completed thesis to the Chair two weeks before the university deadline for submission. This copy must already have been approved and signed by the readers. Failure to meet this requirement will mean that the university deadline will not be met. After approval by the Chair, one hard copy of the final document must be submitted to the Chair.

Candidates in the Composition specialization must write an orchestral composition requiring a minimum of 15 minutes in performance or an instrumental, vocal, or chamber ensemble composition requiring a minimum of 20 minutes in performance.

Candidates in the Music Education specialization must write a thesis as outlined in the Music Education Department handbook.

Research with Human Subjects

Students doing research with living human subjects, or with data from living human subjects, are required to comply with IRB regulations.

For further information and to begin the process of obtaining IRB compliance, see the Institutional Review Board website.