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Undergraduate Major

The Department of Music at Stanford brings together music-making and scholarly research in composition, conducting, performance, music history, ethnomusicology, music theory, cognitive science, intermedia, and computer-based technologies.

The undergraduate major in Music is based on a course of study that combines breadth of musical experiences across multiple dimensions with depth in a chosen area, allowing students to develop an array of tools as part of their aesthetic and musical formation. Theory, performance, history, cultural contextualization, technology, and science all contribute to a curricular foundation for all majors.

Of the required 62 units, 42 comprise the shared foundation. The remaining 20 minimum required units can be devoted to any area of focus listed below, including self-defined exploration. Mentorship under the guidance of a faculty advisor is an indispensable component of this 20-unit requirement.

Students who would like to develop foundational musical literacy in the Western tradition and who wish to pursue the music major can take gateway classes (specifically music 19A and 19B) aimed at providing basic skills. In regular years, all required courses for the major must be taken for a letter grade. Electives above the minimum number of required courses may be taken Credit/No Credit. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, during the 2020-21 academic year, courses taken for a “credit” or “satisfactory” grade will count toward the fulfillment of degree-program requirements.

42-Unit Core: A Shared Foundation

The Bachelor of Arts in Music is based on a 42-unit core designed to cultivate basic skills that  enable students to engage with music as creators, interpreters, researchers, and  listeners. Along with courses in basic literacy and musicianship, the core provides opportunities to explore diverse areas across and within the concentrations described below. The core should be understood in its literal meaning – that is, as a central and foundational basis from which one can venture more deeply and broadly. Early planning is particularly important for students who plan to double major or study abroad.

In their freshman year, it is recommended that music majors complete the following courses:

  1. (i) Music 21 (Elements of Music I),
  2. (ii) Music 22 (Elements of Music II),
  3. (iii) Music 23 (Elements of Music III),
  4. and also take the required Music 24 courses in ear training.*

In their sophomore year, it is recommended that music majors complete the following courses:

  1. (i) Music 40 (Music History to 1600),
  2. (ii) Music 41 (Music History 1600-1830),
  3. and (iii) Music 42 (Music history since 1830).

Completing these two series of courses in the first two years allows for greater flexibility in planning your remaining courses. While declaring the major in freshman year is optimal,  it is not necessary for successful completion. 

Students with prior music theory experience may test to place out of certain courses. For an official evaluation, contact Giancarlo Aquilanti, Director of Music Theory, or Erika Arul, Ear Training Advisor.

Core Requirements

Lower-division Music Theory: 12 units

Develop aural skills

  • Music 24A24B24C: Ear Training I, II, III (1-2 units each)
  • Ear training exit exam
  • Piano proficiency exam

Analytical approaches: from the common-practice era to today

  • Music 212223: Elements of Music I, II, III (3 units each)
Lower-division Music History: 12 units

Develop proficiency with the history of Western art music

  • Music 40: Music History to 1600 (4 units)
  • Music 41: Music History from 1600 to 1830 (4 units)
  • Music 42: Music History since 1830 (4 units)
Upper-division Music Theory and History: 12 units

Choose one course among these three:

  • Develop compositional and analytical skills focus on tonal and post-tonal contrapuntal practices
  • Learn analytical methods
    • Music 122B: Analysis of Tonal Music (4 units)
    • Music 122C: Introduction to 20th- Century Composition (4 units)

2. Choose one course among these eight that satisfy the Writing In the Major (WIM) requirement:

  • Acquire the capacity to write about music
    • Music 140: Studies in Music of the Middle Ages (4 units)
    • Music 141: Studies in Music of the Renaissance (4 units)
    • Music 142: Studies in Music of the Baroque (4 units)
    • Music 143: Studies in Music of the Classical Period (4 units)
    • Music 144: Studies in Music of the Romantic Period (4 units)
    • Music 145: Studies in Western Art Music Since 1900 (4 units)
    • Music 146: Studies in Ethnomusicology (4 units)
    • Music 147: Studies in Music, Media, and Popular Culture (4 units)

3. Choose one more course among the remaining nine listed in 1 and 2.

Note: A course cannot be used to satisfy more than one major requirement.

Performance: 3 units

Choose a course or some courses among the following, for a minimum of 3 units  

1. Develop proficiency with at least one instrument or voice

2. Ensemble

3. Acquire conducting skills

  • Music 130B: Elementary Instrumental Conducting (2 units)
  • Music 130C:  Elementary Choral Conducting (2 units)

4. Play/Perform electronic music

  • Music 128: Stanford Laptop Orchestra: Composition, Coding, and Performance (3-4 units)

5. Play/Perform improvised music

  • Music 126A: Introduction to Thoroughbass, historically informed stylistic improvisation  (1-3 units)
  • Music 156: [sic] Improvisation Collective (1 unit)

6. Play/perform contemporary music, and collaborate with performers in having your music performed

Note: A course cannot be used to satisfy more than one major requirement.

MST/Composition/Orchestration: 3 units

Choose a course or some courses among the following, for a minimum of 3 units  

1. MST (Music, Science, and Technology)

  • Music 101: Introduction to Creating Electronic Sounds (3-4 units)
  • Music 155: Intermedia Workshop (3-4 units)
  • Music 192A, B, C: Sound Recording (192A & B: 3 units each, 192C: 1-2 units)
  • Music 220A, B, C: Computer Generated Sounds (2-4 units each)
  • Music 223: Composition for Electronic Musicians (3-4 units)
  • Music 223B: Sonic Experiments in Composition (1-3 units)
  • Music 223C: Tradition, Experimentation, and Technology in String Quartet Composition and Performance (1-3 units)
  • Music 223D: Sound Practice: Embodiment and the Social (2-3 units)
  • Music 250A, C: Design of Digital Sounds for Interactive Performance (3-4 units each)
  • Music 256A, B: Music Computing, Design (3-4 units each)

2. Composition

  • Music 20C: Jazz Arranging and Composition (3 units)
  • Music 112: Film Scoring (3 units)
  • Music 113: Introduction to Instrumental Composition (2-3 units)
  • Music 123A: Composition seminar: Rhythmic design (1-2 units)
  • Music 123B: Composition seminar: Pitch design (1-2 units)
  • Music 123C: Composition Seminar: World Music (1-2 units)
  • Music 124A: Songwriters Workshop (1-2 units)

3. Orchestration

  • Music 127A: Instrumentation and Orchestration (3 units)
  • Music 127B: Advanced Orchestration (3 units)

Note: A course cannot be used to satisfy more than one requirement.

*Piano Proficiency & Aural Skills Exit Examinations: Music majors must demonstrate basic piano proficiency and aural skills as part of the exit requirements for Music 23. The Piano Proficiency Examination consists of scales and arpeggios, performance of a simple tune to be set by the examiner, sight-reading, and the performance of prepared pieces. Download additional information regarding the proficiency examination. The Aural Skills (Ear Training) Examination assesses the ability to transcribe, represent, and reproduce music vocally and at the keyboard.

20-Unit Concentrations

Completing the Bachelor of Arts in Music requires an additional 20-unit Concentration above the 42-unit core as described above, amounting to a total of 62 units.  Students may declare concentrations in a maximum of two areas. Individual concentration requirements are linked above.

Departmental Honors

Honors in Music is granted to students who, in addition to successfully completing  the major requirements, have created a capstone project in their concentration area that is judged by a faculty jury to be of truly exceptional quality and deserving of special merit. To receive honors, students must also have earned an overall GPA of 3.6 or higher and a GPA of 3.7 or higher in courses required for the major.