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Music Theory Concentration Requirements

The Theory Program is intended to provide a strong foundation for students who wish to pursue a graduate degree in music theory, or who are otherwise interested in developing their understanding of the inner workings of music, especially within the Western tradition.  Interested students should ask one of the teachers of theory and analysis to serve as your advisor.

Core Requirements (42 Units)

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

Complete three upper division courses:

1. 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

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 123i: Undergraduate Seminar in Composition (2-3 units)
  • Music 124A: Songwriters Workshop (1-2 units)
  • Music 131A: Musical Indeterminacy & Advanced Notation (2-3 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.

Music Theory Requirements

Courses and Capstone Project: 19 or 20 units

Whichever course or courses remain from: 

  • Music 122A, B, or C and a second WIM course (Music 140-147) (8 units for the two courses);

One course chosen from:

  • Music 126: Thoroughbass (1-3 units)
  • Music 127A: Instrumentation and Orchestration (3 units)
  • Music 129: Advanced Ear Training (1-2 units)
  • Music 129K: Advanced Keyboard Musicianship (1-2 units) 


One course chosen from:

  • Music 154: History of Electronic Music (3 units)
  • Music 184A: Editing and Performing Early Music (1-3 units)
  • Music 251: Psychophysics and Cognition (1-5 units)
  • Music 269: Research in Performance Practices (1-5 units)


  • Music 43: Ethnomusicology (3-4 units)
  • Music 18A or B: Jazz (3 units)


  • Music 198, a capstone project (2 units). 

Students are strongly encouraged to attain proficiency in at least one language relevant to their research interests.  We may recommend German as the principal language besides English for music theory and musicology, with French and Italian not far behind, while Latin is important, especially for studies in ancient and medieval topics.


Beyond the Major

This 62-unit structure is designed to provide you with a strong basic education in music theory; but students who are interested in graduate studies and academic careers are especially encouraged to explore more deeply and widely still, and should work with their advisor to tailor a plan suited to their aspirations and the expectations in the field. 

In addition, we strongly recommend that you:

  • Be an active part of the community, in composition, performance, and discussion, collaborating with your peers.
  • Use the library and online resources to develop your knowledge of music within and outside your specific areas of research.
  • Take advantage of the Stanford Overseas Study Program, and explore other possibilities for summer study and music-making; partial funding (e.g., during Sophomore Summer) may be available to support your endeavors. 
  • If you are considering graduate studies in theory, select target programs and study their entrance requirements and exams.