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Music Theory and Composition Major Guide for 2016-2017

What is Music Theory and Composition?

Music Theory is the study of the content and construction of music.  Composition is the process of creating musical works.  Music Theorists and Composers are practitioners who exhibit technical competence as well as a broad knowledge of music, literature, musical style.

Career Opportunities in Music Theory and Composition

The Bachelor of Music degree with a concentration in Music Theory and Composition prepares students to:

  • become teachers of music theory in high schools
  • pursue graduate studies in theory or composition to later become a teacher of theory or composition at the college level
  • pursue graduate programs in related areas (e.g. recording or arts management)
  • analyze and comment on music (i.e. become a music critic)
  • compose and arrange art music or music for films, videos or TV

Salary Trends in Music Theory and Composition

As with any degree, pre-professional experiences (for example, internships, tutoring part time teaching, composing and arranging for various groups/situations) increase your chances of obtaining the job you want and will affect your potential salary. Graduates with a Bachelor of Music degree in theory composition usually start the jobs listed above with a salary between $45,000-50,000. Salaries for composers  vary widely and can be from $1000 for TV writing to $500,000 for a feature length movie.

More information on salaries can be found at:

High School Preparation

To prepare for a degree in music theory and composition:

  •  Take part in the chorus, the bands, and the orchestra in high school
  • Take private music lessons to help prepare for your audition
  • Study the pieces you play. Analyze them. Research the composer and the composition
  • Take any music theory, ear training, music history, or appreciation courses offered by your school
  • Listen to as much music and as many varied types of music as you can
  • Attend concerts
  • Take piano lessons
  • Arrange pieces for various ensembles or compose your own music
  • Learn a musical notation computer program such as Finale or Sibelius

How to Major in Music Theory and Composition

All new music students in music theory/composition (freshmen and transfer) must perform an audition on their major instrument  and interview with members of the music theory/composition faculty.

The audition and interview should be completed on the day of your audition.  No student progresses to a major in music theory/composition until the audition and interview have been successfully completed.

Information on the audition process can be found on the School of Music web site (  Applicants are strongly urged to register for an audition as early as possible.

Requirements for Music Theory and Composition

You will take the music core curriculum:

  • music theory and ear training
  • form and analysis
  • music history and world music
  • piano
  • applied music (lessons)
  • and ensembles

and courses specific to your major:

  • composition lessons
  • sound recording and synthesis
  • computer music transcription
  • orchestration
  • counterpoint
  • conducting
  • practicum (internship)

In addition, you are required to present a senior recital of your own compositions.

Highlights of Music Theory and Composition

Most students in the Theory/Composition program regard their Senior Recital as one of the major highlights of their program.  For this recital, composition students arrange for other students to perform several of their pieces.  Some ambitious students in the past have even arranged for performances of orchestral compositions and concertos.  The recital usually lasts between 30 and 60 minutes and is open to the public.

Another highlight is the Music Theory Practicum.  During their two semesters of Music Theory Practicum, Theory/Composition majors receive supervised experience in the theory classroom.  They assist a faculty member by tutoring students, constructing and grading tests or homework assignments, and preparing class materials.  Student may even get to teach a theory class or two. This course is usually taken during the senior year, but may be taken in the junior year as well.


Ready for the World logoReady for the World

The theory/composition faculty members encourage their majors to acquire a wide range of experiences.  If students can afford and have an interest in studying abroad, the faculty will work with them to make this opportunity as easy as possible.  Learn more about UT’s Ready for the World initiative to help students gain the international and intercultural knowledge they need to succeed in today’s world.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, offers study abroad programs in Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, South America, and North America. Program lengths vary from mini-term trips to the entire academic year, and students may choose to fulfill general education requirements, study a foreign language, or take courses within their majors. In addition, UTK offers students opportunities for international internships.

Students are highly encouraged to begin planning early in their academic career and to consult with an academic advisor about the best time to study abroad as well as what courses to take abroad. For more information about program options, the application process, and how to finance study abroad, please visit the Programs Abroad Office website.

Experience Learning

Experience Learning LogoExperience Learning is a bold new initiative with the goal of transforming the educational student experience at the University of Tennessee. Over a five-year period, UT will transform our culture to give students more opportunities to be involved in civic engagement, solve complex real-world problems, and contribute to the welfare of their communities as part of their regular course work.

The purpose of Experience Learning is to help students apply the knowledge, skills, and values learned in the classroom to real-world challenges. Experience Learning also seeks to engage student learning through direct experience and intense reflection to increase knowledge, acquire lifelong learning and problem-solving skills, and elucidate values.

Learn more about Experience Learning.

Academic Plan and Milestones

Following an academic plan will help students stay on track to graduate in four years. For first-time, first-year, full-time, degree-seeking students, UT has implemented Universal Tracking (uTrack), an academic monitoring system designed to help students stay on track for timely graduation. In order to remain on track, students must complete the minimum requirements for each tracking semester, known as milestones. Milestones may include successful completion of specified courses and/or attainment of a minimum GPA.

To see a sample academic plan and milestones for this major, please visit the undergraduate catalog for Theory/Composition Concentration – Composition Track and Theory/Composition Concentration – Theory Track.

For More Information

See the Music Theory and Composition area web site:
Or contact the Music Theory/Composition area:
Dr. Barbara Murphy
Theory/Composition Area Coordinator
1741 Volunteer Blvd.
Haslam Music Center
Knoxville, TN 37996-2600
(865) 974-3241


The information on this page should be considered general information only. For more specific information on this and other programs refer to the UT Undergraduate catalog or contact the department and/or college directly.

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