Composition & Theory


Theory Requirements for Undergraduate Music Majors

Please refer to individual programs in the Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Arts in Music, and the Music Minor for required coursework in music theory. (see Music Degrees and Requirements Overview)

Advanced Courses in Music Theory

contact Dr. Kris Bryden or Dr. Julie Sturm

In addition to core and upper division courses in music theory, the composition-theory faculty may be available to mentor qualified students interested in advanced analytical projects through Music 490B/590B, Independent Study (Theory). There is no undergraduate degree with a concentration in music theory. Selected 400-level courses in Music Theory carry credit toward graduate degrees.


Composition Studies (Undergraduate)

Prospective Students

Acceptance to study composition as an area of concentration (Bachelor of Music) requires a portfolio of work as an audition. Please prepare a portfolio of work, as either electronic documents or copies of manuscript (keep your originals), and submit this directly to the composition faculty before requesting special advising or pre-enrollment meetings. Transfer students with prior coursework in composition should include work from those courses in the audition portfolio. While transfer credit generally will be applied to your Bachelor of Music degree, the composition faculty may advise additional lower-division study in composition (Music 290C) prior to full acceptance into the composition emphasis (see Concentration in Composition, below).

Note: Dr. Hopkins is on leave for 2013-2014, but will review audition portfolios during August-December 2013 and beginning again August 2014.

Preliminary Studies (Years 1 & 2)

Composition is available to qualified students as an area of concentration for the Bachelor of Music degree. All composition students begin their study with a concentration in an instrument or voice, with simultaneous enrollment in composition studies (Music 290C). As part of the continuation exam (see music major requirements), which is normally taken in the fourth semester of a four-year program, students intending to change their area of concentration to composition submit a portfolio for review by the composition faculty. This portfolio must provide evidence of preparation for work in larger forms for a variety of instrumentations, with qualities of advanced compositional development.

Concentration in Composition (Years 3 & 4)

Once accepted to the concentration in composition (see Preliminary Studies, above), students work in 490C, in which creative activity is directed toward expansion of compositional method and development of a unique compositional voice. Students are expected critically to examine historical and contemporary models of composition, and to pursue activities in which they rehearse and conduct their own works. A recital of 4-5 original works, written during the period of study for the degree and approved by the composition faculty, is required for completion of the concentration.

Other Opportunities in Composition

Students with exceptional talent in composition but who will pursue different major may audition for Music 290C, subject to faculty availability. These students work in composition at the same level as those who are working for the emphasis in composition.

In addition to courses in composition, the ISU Music Department offers courses in music technologies and electroacoustic music, in which composition plays a significant role. An open-access 24-workstation lab provides music notation, sequencing, and audio mastering software, which have direct application to music composition. See Music Technology.

Students primarily interested in arranging, songwriting, and orchestration should consult the course offerings in music theory and music education.

Composition Studies (Graduate)

Composition is available (by audition) as an area of study within two interdisciplinary programs: Interdisciplinary Electronic Arts Cluster (Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies) and Human-Computer Interaction. Students enroll in either 590C (acoustic composition) or 590I (electronic music).

Note: Dr. Hopkins is on leave for 2013-2014, but will review audition portfolios during August-December 2013 and beginning again August 2014.

Frequently Asked Questions (Composition)

What should I include in an audition portfolio for Music 290C?
While evidence of talent in compostion may be shown in many ways, a normal portfolio for composition consists of music committed to notation in a musical score. The typical portfolio has three brief (2-6 page) compositions, but if the compositions are longer and for larger ensembles then there could be just two. Where there are recordings to go with the compositions, perhaps computer-rendered models or audio recordings of playing scores from a keyboard instrument, these are not required but are helpful and may be included.

I primarily improvise. Why do I need to submit notated scores?
Composition begins with improvision of some kind, either directly on an instrument or by means of pure imagination. But composition is different than improvisation in how it ultimately develops musical ideas, and discussion of such techniques is best done with reference to notated scores. This is why a portfolio of compositions notated in musical score is a requirement to begin study in composition. I suggest that you notate your improvisations, and try to develop them in a set of variations. This will give you an idea of how your improvisations can become compositions if a kind emphasized in our degree program.

I have written several songs and produced my own album. Can I use this as an audition, and earn a composition degree emphasizing songwriting?
First, we do not offer a program or coursework in songwriting. If you are interested however to obtain a fuller experience in music composition, that would emphasized writing music with the artistic complexity characterizing Classical music, then do include a statement of this with the audition portfolio and we will evaluate the portfolio strictly on the basis of a projection toward success in our degree program. You may continue your work in songwriting, and create a career of this after obtaining the degree in composition, but songwriting will not be a subject taken up in your composition courses or recital.

Special note: A declared interest in obtaining a degree in music composition for the purpose of developing a career in songwriting has a good standard response, so here it is: The best pathway to break into the music entertainment industry is to go to an industry-oriented program in one of the large entertainment centers such as LA, Nashville, Miami, or New York, or in a major metro like Boston or Minneapolis that has a similar concentration of recording studios and production houses. In this career path there is a significant need to be near the action, and to get apprenticeship and ghost-writing opportunities along with your formal schooling.

I already have a portfolio of works that I think already shows the equivalent of what Music 290C requires. May I be accepted to the composition area early, without first completing the two years of study in an area of performance?
The short answer is no, you must first complete the initial study in performance in spite of already composing at a level coinciding with the advanced composition courses. Ability in performance, ensemble musicianship, and successful completion of coursework in music history/theory are essential elements in your "core" study in preparation for advanced work in composition. You need to complete these and pass the continuation exam before being accepted formally to the composition emphasis. It may very well turn out that your study in 290C can be in subjects normally taught in 490C, and your work in 490C then 'yet more advanced', something we can handle easily in the flexibility of private tutorials. No matter your level of advancement as you begin, you need to put in the time with your composition mentor to earn the required credits in composition, there is no credit by examination for composition.

I know that Finale and Sibelius music notation software is provided in the music computer lab. Am I required to use notation software, and in particular one or the other notation software, for composition?
No. You do not need to use any computer technology to assist your process of composition. If you have good facility at the keyboard enough to play multiple parts from score, then you can bring in your work to composition classes this way, with a hand-written score. It is normal however to learn to be proficient with Finale or Sibelius, as this provides an aural model of your composition to play in class as well as to provide a much more facile way to prepare professional quality scores and parts quickly. The first semester theory sequence provides the basic instruction in Finale. Dr. Hopkins prefers his students to use the more customizable advanced features of Sibelius. Drs. Bryden and Golemo have expertise in Finale. Either way, the final work will be with performers reading and peforming your music. If you already are very proficient with other music software, you may use this to prepare materials and to present work, however, the composition faculty may not be in the position to advise you about advanced use of the software necessary in the final four semesters of composition studies.

I want to be an electronic music composer but do not want to be a music major or music minor. Can I take composition and just compose electronic music?
For you the option is to take music technology courses and develop your basic skills in electronic music this way, primarily through completing Music 346 and 446. By audition then, work in electronic music composition may be available through 490I. This is subject to availability of the instructor. You may also be interested in the Minor in Music Technology.