Undergraduate Study in Music: Information for Current Students

"Music is a central part of the emotional and intellectual lives of Harvard undergraduates, and the Department of Music offers abundant opportunities to deepen that experience, both through performance and in the classroom. Our courses range widely from music fundamentals (essentially the nuts and bolts of how to read a score) to jazz, classical music, film, musical theater, cross-cultural encounters, popular music, opera, sound studies, new music, electronic music, improvisation, songwriting, and world music traditions. The range of topics is constantly evolving. We believe that substantive artistic experiences are crucial in nurturing well-rounded citizens, and we approach the study of music with an energetic commitment to diversity. Students come to us with widely varying backgrounds and goals. Some hope to shape careers in the arts — whether as performers, scholars, arts administrators, or educators. Others are still searching, aware that music-making is central to their identities but not yet certain about their ultimate path in life. Perhaps most importantly, our department offers a strong sense of community, with conscientious advising from the faculty."
-- Professor Carol J. Oja

Get in Touch

Richard Wolf
Director of Undergraduate Studies
617-384-7678 | Office: Sanders 031

Michael Uy
Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies
5-2263 | Office: Resident Dean, Dunster House

Concentration and Joint Concentration Information

2020 Music Theory Placement Exam

The placement test for music theory courses will be offered remotely via a dedicated Canvas site. The results of this test will help us recommend whether you should take 51A (music theory I), the preparatory Music 2 (offered in Spring), or jump to 51B (Theory 2, spring; this option is rare). The exam also assists with sectioning students by experience and interests. Please contact the instructor to request to be “enrolled” in the Canvas site [joseph_jakubowski@fas.harvard.edu]. You must complete the placement exam before the beginning of the semester.

Note: If a rising freshman or sophomore has taken the AP Theory test (and scored a 5), they can automatically register for 51A without sitting for the placement exam in August/September. AP scores and Placement Test scores hold for two years; if you are a junior or senior, or would like to try and place out of 51A and/or 51B, you must take the test.  

Concentration FAQ

How does it work?

Our new curriculum, which took effect in fall term 2017, opens up flexible pathways through our diverse course offerings while building on our traditional strengths. Our broad goal remains the same as before: we strive to create thinking musicians and musical thinkers. The concentration in Music exposes students to a wide variety of musical styles, sounds, and musical traditions in order to develop their critical understanding of music in diverse cultural and historical contexts.

Students choose pathways that best reflect their musical interests and aspirations. A jazz musician who wants to learn to play South Indian music, an orchestral musician who wants to learn songwriting, a musical theater performer who wants to develop her interests in West African music, political music, or electronic music– all these students and more can choose courses that reflect their interests and expand their horizons.

Our goal was to build flexibility into the curriculum, making it possible for students with diverse backgrounds and interests to flourish in the music concentration. We were eager to enable students to enroll in the courses currently required in the curriculum, but not to require them to follow a particular route. We created multiple entryways into the concentration that would allow students from different backgrounds and with diverse musical interests to join the concentration. And we aimed to shape a curriculum that would make it possible for our faculty to be creative and teach to their intellectual strengths.

Of the ten courses required for the concentration (12 for Honors), three are required: the concentration tutorials 97T Thinking about Music, 97L Critical Listening, and 98 Advanced Tutorial. The two concentration tutorials, Music 97T and Music 97L, can be imagined as offering a macrocosm and microcosm of the musical world. Where Music 97T tackles broad questions pertaining to music and its place in human existence, Music 97L focuses the lens on a more detailed level of engagement with music. Both emphasize critical listening skills, which are a pivotal contribution that engagement with music makes to the humanities. Music 98 (optional for joint concentrators), emphasizes skills that students wish to develop with the view to a senior thesis or “capstone project.”

Students are free to choose the rest from a wide range of introductory and advanced courses in music theory, analysis, composition, historical musicology, and ethnomusicology, in addition to many courses that incorporate or focus on musical performance. These courses reflect the specialties of our academic faculty: eighteenth-century material culture, diaspora studies and migration, opera, jazz, music and politics, early music, musical theater, music and media, sound studies, improvisation, hip hop, musics from around the world, American and European modernism, music and cognition, music and ecology, new music of the 21st-century, music as activism, songwriting, and cross-cultural composition. Students are encouraged to participate (with credit) in faculty-led ensembles in orchestra, chorus, jazz, and dance. Whereas in the past, only 2 or 3 electives were possible, the new curriculum allows for much greater choice.

What’s driving this change?

The musical world around us has changed, and students bring with them a broader range of interests and skills than in generations past. Moreover, the rigorous division into history/theory around which the old curriculum was built was a particular challenge for the many hybrid and interdisciplinary courses that we teach. Some performance classes, for example, blend history, analysis, and performance practice, focusing on music from around the world as well as music of Western canon. The new curriculum recognizes the value of courses like this, and makes space for courses media and technology, music and science, popular music, film music, music and disability, and much else.

Is it true that reading music is no longer required?

No. The majority of courses we offer do require knowledge of musical notation. The first-year theory sequence (Music 51) will still be a pre-requisite for most advanced courses in music theory and music history. Some courses deal with music that is not traditionally notated, and students are expected to learn about how that music is transmitted and received in the context of that tradition. Beyond that, we expect our students to understand that reading music can mean understanding many types of notation, including (for example) lute tablatures, shape notes, or sargam notation. To this end, we’ve increased the number of theory courses that count for the concentration. Those students who come to Harvard with some theory training and who wish to pursue composition, conducting, or graduate study will be able to take the advanced theory sequence in Western music we have always offered and will be encouraged to do so. And now, students with various musical backgrounds will be able to gain fluency in Western notation while at Harvard and still become music concentrators.

How does the student chart a path?
Individual advising is crucial. We put in place a robust advising team that helps students devise (and revise) a study plan to pave a path through the concentration. We expect that in many cases this will not be that different from the old curriculum. But the critical part is that it can look radically different.

Are there options for individual work with faculty?

Students are welcome to take a term of Supervised Reading and Research (Music 91r) as an elective. This consists of individual work with a faculty member of the student's choice. The elective may count for concentration credit with advance department approval.

Can I concentrate in more than one subject? (Joint Concentration)

The department welcomes joint concentrations with other departments that allow them. Joint concentrators need to fulfill a reduced number of course requirements, as outlined below. A senior thesis is required on a topic in which both fields are represented.

Is an Honors thesis required? What if I want to write one?

All Honors candidates, including all joint concentrators, are required to complete a thesis during their senior year. Options for senior theses include research papers, original compositions, or senior recitals. More information can be found in the Honors Thesis Guidelines section.

Do I have any flexibility in how many courses I take each semester?

For students who feel they require more time for applied practice and study, the department offers a five-year program. Students approved by the department and the Administrative Board for this program take the normal number of courses in their freshman year, but then work at the three-course-per-term rate for the four years following. This permits more intensive work in performance. These students are expected to give a senior recital. (Harvard's Five-Year Performance Program is NOT the same as the Harvard/NEC Dual-Degree program or the Harvard/Berklee Dual Degree program, both of which also require five years.)

Can I get course credit for performance?

See the Course Credit for Performance section.

Can I get credit for my AP courses?

No. Students who place out of both introductory theory courses—Music 51a and Music 51b—though the Harvard Placement Examination in Music (given in the fall and open to all students; see details below) will earn one full credit toward Advanced Standing. Concentration credit is not granted for passing out of Music 51, but substitute courses may be selected with consultation of an adviser. The AP exam in Music cannot be applied toward either Advanced Standing credit or Music Concentration credit at Harvard.

What can you do with an AB from Harvard with a concentration in Music?

Graduates in Music go on to a variety of careers. Graduates have become lawyers, congressional aides, software developers, sound technicians, arts administrators, and speech pathologists, as well conductors, performers, and professors. The AB degree from Harvard with a concentration in Music is a liberal arts degree, and our students pursue careers in professions similar to anyone with liberal arts training. They also pursue careers as professional musicians, and many continue their studies and go on to become music scholars. Read about recent graduates who concentrated in Music.



Concentration Requirements

The New Curriculum (as of 2017): Concentrators and Joint Concentrators

-Ten courses are required to be a full concentrator (8 courses for joint concentrator)
-The only required courses are 97T (Thinking about Music) and 97L (Critical Listening) for both full and joint concentrators plus 98 (Advanced Tutorial) for full concentrators
-Faculty-led ensembles and Music 189-Chamber Music-can count for concentration
-Gen Ed, Freshman Seminar, and introductory courses taught by Music Department faculty can count for concentration

“No more than two”

Although technically all courses taught by Music Department faculty can count for concentration, you will need to follow the "no more than 2 rule."

No more than 2 courses from each of the following Music faculty-taught categories may count toward concentration:
• Repeatable courses (labeled "r" after the course number) of the same course number
• Faculty-led ensembles and introductory courses
• SAT/UNS courses (freshman seminars and faculty-led ensembles are graded SAT/UNS, and other courses that may offer that option)

**Some courses may fall under more than one category. For example, 189r (Chamber Music) can be taken SAT/UNS and is also a repeatable course. Or, as another example, Music 10 (Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra) is both a faculty-led ensemble and a course graded SAT/UNS. The Department’s advising team will help you to ensure a smooth path through the concentration from start to finish.

New 97s

The two new concentration tutorials, 97T and 97L, can be imagined as macrocosm and microcosm of the music world. Where 97a, “Thinking about Music,” tackles broad questions pertaining to music and its place in human existence, 97b, “Critical Listening,” focuses the lens on a more detailed level of engagement with music.

Music 98-Advanced Tutorial

Individual courses of specialization, in groups of up to three, will be offered by qualified Teaching Fellows under the supervision of a faculty member.
Music 98 will follow one of a number of topics including (but not limited to):
◦ Compositional Techniques
◦ Ethnographic Skills
◦ Notation
◦ Cultural History
◦ Performance Practice
◦ Sound Technology
◦ Analytic Techniques
Depending on the field of the tutorial, there will be a concluding project of modest size at the end of the semester, which may later become a component of a senior thesis.


Honors/Thesis Information

Any concentrator who is a fall degree candidate should email the Undergraduate Coordinator as soon as possible to obtain the relevant due dates.

All Honors candidates, including all joint concentrators, are required to complete a thesis during their senior year. This may take the form of a written thesis, a performance thesis, or an original composition. This will require consultation with a Harvard University Department of Music faculty member, who will serve as the thesis adviser. The plan or subject of the thesis is to be approved by the department at the end of the junior year. Please read the document below thoroughly for details and deadlines. It contains information on:
- the written thesis (Historical Musicology, Ethnomusicology, Music Theory)
- pre-screening and details for the non-written thesis (original composition, performance-based and creative Honors projects)
- deadlines for 20-21 and 21-22
- submission requirements
- thesis formatting guidelines and requirements
- Undergraduate Honors Thesis Proposal Form

Thesis Guidelines and Deadlines classes of 2021 and 22.pdf (9 pages)


Undergraduate Funding

NOTE: Students traveling abroad on trips funded or arranged by Harvard or who will receive Harvard credit during their travel are required to record their itineraries in the Harvard Travel Registry.

Music Department Travel and Study Awards

John Knowles Paine Fellowships (for travel and study during the summer after graduation)

Each spring, the Music Department awards John Knowles Paine Fellowships for travel and study. The Fellowships were established in 1912 by Mrs. Paine in memory of her husband and are available to music concentrators in their senior year for study during the summer following graduation. If you are interested in applying, please submit THIS FORM and a letter to the Department Chair detailing your plans of travel or study and proposed budget. If you have any questions, please see the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the Department Administrator. The proposal is usually due in March.

Davison Fellowships

The Davison Fellowship for Travel in Music, a gift from Alice D. Humez in memory of her husband Archibald "Doc" Davison, provides financial support for students engaged in short projects relating to music that require travel away from Harvard University. Undergraduate students in good standing are eligible to apply. While the terms of the fellowship are broadly defined, preference will be given to proposals that have an academic component. Projects may take place during the summer or the school year. Economical and resourceful proposals will be favored. Undergraduates engaged in research are particularly encouraged to apply. Applications consist of THIS FORM, a short project description (1-2 pp.), a budget, and a confidential letter of recommendation sent directly from an academic advisor. These materials should be submitted to the Department of Music in March and can be emailed to Eva Kim (evakim@fas.harvard.edu)
The fellowship selection will be made by a committee in the Department of Music and will be announced in the first week of April.

College Project and Travel Funding

Undergraduates seeking funding for projects and travel may find these sources helpful as well:
Harvard College funding sources database
Harvard College Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships
Office of Career Services David Rockefeller International Experience GrantsCommon Application for Research and Travel (CARAT)
Artist Development Fellowships

Composition Prizes

Undergraduate composers are eligible to apply for several prizes, awarded annually. Write to the Assistant to the Chair (evakim@fas.harvard.edu) if you have questions about dates or details.

John Green Fellowship
The Fund was established by friends and family of the late John Green '28 in support of excellence in musical composition. No submission or application necessary. The award is made annually to an undergraduate or graduate student composer.  This year’s fellowship will be awarded to an undergraduate student composer.

University Composition Prizes

The deadline for submitting to the department for the university composition prizes and Blodgett Composition Competition is in March (email Eva Kim for exact deadline).
Please submit your piece(s) in hard copy form to Eva Kim. If your piece is selected, the composition faculty will determine which prize is most appropriate. There is general information about these prizes below. 

This is a string quartet competition for a piece to be performed by the Parker String Quartet in 2018-19. 

"The Bohemians" (New York Musicians Club) has been established in the Department of Music a prize in original musical composition. The competition is open to undergraduates or the members of any graduate school of the University. The interest of the bequest will be awarded for an original composition for one or two instruments.

From the income of the bequest of Francis Boott, of the Class of 1831, a prize has been established for the writer of the best composition in concerted vocal music. The competition is open to undergraduates or to members of any graduate school of the University. The prize is offered for the best composition for chorus of not less than three nor more than eight parts, either a capella or with accompaniment for piano, organ, or small instrumental ensemble, requiring not more than ten minutes for performance. The choice of text, which may be either sacred or secular, Latin or English, original or selected, is left to the contestant.

In 1909 the University received from William H. Knight, of the Class of 1903, a fund for the establishment of a prize in memory of his brother, George Arthur Knight, late of the Class of 1907. On this foundation the George Arthur Knight Prize is offered for the best composition in instrumental music, "preference to be given to compositions for string quartets or trios, though works with piano accompaniment may compete." The competition is open to undergraduates and degree candidates in any graduate school in the University.

Bequest of Hugh F. MacColl, 1907, this prize was established in 1954. The income from the fund is "to be applied from time to time . . . to the awarding of prizes" in a competition for students in Harvard College "for original musical compositions.




Five-Year Performance Program

(NOT the dual-degree Harvard/NEC or Harvard/Berklee program)

For students who wish to pursue a program with more emphasis on performance, the department offers the Five-Year Program. Students approved by the department take four or five courses per term in their freshman year, but then work at the three-course-per-term rate for four following years. This permits more intensive work in performance, and these students are expected to give a senior recital.

This program is designed for music concentrators; thus admission to the five-year program is only granted to students willing to commit to this concentration choice as freshmen. This also means that a student doing the five-year program will pay for four years (of tuition, but an extra year of fees, room and board.

Students may combine this option with advanced standing to finish degree requirements in four years and remain at Harvard for a fifth year at the reduced rate.

To Apply:

  • 1) In the freshman year, student requests certification from the Department of Music. This takes the form of a brief letter to the Director of Undergraduate Studies, outlining the student's performance background and plans for performance study in the five-year program.
  • 2) The DUS presents the request at a Department meeting.
  • 3) If the request is approved, the student takes the Department's certification to her/his Resident Dean, and makes a request for permission to remain at Harvard for ten terms, and to work for eight terms at the three-course-per-term rate.
  • 4) The Resident Dean takes this request to the Administrative Board for permission.
  • 5) The Resident Dean notifies the student and the Director of Undergraduate Studies of Music of the Administrative Board's decision.

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