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Pursuing Graduate Study in Music Composition

  1. WHY pursue graduate study?
  2. WHAT are the degrees one can attain?
    • Master of Music (M.M.)
    • Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.)
    • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
  3. WHERE should one attend graduate school?
  4. WHAT might one seek in a graduate school?
    • A school that suits your needs and goals
    • A school in a particular locale (most important for doctorate, unless you are seeking a “terminal masters degree.”)
    • A school of your preferred size and setting (large, small, urban, college-town, near-urban)
    • A school that provides good monetary value (expensive schools can be a worthwhile investment, some great schools offer great financial incentive to attend, some great schools are not very expensive).
    • A school that provides opportunities for teaching assistantships, composition performances, use of facilities, and contact with key professors.
  5. HOW does one get accepted to graduate school?
    • Be, look, and sound remarkable
      • How to do this… see below
    • Apply. You’ll need:
      • Three letters of recommendation
      • Four-six (?) scores with recordings
      • A chronological list of compositions
      • Other stuff (resumé, essays, etc.) as requested
    • Some people work the system by meeting potential professors first at music festivals or by appointment.
  6. HOW might one be appealing to a section committee?
    • Hone your craft and make your music vibrant. Work your @#$ off the summer after your Junior year.
    • Prepare application materials to look professional-grade. Your materials (3-4 scores with recordings, good grades, 3 reference letters) must be complete, on-time and appealing.
    • Have live recordings that sound fantastic. Here’s how to get them…
      • Compose for instruments that will lead to great performances. Try percussion, piano, computer, and ensembles from strong departments.
      • Plan recording sessions that are not concerts.
      • Attend summer music festivals that will provide good recordings by advanced (professional?) musicians.
    • Be an accomplished and confident musician aside from being a skilled composer. This includes:
      • Have good performance skills, piano preferred.
      • Be well-versed in contemporary music composers, techniques and trends. Good composers are new music fans.
      • Have good computer skills. This includes email.
      • Be well-versed in music theory, including these topics: set theory, Schenkerian analysis, spectral music, modern opera.
      • Be well-versed in music from specialty areas, such as jazz, commercial music, ethnic music, etc.
      • Cultivate appealing interests through participation in extracurricular musical (or non-musical?) activities
    • You can either pay your way to an expensive school, or be someone to whom they can award a graduate assistantship (this probably won’t be a consideration in the application process, but may become a big factor soon after one is accepted.
    • Suit the desired program’s values, perhaps by matching a department’s established aesthetic, demonstrates an appealing level of eclecticism or area of expertise, provides demographic balance, shows promise as a collaborator or contributor to department needs (tech? instrument performance? academic progress?)

Some Useful Links

Mark Phillips: Choosing a Graduate School in Music Composition

From Music School Central: