College of Music

University of Colorado Boulder


Music Theory

Music Theory forms an integral part of each music student’s education at the University of Colorado Boulder, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Required courses for all undergraduate music majors include Music Theory (Semesters 1-4), Aural Skills (Semesters 1-4), as well as upper division electives in tonal analysis, post-tonal analysis, counterpoint, jazz theory, composition, and music technology. Graduate students may pursue study in advanced topics in music theory and analysis.

The Master’s Degree in Music Theory provides students with the opportunity to engage in deep analytical and interpretive study of music, in dialogue with performance, musicology, cognitive science, pedagogy, new media, and other fields. The degree equips students for theory teaching and original research and prepares them for advanced doctoral study. Students benefit from the vibrant and collegial environment of the College of Music with access to elective courses in performance, composition, musicology, music education, music entrepreneurship, musician’s wellness, and other fields. Information about applying for the masters in music theory can be found here.

Our faculty offer a broad array of research specializations that include analysis of the music of the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries; Schenkerian analysis; post-tonal theory; jazz theory; theories of rhythm and meter; analysis and performance; intersections of literary and music theory; pedagogy of music theory and musicianship; the German Lied; analysis of world-music traditions; computational analysis of harmonic and formal structures; schema theory; and popular music analysis. A flyer listing our faculty and areas of expertise can be found here; more information is also given below.

Each year the Music Theory Department hosts presentations and classes by distinguished scholars. Guests have included Richard Cohn, Poundie Burstein, Charles Burkhart, Joel Lester, Kofi Agawu, Elizabeth West Marvin, Steve Laitz, Robert Hatten, and Eugene Narmour. 

Colloquium Series

Recent Music Theory Highlights:

  • In 2014-15 Daphne Leong published on Morris's Clear Sounds in Perspectives of New Music, and on Bartók's Fifth String Quartet in The String Quartets of Béla Bartók, ed. Krebs and Biró. She also premiered Richard Toensing's For Daphne for solo piano; featured with her quartet Throw Down or Shut Up! at the Dazzle Jazz Club Classical Series in Denver and the Dairy Center Soundscape Series in Boulder; and partnered with Alejandro Cremaschi in duo-piano music on Uno y Dos on the Faculty Tuesday Series at CU-Boulder. Her quartet Throw Down or Shut Up! presented What's New? What's Cool?, an interactive kids' concert introducing 3rd- and 4th-grade children to new music, in collaboration with the Music Education Department. Leong received CU's LEAP Associate Professor Growth Grant for work on her book Performing Knowledge: Performance and Analysis in Music of the 20th Century. She was elected Vice-President of the Society for Music Theory.
  • Keith Waters discussed his award-winning book The Studio Recordings of the Miles Davids Quintet, 1965-68 on an interview for a national podcast entitled "New Books in Jazz." In February 2015 he performed as jazz artist for the Elon University Jazz Festival. In March 2015 he provided a pair of lectures on jazz and popular music at the Graz University for Performing Arts (Austria). He is currently an outside reader for a dissertation at the University of Glasgow (Scotland), and is in his final year on the Executive Board of the Society for Music Theory.
  • In the spring of 2015, Kris Shaffer gave a College of Music colloquium on "The Public Intellectual: Maintaining an Online Scholarly Presence" and a presentation at the Emerging Technologies for Online Learning conference about his jointly authored textbook Open Music Theory. He also joined the Board of Directors for Hybrid Pedagogy, where he has been serving as an editor for their long-form publishing division. This summer, he is teaching a new online course in music cognition and hosting Engaging Students: An Unconference on Music Pedagogy at CU.
  • Yonatan Malin taught and presented research on songs by Fanny Hensel née Mendelssohn at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, and he presented a colloquium at Columbia University, co-sponsored by the American Society for Jewish Music, on "Individual Voices and the Study of Jewish Cantillation." He also taught a new graduate seminar, Analytical Approaches to World Music, in the spring of 2015.
  • Steven Bruns was awarded the CU-Boulder 2013-14 Outstanding Faculty Graduate Advising Award.
  • Our most recent Master of Music Theory student, Chelsea Wright, has been accepted to the Ph.D. program in music theory at the University of Oregon. She was awarded a 4-year Graduate Teaching Fellowship, and the first course she'll lead is sophomore theory, and advanced initial assignment indeed. Congratulations, Chelsea!

Department Chair