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:

  • Steven Bruns was awarded the CU-Boulder 2013-14 Outstanding Faculty Graduate Advising Award.
  • Kris Shaffer (Ph.D., Yale) joined our faculty in 2013. Kris is a pedagogical leader, pioneering applications of the inverted classroom and innovative technologies in music theory teaching, and he is a contibuting editor for Hybrid Pedagogy. His research interests include the music of 20th- and 21st-century composers (Ligeti in particular), computational analysis of harmonic and formal structures, schema theory, popular music analysis, and the pedagogy of music theory and musicianship.
  • Our three most recent graduates of the masters program in music theory entered prestigious doctoral programs with top fellowships and assistantships: John Peterson (MM, 2011) received a Legacy Fellowship at Florida State University; Landon Morrison (MM, 2012) received a teaching assistantship and scholarship at McGill University; and Alan Reese (MM, 2013) received a teaching assistantship and award at the Eastman School of Music.
  • Daphne Leong received the University of Colorado Boulder Faculty Assembly’s 2013 Excellence in Teaching Award. According to the citation, Leong “has a marvelous rapport with her students, and she brings out the best in them with a remarkably dynamic, engaging, and challenging teaching style.”
  • Keith Waters’s book Studio Recordings of the Miles Davis Quintet, 1965-68 (Oxford 2011) has received numerous accolades: the 2011 Society for Music Theory jazz publication award, a Kayden Book Award Honorable Mention, a Certificate of Merit in the 2012 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence in Historical Sound Research in Jazz music, a “best of 2011” book selection from the New York City Jazz Record, and an “editor’s pick” from Down Beat magazine.
  • Keith Waters released Carolina Tracks, a collaborative recording with North Carolina’s finest jazz musicians. Proceeds will go to the North Carolina Jazz Scholarship Project.
  • Yonatan Malin is in his third year as editor of Music Theory Online (MTO), a journal of the Society for Music Theory. MTO is a leading journal in the field with peer-reviewed scholarship that combines text and multimedia (sound files, video, and animation).

Department Chair