Below are the degrees available for composition students. Visit the undergraduate and graduate degree pages for more detailed information.

Undergraduate degrees >>

Undergraduate composition majors begin their studies immediately with individual private lessons and weekly attendance at composition seminars. The program aims to build a solid technical and musical foundation while faculty guide each student in exploring his or her unique creative voice. Composition majors also take courses in music history and literature, analysis, counterpoint and orchestration, as well as participate in ensemble performance. Our students also enroll in a broad range of music technology courses, including courses in film scoring and multi-media performance.

  • Bachelor of Music in composition

Graduate degrees >>

MM and DMA graduate degrees in composition are available. Graduate composers are often commissioned to create works for faculty and local artists and ensembles, and their compositions have won recognition at prestigious international competitions. In addition to private studies with the faculty, majors interact in the weekly graduate composition seminar. Familiarity with current technology is also an essential component of the degree plan. Students also have access to the rich artistic and intellectual resources of a major research university. Graduate assistantships and other financial support are available on a competitive basis. Additionally, four DMA students per year are awarded the Arts and Technology Fellowship in Music Composition with the ATLAS Institute.

For more information about the MM and DMA programs in composition, contact Daniel Kellogg.

  • Master of Music in composition
  • Master of Music in composition with music technology emphasis
  • Doctor of Musical Arts in composition

Still have unanswered questions? Below are some frequently asked questions about our composition program.

How many composition majors are in the department?

There are typically 10-12 undergraduate students and 10-12 graduate students.  This nearly-equal mix of undergraduates to graduates gives our department a rich diversity with regards to current projects at any given time.

What type of music are you looking for from a composition applicant?

This is a very common question.  Our composition faculty is comprised of diverse artists who value this same quality among their students. Even though we primarily teach the tenets of the Western concert music tradition our faculty will guide students to be successful no matter which genre or style he/she may be working towards in any given project.  We thrive on this diversity and want to cultivate such variety!

As a graduate applicant, can I submit MIDI recordings with my application or will you only accept live recordings… and how many pieces should I submit?

We would like to see at least three compositions and no more than four from graduate applicants (FYI- we are migrating to a purely digital admissions process, so scores should be submitted as PDFs unless you prefer to mail hardcopies).  From your submitted works we want to get a well-rounded idea of who you are as a composer.  A nice mix of chamber or solo and large ensemble works is best.  We prefer to listen to LIVE recordings whenever possible, however we also know that circumstances may not be favorable (timing of deadlines, etc.) for a work you are wanting to submit.  We can “see through the MIDI” without any problem and treat your recording as if it was LIVE. One of the missions of our department is to furnish all of our composers with live recordings of their works and we will try to make special accommodations whenever needed in this regard.  Nothing beats a live recording.

As an undergraduate composition major, am I allowed to study an applied instrument formally with faculty?

Yes, however this depends on the particular student’s aptitude on his/her instrument and/or desires to pursue formal study on the instrument.  In the majority of cases, it becomes a matter of space in our applied instrument studios.  Though it is not unheard of for an undergraduate composition major to study his/her instrument with one of our primary faculty, a greater majority of our composition students take applied instrument lessons with graduate studio teaching assistants or adjunct faculty (Private instrument lessons are not a requirement for undergraduate composition majors)

As an undergraduate composition major, will I be required to take any credits towards an ensemble?

Yes.  Undergraduate composition majors are required to enroll in an ensemble for credit. This could mean Orchestra, Band, Choir, Japanese, Gamelan, or African drumming ensemble to name a few (if offered at that time).  Undergraduate composition majors are also required to either pass proficiency on piano or take piano lessons for 2 years of his/her degree.

As an undergraduate composition major, will I be required to take any credits towards an ensemble?

Yes.  Undergraduate composition majors are required to enroll in an ensemble for credit. This could mean Orchestra, Band, Choir, Japanese, Gamelan, or African drumming ensemble to name a few (if offered at that time).  Undergraduate composition majors are also required to either pass proficiency on piano or take piano lessons for two years of his/her degree.

What is the Pendulum New Music Series at CU?

PENDULUM is a new music series at the College of Music devoted to the presentation of student composers’ works in the newly-renovated Grusin Concert Hall in the COM and the Atlas building's B2 Center for Media, Arts and Performance. These concerts feature our composition majors as well as applied instrument majors and College of Music faculty alike.  The PENDULUM series is the perfect place for our composition majors to present new works, each of which will be recorded for the public and our students. Find more information about Pendulum.

As a graduate composition major will I have to take any preliminary tests upon arriving at CU in the fall?

Yes.  There are a few preliminary tests we administer at the College of Music in order to place new graduate students properly on his/her degree track.  These tests are:  Music History (before and after 1750), 16th- and 18th-Century Counterpoint, Tonal Analysis, Post-Tonal Analysis, and Aural Skills.

What are the composer opportunities for performances and awards at CU?

There are many annual opportunities for CU composers to hear both their chamber and larger works read or performed. See a comprehensive list of CU composition major opportunities.

Are there opportunities in electronic music?

Many of our students are actively composing and performing electroacoustic music both in live concert situations and on the internet. The CRuNCh studio offers a space for experimentation with eight channel surround sound as well as facilities for recording. MAX/MSP and SuperCollider are the primary compositional tools used but many other applications such as Logic Studio Pro, Reason, ProTools, and Abelton Live are supported as well. The Boulder Laptop Orchestra (BLOrk) is a for credit ensemble that offers many opportunities for live performance of student compositions.

Many students have sought out collaborations with other campus arts areas and have presented numerous works in the Atlas B2 Center for Media, Arts and Performance, which is a state-of-the-art multimedia and interdisciplinary performance facility. Watch many videos of activities at the Atlas Institute.

What kind of career development resources are available to students?

The Entrepreneurship Center for Music ("ECM") is one of the leading professional development programs in the country. Offerings include courses for academic credit, internship opportunities, weekly workshops, and more. The center is also run by Director Jeffrey Nytch, a member of the composition faculty with extensive experience as a freelance artist and arts administrator. Find more information on the ECM.

What about the course work for a composition major?

Beyond the weekly private composition lessons, we offer course work in orchestration, counterpoint, 20th-century analysis, electronic music/music technology, musicology, ethnomusicology, and a weekly composition seminar.

What is it like to live and study in Boulder?

Boulder is a marvelous place to live as a student. Aside from being a world-class research institution, the university enjoys amazing, temperate weather right at the steps of the Rocky mountains.  Because of Boulder’s unique location, there are abundant opportunities for recreation and culture. Denver, with the Colorado Symphony, Opera and Ballet, is only 35 minutes away.

Is there anything else I need to know in order to apply to CU as a composition major?

Visit the University of Colorado Boulder's website.

Find information on applying for the Composition program.

The University of Colorado Boulder College of Music generally offers Graduate Assistantships to help graduate students cover tuition. Theses GAs (only a few available on any given year) give incoming graduate students the opportunity to teach in the classroom as well. Fill out this application if you're interested.