Undergraduate Study in Music: Information for Current Students

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. The concentration also provides a solid foundation in theory, analysis, composition, and criticism, as well as the opportunity to develop acute listening skills. The trained ear grounds the unique contribution of musical study to the humanities. Although the Department of Music is not in itself a school of music with a performance department, all of our courses support the intellectual development of musicians, and many of our courses incorporate or focus on performance. 
Students are encouraged to participate (with credit) in faculty-led ensembles in orchestra, chorus, jazz, and dance. We offer a wide range of introductory and advanced courses in music theory, composition, historical musicology, ethnomusicology, in addition to many courses that incorporate or focus on musical performance. These courses reflect the specialties of our academic faculty: diaspora studies and migration, opera, jazz, music and politics, early music, musical theater, music and media, improvisation, hip hop, history of the book, film, Islam, American and European modernism, music and cognition, music and ecology, music and language, new music of the 21st-century, and cross-cultural composition; regular cross-cultural offerings include the musical traditions of Africa, Latin America, South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia. 


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

2021 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 fill out this brief Google form to arrange to take the exam. Contact instructor Joseph Jakubowski with any questions.

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 Curriculum

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 their own pathways through these course offerings, creating a mix of introductory and advanced courses that best reflect their musical interests and aspirations. Students may enter the concentration from any music course, including performance courses, Freshman Seminars, Gen. Ed. and introductory courses, as well as through the first-year theory course. The heart of the concentration is the two-semester concentration tutorial, “Critical Listening” and “Thinking About Music.” These required courses, taught by different faculty on a rotating basis, provide listening and analytical skills as well as a familiarity with a wide range of methodologies in music studies. 
Students continue with electives that invite engagement with musical questions at a deeper level. In musicology and ethnomusicology, these courses take the form of proseminars for small groups that explore in detail selected musicological issues and direct students toward significant independent projects. Several courses in acoustic and electronic composition are given each year, along with occasional offerings in orchestration and other specific compositional topics. Advanced theory and analysis courses include such topics as tonal and post-tonal analysis, jazz harmony, and modal and tonal counterpoint. Performance-oriented courses include chamber music, jazz, South Indian, West African, historical performance practice, improvisation, conducting and creative music. 
There are three 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 entails a more detailed level of engagement with music. Music 98 (optional for joint concentrators), emphasizes skills that students may be able to use with the view to a senior thesis or capstone project.  
For those writing senior theses, a year of Senior Tutorial (Music 99r) is required. Options for senior theses include research papers, original compositions, or senior recitals. Students working toward a senior thesis will normally enroll in Music 98 in the spring of junior year. There are no general examinations for undergraduates. 
A capstone project can be either an extension of a final class project, or a fresh project, undertaken in the context of Music 98.  It is ungraded and serves as a culminating experience in the music department for those not pursuing a senior thesis. Where Music 98 leads to a capstone project, it may be taken during the senior spring semester.  
The department welcomes joint concentrations with other departments that allow them. Students who had wished to pursue a joint concentration with a department that does not allow them should consult with the DUS to explore how best to pursue their course interests in music. Joint concentrators need to fulfill a reduced number of course requirements, as outlined below. A senior thesis is required, usually on a topic that engages both fields. 
For students who feel they require more time for applied practice and study, the department offers a five-year performance 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 rate for the four years following. This permits more intensive work in performance. These students are expected to give a senior recital. 
Students who have taken college courses in music at other institutions may receive concentration credit for work done elsewhere. This ordinarily involves a written petition to the faculty and may require taking an examination in the materials of the course for which credit is requested. 

 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 above) 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.

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

10 courses (40 credits) 
  1. Required courses: 
    1. Music 97T and Music 97L; Music 98 (see item 3. Tutorials). 
  2. Electives
    1. Any 7 courses taught by Music Department faculty with no more than 2 each from the following categories  
      1. -  Faculty-led ensembles and Introductory courses 
      2. -  A particular course number followed by the letter ‘r’, indicating that it is repeatable (you can take as many repeatable courses with different numbers as you wish, but only two of a particular number, and only one time; so for example if you take 160r twice and 161r twice, either two 160rs and one 161r count, or two 161rs and one 160r count for concentration credit) 
      3. -  SAT/UNSAT courses 
      4. -  Approved courses outside the department that are not taught by Music Department Faculty. 
  3. Honors 
    1. Thesis (Music 99, 2 semesters, graded SAT/UNSAT) 
  4. Department of Music Course offerings are categorized as follows: 
    1. Composition: Music 160r through 167r 
    2. Conducting or orchestration: Music 121a through 128r 
    3. Faculty-led Ensembles: Music 10 through 18 
    4. Introductory Music: Gen Ed and Freshman Seminars taught by Music Department faculty, Music 1 through 9, and 20 through 49 
    5. Music Theory: Music 51a, 51b, 142r, and 150 through 159 
    6. Musicology, Ethnomusicology, Popular Music, and Music & Science: 176r and 190r through 194r 
    7. Performance-oriented: Music 105r, 173r, 174r, 175r, 180r, 181r, 185r, 186r, and 189r. 
    8. Supervised Reading and Research: Music 91r (must submit a proposal form prior to registration, concentration credit requires advance petition). 
  5. Tutorials
    1. Sophomore year: Music 97T and Music 97L 
    2. Junior year: Music 98 Advanced Tutorial--Graded SAT/UNSAT 
    3. Senior Year (honors only) Music 99—Graded SAT/UNSAT 
  6. Concentration Examination: None 
  7. Other information: None 
  8. Thesis: Required of all honors candidates. May be an original composition, a recital or similar performance-based event, or a written thesis. Plan or subject to be approved by the department at the end of the junior year. All students proposing to do a creative thesis must identify an adviser and submit examples of their work for pre-screening in the first term of the junior year. Students wishing to do a composition thesis must have taken an advanced composition course in the department and submit a portfolio of work for consideration by the composition faculty; students wishing to pursue a recital must submit a representative recording for consideration by the performance committee, along with a resumé and a letter from their performance teacher. Any change of plan must be resubmitted to the department. 
    1. - Examination: None. 
    2. - requires enrollment in Music 99r SAT/UNSAT, which does not count toward the 10 courses  


Joint Concentration Requirements

8 courses (32 credits) 

  1. Required courses: 
    1. Music 97T and Music 97L. 
    2. Electives
      1. Any 6 courses drawn from the list of electives in Basic Requirements.  
  2. Tutorials
    1. Sophomore year: Music 97T and Music 97L (see item 1. Required courses) 
    2. Junior year: Music 98 Advanced Tutorial is optional and may be counted toward the 6 electives. 
    3. Students should enroll in two terms of Senior Tutorial 99r in their primary department. They will need to find a faculty adviser in Music in any case. Music 99 will not count toward Music concentration credit. 
  3. Thesis: Required. Plan or subject to be approved by both departments by the end of the junior year. 
  4. Examination: None. 
  5. Other information: Music 98 cannot be taken for credit in the two joint departments during the same semester.  In exceptional circumstances, the student can take 98 for college credit only while receiving concentration credit in the joint department.  Otherwise, same as Requirements for full concentration. 


Attention First-Year Students

Several courses in Music are (or may be) graded pass/fail or sat/unsat.  You must take at least 3 letter-graded courses each semester during your first year at Harvard.  If this means exceeding the usual number of total courses per semester, you may be able to petition to enroll in an additional course (HRO or 189r for instance).  Please consult the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Undergraduate Coordinator in Music, or your Freshman advisor for further guidance if necessary.


All students are required to confer with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies at the outset of their concentration or joint concentration, in order to develop an overall plan for fulfillment of requirements. All concentrators will continue to be advised by one of these two faculty members at the start of each term. 

For up-to-date information on advising in Music, please see the  Advising Programs Office website



Music as a Secondary Field

The Department of Music offers one secondary field designed to be flexible enough to accommodate a broad range of interests. Students are free to explore the field by selecting a variety of courses, or they may focus on a specific aspect of the larger field.

REQUIREMENTS: 5 courses (20 credits)

Any five courses selected from among the courses offered in Music (including Gen Ed courses and Freshman Seminars taught by Music Department faculty), with the exceptions noted below:
- No more than two courses may be selected from Gen Ed Courses, Freshman Seminars, Music 1 through 9, and 20 through 49.

- A repeatable course may count only once under a given number (repeatable courses are labeled ‘r’ after their course number, so you can take 190r and 191r but not 190r twice).

-No more than one course may be selected from Music 10 through 18 (which may be graded SAT/UNSAT).

-Courses counting for secondary field credit may not be taken Pass/Fail, other than one Freshman Seminar (graded SAT/UNS) and one ensemble (Music 10 through 18).

Courses taken abroad or in the summer school can be counted in the secondary field only with the permission of the department, normally granted only after the course has been completed.

Students pursuing a secondary field are urged to seek out members of the Music department faculty for advice on their specific course choices. For more information on the secondary field and for advising, please speak to the Director of Undergraduate Studies (Professor Richard K. Wolf, rwolf@fas.harvard.edu), or the current Undergraduate Coordinator in the Music Building (617-384-9507).








The Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library offers an outstanding collection of books and scores, as well as listening equipment for its extensive recording collection. The Sound Lab provides access to cutting- edge tools for audio capture and recording, digital media and video editing, as well as audio mixing, mastering, and restoration. Musicians have access to the practice rooms, all of which have pianos, and to a limited number of instrument lockers. The many musical organizations on campus include the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, the Bach Society Orchestra, the Mozart Society Orchestra, the Harvard Glee Club, the Collegium Musicum, the Radcliffe Choral Society, the University Choir, the Group for New Music at Harvard, and the Organ Society. Students interested in composition may submit works for performance at concerts offered by the department and for the Harvard University Prizes. The Office for the Arts offers a special lesson subsidy program to concentrator and non-concentrators, as well as information on private teachers in the area.


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 21-22 and 22-23
- submission requirements
- thesis formatting guidelines and requirements
- Undergraduate Honors Thesis Proposal Form

Thesis Guidelines and Deadlines classes of 2022 and 23.pdf (9 pages)
Fillable PDF Thesis Proposal


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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