Music Department

Degree Requirements

The music department offers a wide range of courses and performance opportunities for majors and nonmajors, as well as private instrumental and vocal lessons. Many courses have no prerequisites.

Pursuit of the music major prepares students for a senior thesis in music history or analysis, ethnomusicological research, or composition. Majors should complete two units of music theory (Music 211 and Music 312), Music History I and II (Music 221 and Music 222), and one unit of ethnomusicology (Music 150) before beginning the second semester of their junior year, and take the junior seminar.

Majors are expected to participate in performance activities; therefore, fees for private instruction in one instrument or voice are waived for junior and senior music majors.

For the junior qualifying examination in music, students will write analytic essays on selections of notated and recorded examples of music and a critical essay on selected music literature.

Independent study courses (Music 481) in subjects not offered in the regular curriculum are available for junior and senior music majors.


Requirements for the Major

  1. Music theory—Music 210 and 310;
  2. Musicianship—Music 205;
  3. Music history—Music 221 and 222;
  4. Ethnomusicology—Music 150;
  5. One unit of ensemble from among 104 (orchestra), 105 (chorus), 106 (contemporary ensemble), 107 (Collegium), 108 (jazz ensemble), 109 (chamber music); 
  6. One unit of private instruction (vocal or instrumental);
  7. Junior seminar;
  8. Three additional one-unit courses in the department from among Music 110 or any other course at at the 200 level or above, one of which must include either Music 410 or an additional ethnomusicology course;
  9. Thesis (470).

In addition to the requirements for all music majors, the following courses of study are recommended for students writing a senior thesis in ethnomusicology or composition:

  • Students planning a thesis in ethnomusicology should take two units of anthropology for either Group B or Group X and three additional units in ethnomusicology.
  • Students planning a thesis in composition should take Music 343 and Music 481 (independent study in advanced composition).

Junior Qualifying Exam

The junior qualifying exam is designed to evaluate a student’s preparedness to proceed to their senior year. It typically assesses three pillars of the current music curriculum at Reed: formal music analysis of notated repertory; critical listening skills involving non-notated recorded examples; and engagement with music as an object of historical and ethnomusicological inquiry. Each of these components are addressed in separate essays of roughly 3–5 pages each that the student will complete over a prescribed period of time, typically over a weekend. In some years, the department has administered the junior qualifying exam in conjunction with the junior seminar. The exam has traditionally been considered a capstone to required coursework and not a launching pad towards a particular thesis project. Each exam is read and evaluated by all members of the department. Within a week of completing the exam, students will be notified whether they pass the exam, are given a conditional pass with a request for a revision or rewrite of a particular component of the exam, or fail the exam. In the case of the latter outcome, the student will be given a second chance to pass a newly designed version of the exam.

Senior Thesis

The senior thesis in the music department is a two-semester project that falls within one of two categories: (1) theses that are research-based projects approaching music as an object of historical, ethnomusicological, or music theoretical inquiry; or (2) theses focused on the composition of an original piece of music, supplemented by a written component often involving analysis and discussion of a preexisting work not by the student that is relevant to and/or served as a point of inspiration for the student’s original composition.  The latter category, sometimes referred to a “creative thesis,” also requires a performance of the completed composition. The department does not offer students the option of a performance thesis.

In the fall of their senior year, students will be matched with a thesis advisor, usually based on the methodological expertise of the faculty, with whom they will develop a formal project proposal. Upon departmental and divisional approval of their proposals, students will continue work on the thesis, with the goal of producing a first chapter of the thesis (though not necessarily the first chapter) and/or some substantial part of the composition by the end of the fall semester. That work is distributed to the thesis advisor and another member of the department, who meet with the student in a “mini oral” exam. In fact, the mini oral is principally an opportunity for the student to discuss their work-in-progress, get more formalized feedback from their advisor, and allow another member of the faculty to offer their perspective on the project. In the second semester, students will complete their thesis, initially in the form of a draft that they will edit with their adviser  and subsequently as a final draft that is distributed to three faculty members within the department and the Division of the Arts and to a fourth reader of the student’s choice from outside of the division. During the week after the end of classes, these four faculty members—the student’s orals board—meet with the student for a ninety-minute oral exam discussing the thesis. At the end of the oral, the orals board will deliberate on the document and the performance at the oral and notify the student of the outcome.

Requirements for the Minor

  • Five units in music, including at least one unit at the 300 level or above.

There is no restriction on the other four units. They can be in music history, ethnomusicology, music theory, creative endeavor, performance, or any combination of these. The music department intends for the music minor to serve as a means for students to organize and deepen their study of music according to their own interests outside the framework of the major. The department believes that the work of earning a minor would demonstrate a concrete and sustained level of engagement with music over the course of study, and that the successful completion of a course at the 300 level or above will serve as an effective measure of advanced proficiency for those who pursue a minor in music.