Composition Concentration

Students focusing their studies in music composition may pursue either the Ph.D. or D.M.A. degree.

They participate closely with students from other concentrations in seminars in history, theory/analysis, and ethnomusicology. A number of public performances each year are devoted solely to the presentation of students' compositions, and excellent facilities are available for those interested in computer music.

Director: Jeff Nichols (JNichols@gc.cuny.edu)

In additional to the general program learning goals, students concentrating in composition should demonstrate:

  1. A broad familiarity with the tonal and post-tonal repertoire from both analytic and historical viewpoints and the ability both to write and speak effectively about that repertoire. Familiarity with pre-tonal music or music outside the Western canon. (Assessed by First and Second Examinations)
  2. An extensive knowledge of 20th and 21st Century compositional and performance techniques. (Assessed by Second Examination)
  3. The ability to define an original topic in analysis, music history or ethnomusicology and produce original research.
  4. The ability to compose solo, chamber and orchestral or electro-acoustic music at a high professional level and to communicate effectively about their own compositions.

Professional development goals for all composition students:

  1. Attend professional development workshops (offered every fall semester)
  2. Take Proseminar in Teaching (offered every spring semester)
  3. Each semester present a new work on one or more of composers concerts sponsored by the Music Program
  4. By the end of the program have a work performed by a professional group not affiliated with the Graduate Center

Paths to Degree

The timelines below are a guide to expected progress toward the Ph.D. or D.M.A. in Composition. Program policies dictate when certain benchmarks must be achieved for satisfactory progress in the program.

The degree is designed to be completed in 5 years for students entering with a master’s degree, and 6 years for students entering with a bachelor’s degree. 

In the first two years student should earn their second 30 Credits toward the 60 required for the degree and all course requirements. In those first two years they should also complete the First Examination and their language requirement. By the middle of the second year students should be contemplating possible dissertation topics and are encouraged to undertake at least one independent study with a potential dissertation adviser.

In the third year students take the Second Examination and, once they have passed it, prepare and submit their dissertation proposal.

The fourth and fifth years should be spent researching and writing the dissertation (essay and composition) so that the student is ready to defend at the end of the fifth year.

Academic Year 1

Fall

  • Composers Seminar (3 credits)
  • Composition Tutorial (2-3 credits)
  • Introduction to Musicology (if needed—4 credits not applied to final 30)
  • 1 or 2 Research Seminars or electives (3 credits each)
  • Take at least first language examination or prepare to take it in second semester

Spring

  • Composers Forum (1 credit)
  • Composition Tutorial (2-3 credits)
  • Teaching Proseminar (1 credit) required of all Fellowship Students
  • 1 or 2 Research Seminars or Electives (normally 3 credits each)

Academic Year 2

Fall

  • Composers Seminar (3 credits)
  • Composition Tutorial (2-3 credits)
  • 1 or 2 Research Seminars or electives (3 credits each)
  • Take First Examination
  • Complete language requirement
  • Begin preparing for Second Examination
  • Begin researching possible dissertation topics, including independent study in fall or spring of second year.

Spring

  • Composers Forum (1 credit)
  • Composition Tutorial (2-3 credits)
  • 1 or 2 Research Seminars or Electives (3 credits each)

Academic Year 3

Fall or Spring

  • Take Second Examination
  • Prepare and submit dissertation proposal

Academic Years 4 and 5

  • Research and write dissertation essay and composition
  • Defend dissertation.

In the first three years students should earn the 60 credits required for the degree, and all course requirements. In the first two years they should also complete the First Examination and their language requirement. By the middle of the third year students should be contemplating possible dissertation topics and are encouraged to undertake at least one independent study with a potential dissertation adviser.

In the fourth year students take the Second Examination and, once they have passed it, prepare and submit their dissertation proposal.

The fifth and sixth years should be spent researching and writing the dissertation (essay and composition) so that the student is ready to defend at the end of the fifth year.

Academic Year 1

Fall

  • Composers Seminar (3 credits)
  • Composition Tutorial (2-3 credits)
  • Introduction to Musicology (4 credits)
  • Introduction to Post-Tonal or Schenkerian Analysis (4 credits)
  • Take at least first language examination or prepare to take it in second semester

Spring

  • Composers Forum (1 credit)
  • Composition Tutorial (2-3 credits)
  • Teaching Proseminar (1 credit) required of all Fellowship Students
  • 1 or 2 Research Seminars or Electives (3 credits each) or

Academic Year 2

Fall

  • Composers Seminar (3 credits)
  • Composition Tutorial (2-3 credits)
  • 1 or 2 Research Seminars or electives (3 credits each) or Introduction to Post-Tonal or Schenkerian Analysis (4 credits)
  • Complete language requirement
  • Begin researching possible dissertation topics, including independent study in fall or spring of second year.

Spring

  • Composers Forum (1 credit)
  • Composition Tutorial (2-3 credits)
  • 1 or 2 Research Seminars or Electives (3 credits each)
  • Take First Examination

Academic Year 3

Fall

  • 1-2 Research Seminars (3 credits each)
  • Composition Tutorial (2-3 credits)
  • Begin preparing for Second Examination

Spring

  • 1-2 Research Seminars (3 credits each)
  • Composition Tutorial (2-3 credits)

Academic Year 4

Fall or Spring

  • Take Second Examination
  • Prepare and submit dissertation proposal

Academic Years 5 and 6

  • Research and write dissertation essay and composition
  • Defend dissertation. 

Curriculum Requirements

A minimum of 60 credits of approved course work is required for both the Ph.D. and D.M.A. in Composition. Courses will be credited toward the degree only if they are part of a program approved by the Executive Officer or his/her deputy.

The master’s degree with which the student enters normally counts for 30 credits of the total requirement

For all students concentrating in composition, the first 30 credits should include the following five courses (or their equivalent):

  • Introduction to Musicology
  • one seminar in theory/analysis
  • one seminar in music history prior to 1900
  • two tutorials in composition

For the Ph.D. in Composition, the final 30 credits will include four 2-credit tutorials in composition plus two Composers Forums and two Seminars in Composition. Also required are four 80000-level research seminars in music history or theory, one of which must be on music before 1600 or ethnomusicology. 
 
For the D.M.A. in composition, the final 30 credits will include four 3-credit tutorials in composition plus two Composers Forums and two Seminars in Composition. Also required is one course in twentieth/twenty-first-century performance practice and two 80000-level research seminars.

Browse course offerings »

Ph.D. students must demonstrate a reading and pronunciation knowledge of two languages other than English. Students are encouraged to take one language exam before the end of their first semester in the program, and the second language before the end of their third semester in the program. Students must pass at least one language examination in order to take the First Examination. They must complete all language requirements in order to take the Second Exam.

D.M.A. students must demonstrate a reading and pronunciation knowledge of one language other than English. Students must take one language exam before the end of their first semester in the program.

Learn more about language requirements in the Student Handbook »

First Examination

The First Examination consists of two parts: part A is a written examination; part B is a two-week paper written on a given topic.

Ph.D. students entering the program with a bachelor's degree are required to take both parts of the exam; students entering with a master's degree will take only part B.

D.M.A. students entering the program with a bachelor's degree are required to take only part A; students entering with a master's degree are not required to take the First Exam.

Second Examination

Both Ph.D. and D.M.A. students in composition will take the Second Examination, which consists of a written examination in three parts (taken over 2 days) and an oral examination.

Learn more about examination requirements in the Student Handbook »

Students pursuing either the Ph.D. or the D.M.A. in Composition will be required to prepare a two-part dissertation consisting of:

  1. a large-scale original work of composition
  2. an extended paper dealing with a theoretical aspect of composition, under the guidance of a member of the doctoral faculty, and to defend both at an oral examination to the satisfaction of an examining committee.

The composition portion should demonstrate:

  • The ability to compose a extended work of music.
  • A command of the editorial or notational techniques necessary for effective presentation of the work.
  • Mastery of the medium (instrumental or electro-acoustic) in which the work is composed.

The written portion of the dissertation should demonstrate:

  • Mastery of the scholarly literature relevant to their topic.
  • The ability to conduct original research incorporating where appropriate current theoretical approaches and research methodologies.
  • The ability to reason and write at a professional level.
  • The ability to conceive, execute, and complete a scholarly monograph of substantial length and significant content.

Learn more about dissertation requirements in the Student Handbook »

Composition Faculty

Jeff Nichols - Associate Professor -  profile photo

Jeff Nichols

Associate Professor and Head of Composition

  • Music
David Olan

David Olan

Associate Provost and Dean for Academic Affairs

  • Provost's Office

Associate Provost and Dean

  • Academic Affairs

Professor

  • Music