Music Major at Amherst College

Composite image of various musicans The Music Department is committed to placing music at the center of the liberal arts experience as an integration of musical practice with scholarship. Our curriculum is built around five core ways of knowing music: through performance, creation, analysis, ethnography, and history. We provide a path for students of any level of musical experience (or none at all) to pursue high-level work as music majors in one or more of these areas. We further aim for all students to find each of these ways of knowing available to them for study, and for music majors to gain experience in each area.

Major Program. The music department works with students to create individualized paths through the major. We encourage students to speak with department faculty as early as possible to develop their personal path. Application to the major normally takes place in the second semester of sophomore year, and must be completed before senior year. At the time of acceptance into the major, students discuss with their department advisor a plan for exploring each of the five ways of knowing music, with a focus on one or more that may involve preparation for an honors thesis.

Guitar, bass guitar and piano trip practicing

Students must complete a departmental requirement of eight semester courses, which should include the following:
  1. Music 241, a consolidation of skills of musical practice, should be completed before applying to the major.
  2. A course in Ethnographic Studies should be selected from the following list: MUSI 105, 106, 115, 116, 123, 128, 225, 231, 232, 238.
  3. A course in Historical Studies should be selected from the following list: MUSI 110, 126, 220, 221, 222, 223, 226, 227.
  4. A course in analysis for majors should be chosen from MUSI 242, 243, 244.
  5. Two courses designated as Major Seminars should be selected. 300-level seminars provide the basis for thesis and advanced work; 400-level seminars provide opportunities for advanced, and in many cases, thesis-oriented work. Either of the thesis courses, MUSI 498 and 499, may be counted as one of the two Major Seminars required.
Departmental Honors Program. Students apply for senior honors work in the spring semester of their junior year. They may propose a critical/scholarly project (ethnographic, historical, or analytical) or project in musical practice (a composition, performance, or creative recording). The department gives feedback on the proposal at the time of approval. Students considering honors normally fulfill several additional requirements, as follows:
  1. Completing MUSI 242, 243, or 244 by the end of their junior year.
  2. Students doing honors work in jazz (performance, composition, or critical/scholarly work) should complete MUSI 243 and MUSI 226 or 227 by the end of their junior year.
  3. Students doing honors work in performance are required to take at least two semesters of lessons for credit prior to the senior year and be affiliated with a performance instructor while working on the honors project.
  4. Students doing honors work in composition should complete MUSI 387 or 388 by the end of their junior year. (MUSI 387 is not a prerequisite for MUSI 388 and either course may be repeated.) Normally, MUSI 269 must be completed in preparation.
  5. The thesis courses, MUSI 498 and 499, should be elected in senior year. Either one or both is possible, or double thesis credit one semester (MUSI 498D or 499D) and single or no thesis credit the other semester.

Points of Entry. Any 100-level course provides a potential starting point for students new to the study of music. 200-level courses are points of entry for students with some musical experience, as specified in the course descriptions.

Fundamentals of Musical Practice (Preparation for further coursework in Performance, Creation, and Analysis). Students should take the self-administered placement exam on the Music Department home page to find the level of course in musical practice best matched to their experience. Music 111, 112 and 113 develop fluency in the practical skills for making music, and explore their use in performance, creation, and analysis.

Fundamentals of Scholarship (Preparation for further coursework in Ethnographic Studies and Historical Studies). Students are offered an introduction to these two ways of knowing music through any of the following courses. Ethnographic Studies: MUSI 105, 106, 115, 116, 123, 128, 225, 231, 232, 238; Historical Studies: MUSI 110, 126, 220, 221, 222, 223, 226, 227.

Individual and Ensemble Performance Instruction. Instrumental and vocal performance instruction is available at beginner (MUSL 151H-183H), intermediate (351H-383H), and advanced (451H-483H) levels. Performance ensembles may also be taken for credit (136H-140) or audited. Please see Performance Instruction descriptions below for complete details.