Music Major at Amherst College

Composite image of various musicans The goal of the music major at Amherst College is to provide you with a solid grounding in music theory and the fundamentals of composition, to teach you to think and write critically about music, and to help you achieve a level of sophisticated command in at least one of the following areas: performance; composition; music scholarship (music history, theory, ethnomusicology, and jazz and popular music studies), and music drama and opera studies. By graduation a major will have the following: 1) knowledge of and appreciation for the craft involved in creating and performing tonal music; 2) knowledge of one or more major time periods in Western music history; 3) the ability to think and write critically about music; and 4) a high level of achievement in at least one major area of musical study (performance; scholarship on a Western or non-Western topic; or composition), knowledge of at least two specialized areas, or knowledge of one specialized area combined with a broad base of knowledge.

Students must complete MUSI 241 before applying to the major, and they must apply to the major before their senior year. The application is found on the Music Department Website. In consultation with a member of the department, students determine the most appropriate manner of fulfilling the departmental requirement of eight semester courses. Note that because the music faculty are eager to help students create individualized paths in the major, we strongly encourage potential majors to speak with members of the department as early as possible in their academic careers.

Guitar, bass guitar and piano trip practicing

We urge, as well, that students acquaint themselves with the wide variety of music courses available through the Five College Interchange. For example, courses in African-American music are also offered at the University of Massachusetts and Hampshire College; courses in rock and popular music are offered at Smith College, and courses on African music are offered at Mount Holyoke College, and there is a Five College Ethnomusicology Certificate Program. Above all, the department is committed to helping students put together the program best suited to their interests, abilities, and aspirations.

The minimum of eight courses required for the major must include the six courses specified below (requirements vary slightly for majors electing honors work):

  1. One of the following History and Culture courses: MUSI 101, 105, 106, 107, 115, 116, 123, 125, 126, 127, 128, 225, 226, 227, 231, or 238. Other courses may potentially satisfy this requirement. Consult a major advisor for details.
  2. One of the following courses from the Western Music and Culture sequence: MUSI 221, 222, or 223. NOTE: Students wishing to fulfill this requirement during fall semester 2020 may complete MUSI 110.
  3. Two courses in Theory and Analysis: MUSI 241, 242, 243, or 244.
  4. Two courses designated as "major seminars" taken after the completion of MUSI 241. Majors electing to do honors work may satisfy the seminar requirement with only one major seminar. In 2019-20, the major seminars are MUSI 420, 439, and 443.

NB: Majors electing honors work must elect at least one of the following seminars in advanced analysis: MUSI 443, 444, or 448. Additionally, majors contemplating honors in composition must complete MUSI 387 or 388 no later than the spring of their junior year, and normally MUSI 269 in preparation.

Departmental Honors Program

In the senior year, students may elect to do honors work—a critical thesis (historical, theoretical, cultural, or ethnomusicological), a major composition project, or a major performance project. In preparation for this work, a student will ordinarily elect a number of courses in a field of concentration beyond those required. Students contemplating honors work must complete MUSI 242, 243, or 244 no later than the spring of their junior year and must elect at least one of the following seminars in advanced analysis: MUSI 443, 444, 448, or 449. Those doing honors in composition must complete MUSI 387 or 388 no later than the spring of their junior year, and normally MUSI 269 in preparation. Those doing honors work in jazz (performance and/or composition or a critical thesis) must complete MUSI 243 and 226 or 227 prior to their senior year. And those doing honors work in performance are required to take at least two semesters of individual performance instruction prior to the senior year and be affiliated with a private instructor while enrolled in MUSI 498 and 499. The thesis courses, MUSI 498 and 499, should be elected in the senior year. Students interested in the Honors Program must submit a formal thesis proposal to the department for approval the semester before they begin work on their thesis (normally three semesters before graduation). The Music Department Coordinator will notify all junior majors of the guidelines and deadline for the thesis proposal.