Music Theory



The Music Department at Rutgers offers MA and PhD degrees in music theory. These academic programs enable students to take advantage of both the professional conservatory setting within the Mason Gross School of the Arts and the broad, humanistic environment of a major research university. Classes in research methods and current issues in music theory are supplemented by seminars open to musicologists, music theorists, composers and performers. The program fosters the development of interdisciplinary perspectives and critical thinking on music of diverse traditions, and the exploration of various analytical methods germane to the repertoire. Music theory students are encouraged to take courses in musicology and performance practice, and in other departments throughout the university as appropriate to their research interests. Additionally, through the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium, students may take courses at Princeton, Columbia, CUNY, NYU, the New School, Stony Brook, and Fordham. The Rutgers music theory program prepares students to become active members of the professional academic community as well as independent thinkers who will challenge the field's intellectual conventions.

The program is designed to enable qualified students to proceed straight through to the doctoral degree. Students who already have a master’s degree are encouraged to apply. Current faculty in musicology and music theory have areas of expertise that cover the standard repertory periods including contemporary music. Students may also participate in performance organizations (admission by audition).


Required seminars on research methods and current topics in music theory are offered regularly.  Theory seminars cover all major areas of the profession, including Schenkerian analysis, neo-Riemannian theory, post-tonal theory, perception and cognition, and rhythm studies. In addition, seminars in the history of theory are available with the musicology faculty. These seminars are designed both to expose students to current research in the particular area of the seminar and to impart skills in analysis, critical thinking, research, writing, and oral presentation.  Students will benefit from a particularly rich array of post-1900 topics, as the faculty’s research interests encompass atonal music, popular music, Chinese opera, cultural synthesis in contemporary music, American ultra-modern music, and women and gender studies. On a rotating basis small seminars on topics in musicology and theory are offered by the music faculty or by faculty from other departments. Graduate courses in music literature and historic performance practice may also be taken for credit toward the degree.   


Head of the Music Theory: Nancy Yunhwa Rao (Henry Cowell, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Elliott Carter, American ultramodern music, Chinese contemporary music, Chinese American opera theaters, cultural & gender studies in music)
Christopher Doll (popular music, harmonic theory, intertextuality, pedagogy, composition, Milton Babbitt)
Scott Ordway

Timothy Urban

See also Musicology Faculty


Graduate students are encouraged to pursue professional opportunities during their tenure at Rutgers. They may present their work-in-progress at meetings of the Rutgers University Musicological Society (RUMS), which also provides opportunities for leadership. Teaching and assistant teaching positions offer valuable classroom experience under the guidance of experienced faculty. The faculty guide students through the process of submitting appropriate work to professional conferences and journals, and students may apply for funds for conference travel.  Rutgers students enjoy access to a number of consortium libraries and research facilities. The Performing Arts Library is an outstanding research facility and supports many online music and scholarly resources. 

The Mason Gross School of the Arts offers a vast array of concerts, theater productions, dance recitals, and art exhibits. Musical performances each year include a full-scale opera production plus opera workshops, performances by the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra, major choral works by the Rutgers Kirkpatrick Choir and other choral groups, concerts by the Wind Ensemble, Jazz bands and combos, and chamber ensembles.

Read our learning goals and statement of vision for the MA/PhD programs in Music.