Music Theory

A combination of artistic education and theoretical reflection is at the core of Music Theory as a principal subject, both within the bachelor’s degree programme as well as within the master’s degree programme. During the bachelor programme the training aims to provide a thorough grounding in music-theoretical skills – for example analysis, harmony, counterpoint, and instrumentation – while also introducing the student to the major currents in the professional field through the study of theoretical literature. Next to this, the students acquire teaching skills in the form of apprenticeships, and they learn how to work with (young) musicians in a variety of practical settings. Bachelor students qualify as teachers at the pre-college level and at institutions for amateur musicians. Master students qualify as teachers at professional schools and universities, and can compete for international PhD programmes. Depending on the prior knowledge and experience of the new students, it will be decided in which year of the programme they begin. This decision will be taken after the entrance exam.

Most of the lessons for principal subject Music Theory are taught individually, which allows for an intensive and tailor-made study. Next to the regular lessons, other events are organized throughout the course of the school year, both in Amsterdam and other Dutch institutions. These include: colloquia where students and teachers can present work-in-progress; guest speakers such as the yearly “Music Theorist in Residence” programme; and study days and conferences, organized by the Dutch-Flemish Society for Music Theory.

Head of Research, Composition and the Music Theory Major
Michiel Schuijer

Section representative
John Koslovsky

All bachelor candidates receive an extended entrance exam in written harmony, analysis, ear-training, solfege, and keyboard harmony. Spread out over the course of two-three days, the candidates first complete written assignments in harmony (three hours), analysis (three hours), and ear-training (two hours); on the final day, they come to the audition in front of the entire committee and complete the oral part of the exam, which includes sight-singing, rhythm exercises, and keyboard harmony. They are also asked about their written work and interviewed about their motivation for studying music theory. On basis of the results of the written and oral tests, the committee will determine the suitable of the study for the candidate, and at what level.

Most important for admission into prinicpal subject Music Theory at the bachelor’s level:

  • Demonstration of strong practical musical skills (as tested in the entrance exam)
  • An aptitude for critical thinking and reflection
  • A good command of the English language, and an aptitude for reading and writing at an academic level

Examples entrance exam for Music Theory:

Curriculum overview (240 credits)
Over the course of the study, students receive principal lessons in: harmony (four years, which includes written harmony, keyboard harmony, and harmonic analysis); counterpoint (four years, including written counterpoint and contrapuntal analysis); solfege (three years); score reading (three years); instrumentation (two years); methodology (one year); and the history of music theory (one year).

In addition, a number of topic-specific courses are taught on a modular basis: Formenlehre, Schemata Theory, Schenkerian Theory, Introduction to Jazz Theory, and Post-Tonal Analysis. Please refer to the Study Guide for a detailed overview of the study and the distribution of credits.

Like the entrance exam for the bachelor’s programme, all candidates receive an extended written and oral exam in music theory spread out over the course of two-three days (see description for the bachelor exam). They are tested (on an even higher level) in written harmony, analysis, ear-training, solfege (sight-singing and rhythm), and keyboard harmony. This exam assumes that the candidate has already completed a theory degree at the bachelor’s level, or has obtained thorough theoretical and musical skills training as part of another degree.

Next to the live entrance exam, candidates for the master’s programme must also submit a portfolio of previous work. The portfolio must be received by February 1st at the latest, as part of their general application.

While candidates are free to choice what they wish to submit, the portfolio should consist of things like:

  • extended harmony assignments
  • extended counterpoint assignments
  • model compositions
  • analysis papers and/or a bachelor’s thesis

Candidates are advised to send in their best material, to ensure that the committee has a good impression of their highest level.

Examples entrance exam for Music Theory:

Curriculum overview (120 credits)

  • Early Music - Analysis, Writing skills, Literature (AWL, 15 credits): year 1
  • Classical and Romantic music - Analysis, Writing skills, Literature (AWL, 15 credits): year 1
  • Music of the 20th and 21st centuries - Analysis, Writing skills, Literature (AWL, 15 credits): year 1
  • Specialization AWL (20 credits): in the second year of the programme, the student puts together his/her own AWL package, based on his/her specific area of interest (typically connected to the final Master’s thesis and geared towards the final exam)
  • Advanced music theory pedagogy and internships (10 credits): year 1
  • Improvisation skills, years 1 and 2 (10 credits per year): in consultation with the section representative, the student chooses a type of improvisation lesson that s/he wishes to follow. The section representative then finds an appropriate teacher within the CvA with whom the student can work
  • Research (10 credits): all master’s students at the CvA (including music theory students) are required to undertake a master’s research project, which ends in the yearly Master Research Symposium. For music theory majors, a large-scale research project lies at the core of their degree. The research undertaking for the Master Research Symposium is often a first step towards a larger master’s thesis that the student is preparing for the final exam. However, the student is also free to undertake a separate, smaller research project for the Master Research Symposium.
  • Master electives (20 credits)
  • Individual study credits (15 credits)