Core Studies

Core Studies is a four-semester sequence covering the disciplines of Counterpoint, Harmony, and (in the second year) Analysis. The class will meet for 1.5 hours twice per week.

Core Studies I
As an introduction to counterpoint, students will study the art of melody and the cantus firmus, and begin writing two-voice counterpoint in species one, two, and three. The study of harmony will include the following topics, with the goal of developing speed, accuracy, and confidence:

  • identifying scale degrees and intervals
  • identifying chords (i.e. Roman numeral) in context of a given key or in actual repertoire
  • recognizing different types of motion: oblique, similar, contrary
  • recognizing open/close spacing of chords as well as outer voices
  • matching or singing back individual pitches and short melodies when played on a piano
  • writing and labeling intervals, triads, and 7ths in any inversion
  • writing and labeling chords using Roman numerals in any inversion
  • realizing individual chords from figures
  • error-detection in voice leading and chord construction


Core Studies II
The study of counterpoint continues with species one, two, and three, but this time in three parts. Harmony will focus on the following topics:

  • study of voice leading
  • basic functions of all diatonic chords in major and minor, and basic syntax of diatonic progressions—tonic, intermediate (pre-dominant), and dominant
  • cadential patterns—weak and strong
  • concept of expansion and prolongation through voice exchange, passing and neighboring chords


Core Studies III
The study of counterpoint continues with species four and five in both two and three parts. Harmony will focus on the following topics:

  • sequences
  • melodic and rhythmic figuration
  • modulation: applied dominants, modulation to any key
  • chromaticism: mixture, Neapolitan chords
  • Analysis is introduced in Core Studies III, including:
    • analysis and reduction of works from the repertoire
    • analysis of two- and three-part inventions and fugues
    • introduction to graphic analysis

Core Studies IV
The study of counterpoint continues with an introduction to combined species, a reduction of works from the repertoire to reveal the underlying counterpoint, canon and invention. Harmony will focus on the following topics:

  • augmented 6th chords
  • advanced chromaticism: common-tone chromaticism; altered dominants, 9ths, and 11ths; enharmonic reinterpretation; advanced modulation techniques (exposure)
  • tonality at the turn of the 20th century, including equal division of the octave, modes, pentatonic, whole-tone, octatonic, and hexatonic scales

Analysis will continue with the analysis and reduction of works from the repertoire by composers such as Debussy, Ravel, Ives, Stravinsky, Bartok, etc.

Accelerated Core Studies*
A two-semester “accelerated” version of the Core Studies curriculum covering basic forms, two- and three-part species counterpoint, and harmony (through chromaticism and 20th-century techniques) will be offered as a non-required “refresher” course for transfer students and as a required course for post-baccalaureate composers and conductors. For the latter, there will be an opportunity to test out of this requirement.

* This class is dependent on need and may not be offered every semester or every year. Depending on the students in the class, more focus can be directed to the subjects that need more attention, such as counterpoint, harmony, or form.

Musical Form and Analysis
At the beginning of a student’s second year, Musical Form and Analysis is a one-semester course covering all elements of musical form, both small and large. Topics to include:

  • phrasing, periods and sentences in tonal music
  • different types and strengths of cadences
  • motive and motivic transformation
  • binary and ternary forms, dance suites
  • variations and rondo form
  • fugue exposition
  • sonata form, concerto form
  • motivic development and resulting forms found in 20th-century compositions

Post-Tonal Harmony
A continuation of the study of 20th-century harmony and beyond. Topics include:

  • semi-tonal and post-tonal harmonic vocabulary
  • other aspects of non-functional tonal music – pitch centricity and composition with motivic cells, expanding the limits of musical temporality (Messiaen), texture and orchestration, etc.
  • twelve-tone theory and extended serialism (inversion, retrograde, transposition, etc.)
  • understanding 20th-century processes and structures that replace tonal progressions