Musical Studies

The musical studies program is designed to give students practical, artistic working knowledge of the techniques of Western music.

The course sequence progressively enables students to understand linear and vertical relationships in music and their inspired synthesis in composition. Required courses are supplemented by specialized courses in keyboard studies, orchestration, and score-reading. Solfège provides aural reinforcement of musical techniques taught in the musical studies program. Music history traces the evolution of those techniques.

Entering students are placed by examination. Placement decisions may be subject to review. Tutoring is available. Students of exceptional ability may receive specialized instruction and advanced classes are offered.


The core curriculum takes a minimum of 4.5 semesters and 41 semester hours. For Diploma candidates, a one-semester upper-level elective is required, adding 2 additional hours. Bachelor’s degree candidates are required to choose four upper level electives, adding 8 additional hours: one from music history, one from music performance, one from music theory, and one more from any of the categories. Elements of Conducting is also required for Bachelor’s candidates, adding 3 additional hours. Total: between 43 and 52 hours.

  • 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
  • Keyboard Studies for non-keyboard majors takes place over four semesters, and for keyboard players, over five semesters. It serves as a companion to the study of music theory and analyses. All classes are one hour per week. Students will learn how to apply their knowledge of counterpoint, harmony, and voice-leading fluently and confidently at the piano. Exercises include figured bass realization, harmonization of melodies, clef reading, and counterpoint improvisation.

    Keyboard Studies I (for non-keyboard majors only)
    Keyboard geography and the review of scales, intervals, triads, and 7th chords. Includes an introduction to figured bass, clef reading, and counterpoint improvisation.

    Keyboard Studies II
    Includes two-part score reading, figured-bass realization of 5/3 and 6/3 chords, short harmonic progressions of tonic expansion and cadences, and harmonization of melodic fragments.

    Keyboard Studies III
    Continuing two-part score reading, figured-bass realization of 5/3, 6/3, and 6/4 chords, diatonic progressions in different keys, and harmonization of soprano and/or bass melodies.

    Keyboard Studies IV
    Three-part and four-part score reading, figured-bass realization incorporating suspensions and chromatic harmonies, diatonic and chromatic progressions in different keys including applied dominants, harmonization of soprano and/or bass melodies, and harmonization of folk songs.

    Keyboard Studies V and VI
    Required for keyboard majors only, and open as an elective for anyone interested with sufficient keyboard skill. Exercises include advanced figured-bass realization, score reading at the piano, and advanced counterpoint.

  • All bachelors degree candidates (except piano) are required to pass or place out of four semesters of Supplementary Piano. Undergraduate composition, conducting, and organ majors will take one-hour piano lessons weekly unless they are excused by their major teacher.  All other students will take 30-minute piano lessons weekly.

    All incoming students are expected to follow the four-semester curriculum below, and pass a piano jury at the end of the fourth semester.  Students who do not fulfill the Supplementary Piano requirement by the end of their studies at Curtis will not be able to graduate.

    If a student did not fulfill the jury requirement and would like additional piano lessons to prepare for a make-up jury, he/she must petition the Dean and Chair of Musical Studies in writing, which will be approved or denied on a case-by-case basis. For students who show rapid progress during the year and wish to take the jury before completing all four semesters, his/her Supplementary Piano teacher may request an early jury on the student’s behalf.

    The curriculum below provides a guideline for beginner piano students to progress to a late-intermediate level. Students who have a piano background prior to coming to Curtis will be given more difficult, level-appropriate pieces and technical components that fulfill and exceed the minimum requirement.

    1st Semester
    Students will gain familiarity with the keyboard geography and build basic coordination and mobility of the hands. Repertoire includes etudes (e.g. Beyer, Bertini, Czerny Op. 599, Kohler, Duvernoy, Gurlitt, etc.) and character pieces (easy works by Kabalevsky, Bartok, Burgmüller, etc.)

    2nd Semester
    An exploration of articulations, expressivity, and musicality at the piano, with the goal of gaining independence of hands through the study of contrapuntal works. Repertoire includes Bach’s contrapuntal works (e.g. minuets), further study of character pieces (see above), easy Classical pieces by Mozart and Haydn, and short sonatinas by Spindler, Schmitt, etc.

    3rd Semester
    Focuses on left hand accompaniment patterns, such as Alberti bass and Waltz, as well as voicing from melody/accompaniment works and use of the pedal. Repertoire includes sonatinas by Clementi, Kulau, et., more challenging pieces by Bach (e.g. Little Preludes, 2-part Inventions), and children’s pieces by Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, etc.

    4th Semester (Jury Preparation)
    Students will study more advanced use of the pedal and focus on preparing jury repertoire. Repertoire includes Bach 2-pt Inventions, Scarlatti Sonatas, Beethoven Sonatinas Op. 14 and 79, Mozart Sonatas, and intermediate-level works by Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Grieg, Mendelssohn, and others.

    Jury Requirements
    Scales, arpeggios, and cadences of all major and minor keys. 4 octaves in 16th notes, hands together.

    Two works or movements of contrasting styles and tempo; must reach late-intermediate or higher level (i.e. Bach Invention, Mozart Sonata, etc.). Only one of the two pieces can be a repeat from a previous semester.

  • Solfège I
    SFG 111–132; 2 s.h./term

    Sight-singing in treble, bass, alto, and tenor clefs; singing and recognition of major/minor scales, triads in root position, 1st and 2nd inversion, V7 chords and their resolutions, and duets; rhythmic dictation and conducting; interval dictation, 1-voice and 2-voice melodic dictation, 2-voice contrapuntal dictation; singing and playing (at the piano) Bach chorales and Lassus motets in open score; memory projects.

    Solfège II
    SFG 241–262; 2 s.h./term

    Sight-singing in all seven clefs; singing and recognition of diminished 7th and augmented 6th chords with resolutions, melodies and duets, progressing to chromaticism and Modus Novus for advanced sections; rhythmic dictation and conducting, including polyrhythms; advanced 1-voice and 2-voice melodic dictation, introduction to 3-voice melodic dictation, and dictation of harmonic progressions; singing and playing (at the piano) Bach chorales and Lassus motets in open score; memory projects.

    Advanced sight-singing in seven clefs, chromaticism, three-part contrapuntal dictation, simple figured-bass dictation, and reading Bach chorales in open score.

    Dictation – NOTE: only one semester required
    A required one-semester course in the student’s third year including extended 1-voice and 2-voice dictations, more difficult 3-part and 4-part dictations in advanced classes, chord progressions with modulation and chromatic harmony, atonal dictations from one to four voices, and figured bass dictations.

  • Music History I
    MHS 101–102; 3 s.h./term

    Music History I surveys the history of Western music from Antiquity through the Baroque in the first semester, and continues through the early Romantic period in the second semester. The course emphasizes hands-on, project-oriented learning, engaging the material through primary source readings, listening, writing, group projects, class discussions, and coordinated online activities. The emphasis is on understanding the political, social, and religious trends that influence and shape music from one era to the next, and on using that knowledge to enhance the student’s and the audience’s performance experience.

    Music History II
    MHS 201–202; 2 s.h./term

    Music History II is intended as an introduction to the most important trends and themes of the European classical music tradition. The first semester of Music History II spans the nineteenth century, beginning with the emergence of the Romantic movement and ending with the fin de siècle. Major topics include: Romanticism and its offshoots, the debates over program music, nationalism, the emergence of the classical canon, the development of compositional technique and instrumental technologies, and the role of music in society. Above all, students will study the historical continuity between the music of the nineteenth century and that which preceded and followed it, with the goal of better understanding music both familiar and strange.

  • Elements of Conducting
    Elements of Conducting is a one-semester course focusing on developing the practical skills required to lead an ensemble from beginning to end of the performance process. Aspects of conducting to be covered will include technique, score reading and analysis, principles of interpretation, rehearsal techniques, and orchestration from a conductor’s point of view. Students will be given classroom conducting opportunities necessary to gain a functional understanding of the above topics.

  • Elective courses vary from year to year. The following courses are representative of the catalogue’s offerings from the past three academic years.

    • J.S. Bach and Art of Rhetoric
    • Music in the Age of Romanticism
    • American Popular Music in the 20th Century
    • Exploring Electronic Music
    • The Legacy of Julius Eastman
    • Henry Cowell’s Global Modernism
    • History of Opera
    • History of Singing through Recorded Legacy
    • Music, Monarchs, and Mad Dictators
    • Toscanini and The Age of the Great Conductor
    • Wagner and Verdi
  • Elective courses vary from year to year. The following courses are representative of the catalogue’s offerings from the past three academic years.

    • Applied Orchestration
    • Pulse: The Perception of Time in Music
    • Mahler’s Symphonies
    • Advanced Chromaticism
    • Analysis of Fugue
    • Brahms’s Chamber Music
    • The Classical Symphony
    • Advanced Counterpoint
    • Schenkerian Analysis
    • Analysis Seminar
  • Elective courses vary from year to year. The following courses are representative of the catalogue’s offerings from the past three academic years.

    • The Phrase: Decoding Music’s Basic Unit
    • Interpretive Analysis and Musicianship
    • Advanced Conducting
    • Improvisation
    • Cadenzas
    • Chamber Music as Conversation
    • Harmonic Thinking in Performance
    • Score Reading
    • Interpretive Expressions in Literature and Music
  • Certificate in Historical Performance Practice

    Historical performance practice is of great importance in the music profession. As one of the fastest growing areas in classical music, historical performance practice is also experiencing exponential growth in marketplace opportunities. In order to pursue these opportunities, a thorough working knowledge must encompass both practical and theoretical knowledge.

    Students who express interest in the historically accurate performance of music of the Early to late Baroque and pre-Classical era, who are in their 3rd to 5th year of study, are eligible to study for the Certificate in Historical Performance Practice. The design of the Certificate program ensures that students gain familiarity and competence in the field as a means to enrich their primary instrumental studies, deepen their musical résumés, and allow for valuable advancement in the flourishing world of Early Music.

    With the permission of studio faculty, enrolled students may pursue studies toward the Certificate in Historical Performance Practice, including: two semesters of Baroque-equivalent instrumental lessons, an advanced basso continuo course, two academic electives that deal with any performance practice of music before 1900, and chamber music and Collegium participation over four semesters. Each student will perform a one-hour recital in their second year consisting of solo and chamber repertoire to demonstrate proficiency.