MA in Music History

Composition by Mozart.

MA students in Music History at UB take courses that span the gamut of the methodological approaches that characterize the discipline today. Alongside this core curriculum, every MA student receives training to help them become innovative and vibrant teachers, and each student is given constant support through faculty mentorship and courses designed to strengthen professional skills.

Our MA is designed to prepare students for a diverse set of paths after UB, ranging from further study in the field's most competitive PhD programs, to high school teaching that integrates a student's enhanced understanding of music history and music history pedagogy, to public intellectual work, and archival employment.

Every student is involved in our department's prestigious Baird Lecture Series. This series brings prominent guest lecturers to our campus throughout the year. Giving lectures, teaching courses, and working directly with our graduate students, this series gives students access to the most important scholars, composers, and performers today. 

And finally, students in our MA program have the unique opportunity to complete a dual degree, earning an MS in Music Librarianship. This program is one of the strongest in the country, and features an exceptional record of placing its graduates in libraries and collections across the world.

Course Requirements

Graduates of the UB MA in music history are extremely well prepared for the most competitive PhD programs. Every student completes four seminars in music history, three seminars in music theory, and a two-semester colloquium—full course descriptions can be found below. Two capstone experiences in a student's final year are direct preparation for a career as a scholar, as well as job interviews and graduate school applications.

MA Music History students must complete 38 credit hours for graduation:

Four Musicology Seminars—Taken from the following list, and to include “Discourses of Musicology” (MUS 615) 16 Credits

  • Discourses in Musicology (MUS 615)
  • Music and Queer Studies (MUS 515) 
  • Music, Gender, and Sexuality (MUS 517)
  • Popular Music Studies (MUS 525)
  • Studies in Music History(MUS 526)
  • Music and Modernity (MUS 527)
  • Media, Memory, and Notation (MUS 528)
  • Studies in US Music (MUS 529)
  • Experimental Music (MUS 530)

Three Music Theory Seminars—Taken from the following list, and to include “Discourses of Music Theory” (MUS 614)    12 Credits

  • Discourses in Music Theory (MUS 614)
  • Topics in Tonal Theory and Analysis (MUS 621)
  • Analyzing Popular Music (MUS 613)
  • Analyzing Twentieth- and Twenty-First Century Music (MUS 629)

Two consecutive semesters of “Colloquium” (MUS 500)

                                                8 Credits

Comprehensive exam prep—registered as MUS 600 with the relevant faculty member.

                                                1 Credit

Portfolio—registered as MUS 600 with the relevant faculty member.

                                                1 Credit

Capstone Projects

  1. Portfolio: All MA students in music theory develop a professional portfolio of their work as part of the requirements of the degree program. This portfolio allows students to develop work they've begun in seminar courses into a polished representation of their skills and interests, suitable for submission to graduate programs, conferences, and scholarly journals.
  2. Comprehensive Exam: MA students complete a comprehensive exam in the second year of their program. In addition to encouraging students to connect ideas from across their coursework, this exam asks students to prepare for questions in a particular area of interest. 

Retention standards

All degree coursework must be completed with grades of "A," B," or "S."

Dual Degree Opportunity in Music Librarianship

Students in the music history or music theory masters program can also apply to do a Cooperative degree program with the Department of Information Science. This program awards students with two masters degrees (an MA in Music Theory and an MS in Music Librarianship) and makes them highly qualified for both music and other librarianship positions.  

The cooperative degree program has a long and venerable history, being one of only 7 such programs in the country to be recognized by the Music Libraries Association. Students from the program have been notably successful in securing significant job placements including music librarianship posts at the University of Michigan, Belmont University, College of the Holy Cross, National Defense University, and the University of Oregon; and other prestigious positions including Manager of Metadata Services at the New York Public Library, Media and Metadata Librarian at the Curtis Institute of Music, Head of Shared Cataloging and Special Formats Metadata at Brown University, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage archives, and Technical Services Librarian in the Conservatory Library at Oberlin College.  

The MS in Information and Library Science degree requires 36 credit hours; the MA in music history or music theory requires 38 credit hours. Up to six (6) credits can be shared by both degree programs. The program generally requires five semesters and at least one summer session to complete. Students must be accepted by both the Department of Information Science and the Department of Music.


Contact professor James Currie, Musicology Area Coordinator

Complete Course Descriptions

MUS 500
This colloquium represents an introduction to the discipline for graduate students in music history, theory, though the course can be taken by any graduate music student. Topics include techniques and issues related to classroom pedagogy and professional development, engagement with the department¿s lecture series, and other items relevant to career paths that grow out of degrees in music history or theory. Students will have the opportunity to read important literature related to these topics, practice teaching, produce and receive feedback on professional documents, and hear, meet, and speak with guests. Graduate theory and history majors are required to enroll in two consecutive semesters.

MUS 515 Music and Queer Studies  
This seminar seeks to orientate students in large body of queer scholarship and how it has transformed the study of music history. The seminar covers a wide range of repertoire, including both Western classical, popular, and vernacular musics, and also introduces students to some of the key statements in queer theory in the humanities.

MUS 517 Music, Gender, and Sexuality
This course explores music’s relationship to the concepts of gender and sexuality through key texts in music theory, ethnomusicology, and musicology and their larger theoretical contexts in feminist philosophy and queer studies. Topics include ways in which music from a wide range of repertories has represented, reinforced, questioned, challenged, and/or dismantled gender and sexual binaries; how concepts of gender and sexuality intersect with questions of class, politics, and race; and the gendered and sexualized modernist historiography of historical periods of music history in both art and popular musics.

MUS 525 Popular Music Studies
This course addresses topics and concepts of recent development in the multi-disciplinary area of popular music studies in order to consider how popular music offers unique historical and contemporary perspectives on subjectivity, politics, and aesthetics. It draws on a wide range of discourses, disciplines, and theoretical perspectives from musicology, performance studies, cultural studies, critical theory, ethnomusicology, and music theory. Topics for consideration include embodied performance, the intersection of genre, the role of media, transnational exchanges, and the dynamic role of the popular music industry in the transmission and reception of various genres of popular music.

MUS 526 Studies in Music History
This seminar is assigned for general studies of historical periods and topics not otherwise covered by more specific seminar titles. It will be used for visiting professors, and also to address student needs as they arise regarding larger surveys of historical periods and repertoire.

MUS 527 Music and Modernity
The seminar is concerned with showing how music has continued to respond and adapt during the long-term history of modernity. Topics that will be addressed include music’s relationship to capitalism, politics, race, the postcolonial condition, globalism, cosmopolitanism, postmodernism, and modern conceptions of individual artistic expression. It is intended to train students in thinking about music within a very long historical time frame.

MUS 528 Media, Memory, and Notation
Music is preserved and transmitted through a wide variety of means. This seminar aims to introduce students to the philosophical, historical, theoretical, and political issues attendant upon this fact. A wide variety of different topics will be addressed, from written and published notation, recording technologies and their influence on composition, through to questions of the archive and memory.

MUS 529 Studies in US Music
The course focuses on both popular and art music from the turn of the century through the first half of the twentieth century. Topics include cultural hierarchies of low art and high art, and how music of the United States shaped notions of national identity while engaging with representations of race, ethnicity, gender, and class. Repertoires covered will include genres of popular music, American modernism, the populist works of composers such as Aaron Copland, and mixed-genre concert works of composers such as George Gershwin and Duke Ellington.

MUS 530 Experimental Music
This seminar is on representative North American experimental music composers from the 1960s and 1970s, the cultural and musical significance of their achievement, and how it challenged various musical practices and contributed to new sensibilities and postmodern understandings of art. It seeks to clarify the various ways in which music can be deemed experimental, how experimental music can be differentiated from the modernist avant-garde tradition it rejected, and how it redefined traditional notions of compositional intention, virtuosity, and musicality.

MUS 613: Analyzing Popular Music
This seminar focuses on theoretical ideas associated with popular music by considering a wide range of issues ranging from harmony and form to temporality, timbre, and issues of musical meaning. Students in this seminar create their own transcriptions, and the course will culminate in original analyses modeled on, and ideally expanding, the existing scholarship.  

MUS 614: Discourses in Music Theory
This course engages the central issues and methodologies that comprise contemporary music theory. In addition to surveying the field, this course introduces students to techniques needed to critically analyze scholarly texts.

MUS 615 Discourses in Musicology
This course engages the central issues and methodologies that comprise contemporary musicology. In addition to surveying the field, this course introduces students to techniques needed to critically analyze scholarly texts.

MUS 621: Topics in Tonal Theory and Analysis
In this seminar, we explore issues surrounding the theory and analysis of tonal music, including approaches to harmony and melody, form, and rhythm. Each iteration of the course may focus on one or more of these topics, and may do so in the context of particular repertoires ranging from early Renaissance “tonality” to tonality in contemporary “classical” music.    

MUS 629: Analyzing Twentieth- and Twenty-First Century Music
This seminar explores music written in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries by considering how theorists have dealt with the myriad approaches to music composition during this time. Each iteration of the course may focus on one or more topics, including: “classical" set theory, transformation theory, narrative or agential approaches, and others. These topics may also be explored in the context of a wide range of compositional styles.