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Experiments in Music Composition and Theory 

Department: Music                                               

Instructor: Kevin Zhang and Caroline Miller, PhD
Instructor's Email:;
Prerequisites: None

Schedule: Zoom (Mon-Fri: 10:00am-12:00pm PST)
Subject to change

Course Description

How do musicians transform complex sounds into comprehensible and meaningful artistic experiences? This course begins by exposing students to a history of Western musical composition, from classical to contemporary experimental forms. After studying the social and cultural contexts behind major movements in musical history, students will begin building a proficiency in some of the technical aspects of composition, including score reading, music theory, notation strategies, and basic audio editing. The final week of the course will be consisted of project-based workshops, in which students will create their own original musical or multimedia artistic projects.

Note: a prior knowledge of the rudimentary concepts of music theory and/or a basic proficiency in playing a musical instrument may be helpful to participate in this course, but neither are required. It is recommended that students have a laptop and a good pair of headphones, as there will be assigned audio or audiovisual examples that they will listen or watch for homework.


Content and Evaluation

  • Lectures and discussions about topics related to Western music history and theory
  • Homework will consist of assigned readings, audio and multimedia examples, composition exercises, music theory examples, and written reflections
  • Final artistic project
  • Last day of instruction will be a recital/exhibition of students’ creations. 

Course Outline

  • Contexts
    • Broad interdisciplinary introduction to Western music history
    • Exploration of the major movements through the lens of cultural, political, social, and technological developments
    • Discussion of the roles of music in contemporary society
  • Theory and Technique
    • Foundations of music notation
    • Music theory workshops
    • Understanding concepts of pitch, harmony, rhythm, form, instrumentation, etc.
  • Creative Practice
    • Develop a concept for an original musical composition or artistic project
    • Collaboratively workshop these ideas and receive feedback from others
    • Final day of instruction will be an exhibition of student work


*Courses vary by experience and exposure to content. Instructors have the ability to change content and pace to serve the needs of students. Courses have been modified for online teaching.