Music Theory

In the music theory emphasis of the Master of Arts in Music, you will attain advanced proficiency in the analysis of music; gain familiarity with recent scholarship on diverse topics in music theory; and experience in independent, critically engaged research and writing projects in music theory and analysis.

Division Chair: Dr. Leigh VanHandel

Entrance requirements

To enter into the program, you should have a Bachelor of Music or a Bachelor of Arts in Music with at least two upper-level music theory electives beyond the required core theory sequence. We strongly recommend training in related subjects (e.g., keyboard harmony, counterpoint, composition, orchestration).

Program duration and time commitment requirements

The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies requires master’s students to be in residence full-time for at least 12 months, including one and no more than five winter sessions. Normally the MA in Music Theory, including thesis, will be completed in two years. Students requiring foundational coursework may have to spend more than two years earning their degrees.


You must complete at least 30 credits.

The music theory emphasis includes a minimum of 15 credits in music theory courses at the 500-level, as part of a minimum of 24 credits in music at the 500-level. Course selection is determined in consultation with your supervisory committee and will typically include:

500-level music theory seminars - 15 credits

  • Courses should explore different topics and repertoires and will be determined based on course availability and the student’s interests, background, and objectives.
  • Additional theory seminars (beyond the required 15 credits) may be counted towards the elective requirements below.

Thesis - 6 credits

  • If you intend to write an MA thesis, you must register in MUSC 549 in your first summer session and remain registered in it until you finish your program. Where the scope of the project warrants, and at the discretion of the student's committee, a thesis may be accorded as many as 12 credits.
  • MUSC 549 may be replaced with either two additional graduate seminars or one additional graduate seminar plus a directed study (MUSC 512). This requires the approval of the supervisory committee, the Chair of the Graduate Committee, and the Director of the School of Music.

Graduate music elective - 3 credits

  • Any 500-level music course, possibly including MUSC 500 again on an additional topic.

Electives - 6 credits

  • Any UBC course at the 300 level or above, as approved by the student’s supervisory committee.
  • A maximum of 6 credits of courses at the 300 or 400 level may be counted toward graduate credit.

Students should demonstrate the ability to understand music theoretical writings in a language other than English. This can be done via a written test or by passing a UBC course that teaches reading knowledge of the language.


The thesis is a document of appropriate substance and quality that significantly contributes to the theoretical literature. It may take many forms, including

  • An analysis of a major work or a group of shorter works
  • A study focusing on a particular analytical issue as applied to a specific musical repertory
  • A critical study of contemporary theoretical issues
  • A historical study of the evolution of a theoretical concept or an understudied contribution to the theoretical literature
  • Another topic approved by the student’s committee

Continuation to the PhD in Music Theory

At their discretion, faculty may offer students making outstanding progress in the MA program the option to move directly into the PhD in music theory. In such cases, the MA thesis requirement is waived. For consideration, students must have completed at least 12 credits of music theory graduate seminars at UBC.

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