Graduate study in music is a rewarding experience that primarily prepares the student for teaching in higher education. Several alumna/e of Hamilton College have completed graduate work in Music Composition, Performance, Musicology, and Theory. Most graduate schools require that students take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), which is usually taken during the student’s senior year. While the concentration in music at Hamilton College is broad, students who wish to continue their study of music in graduate school should also take certain courses, within and outside of the department, which may not be required for the concentration. Graduate schools favor students who are practicing musicians; therefore, students who are good performers will have an advantage over those who are not. Regardless of sub-field, all students pursuing graduate work are encouraged to gain experience and expertise in performance. The following are guidelines and suggestions geared toward the sub-field that the student wishes to pursue in graduate school.
Students who are contemplating careers as composers or arrangers should plan to take the following courses in addition to those required for the music concentration:
Mus 277 – Music in Contemporary Media. Given the prevalence of recorded music in our culture and of MIDI technology in music production this course can be quite valuable to prospective arrangers and composers, especially those who may later find themselves working in film or broadcast media.
Mus 368 – Seminar in Musical Composition. This is a course that should be started as soon as possible. It covers contemporary techniques of musical composition, including notational practices and score preparation. You will develop the ability to structure musical ideas in a series of short pieces in a variety of media, culminating in the presentation of selected works in a studio recital..
Mus 369 – Advanced Musical Composition. This is a quarter-credit course that can be repeated for credit. Over the span of four semesters each of the principal instrument families is covered and students work in more extended forms than in 368. Composers are also expected to acquire facility with notation software packages such as Sibelius, Finale, or Overture.
377F Electronic Arts Workshop. This interdisciplinary course is valuable for prospective composers who wish to work in a collaborative environment with digital photographers and videographers in the creation of visual/musical works.
Planning for an Honors Senior Project (Mus 550-551) in composition must be well underway before the end of the junior year.
Student composers and arrangers are strongly advised to take lessons in a variety of instruments, representing the principal instrument families. These lessons may be audited or taken for credit as Applied Music or Solo Performance courses. Composers and arrangers should acquire an understanding of the symbols used in sheet music (“lead-sheet” notation) and simple jazz charts. They should also develop the ability to identify the use of unusual scales and harmonic structures in music they hear and the ability to transcribe relatively complex rhythmic patterns. Keyboard skills should include the ability to play a simple piano accompaniment, to harmonize a melody from lead-sheet notation with appropriate style of accompaniment, to transpose a simple chord progression to any key, to transpose at sight a simple melody with chordal accompaniment (such as a church hymn), to sight read a simple open choral score, and to sight read a simple quartet score.
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While conducting may be defined in many ways, it is essentially the craft of coordinating the efforts of other musicians toward a unified and well-considered interpretation of a musical composition. This allows for works of great complexity involving many players to be performed – in effect, the conductor “plays” the orchestra, band, or choir as his or her instrument. Given the privilege and the responsibility that this entails, a person who wishes to pursue graduate work in conducting must attain the highest possible level of training and preparation in all aspects of music, as well as the cultivation of sophisticated leadership skills.
First and foremost, the aspiring conductor must be an outstanding musician. To develop basic musicianship (s)he should work toward a professional level of proficiency on his or her primary instrument. In addition, keyboard skills should be developed to as high a degree as possible, with an emphasis on sight-reading, transposition, and score-reading at the piano. Ear training skills (dictation, interval and chord recognition, etc.) are crucial, as are a solid background in harmony, formal analysis, and counterpoint.
The conducting student must learn the characteristics and capabilities of all the instruments in the ensemble (s)he wishes to conduct. In the case of either band or orchestra, this means a study of orchestration. A choral conductor will, naturally, study voice. (S)he will also need a thorough knowledge of musical terms in Italian, German, and French. A background in at least one of these languages is highly desirable; a choral conductor should study all three. A solid foundation in music history is also necessary. The aspiring conductor should begin as early as possible to acquaint him/herself with the major repertoire of his or her chosen ensemble. Graduate programs in conducting will test applicants in all or most of the above subjects.
The development of conducting technique should ideally be preceded by the acquisition of the solid musical foundation described above. The study of communicative gesture which most conducting classes entail depends upon a depth and breadth of musical knowledge and understanding which combined give one the authority to lead an ensemble. It is also necessary that the beginning conductor create his or her own opportunities to conduct.
Students planning to pursue graduate work in conducting should consult members of the music department faculty as early in their Hamilton career as possible for advice. The Hamilton College student intent on entering a graduate program in conducting should participate in at least one large performing ensemble each term, take Mus 216 (Conducting), and complete an Honors senior project in conducting.
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A student wishing to pursue graduate study in jazz should seek to gain as much performance experience as possible. This should include the study of solo and group performance on his/her major instrument/voice each semester, and participation as a soloist through audition on at least two student concerts. Finally, the student should pursue an Honors senior project in Jazz Performance, which includes the preparation and performance of a full-length solo recital and completion of program notes and analytical paper.
Students interested in studying jazz at the graduate level should have the following skills on their instrument. Playing in all keys. Performing at very fast or very slow tempos. Playing in odd meters. Playing in extreme registers. Playing with almost effortless control and ease. Ability to hear and correctly identify chords from all four families (major, minor, augmented and diminished). Be able to transcribe melodies from recordings. Be able to solo effectively over chord symbols. Be able to score for and or conduct a big band. Be able to lead a jazz combo. Be able to choose tunes that show a variety of styles and plan a concert with an overall theme.
In addition to their performance courses and those courses required for the major, a student wanting to pursue jazz studies in graduate school should take Mus 154, 160, 259, 262, and 213. Students should also complete advanced training in aural and keyboard skills (Mus 380 and 381). Other courses to consider are Mus 277 (Music in Contemporary Media) and Mus 287 (Composition).
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Graduate study in music history is pursued through a program in musicology, which concentrates on Western musical traditions. Ethnomusicology is the study of non-Western musical traditions as well as folk, traditional, and popular musics from all cultures. Although these are independent fields, more and more students who wish to study musicology are also expected to gain some expertise in ethnomusicology. Graduate schools that offer degrees in these two fields can differ greatly, concentrating in certain time periods, cultures, approaches, and opportunities for performance. Thus a student interested in pursuing graduate work in musicology and/or ethnomusicology should consult members of the music department faculty for advice on selecting an appropriate graduate program.
Students who intend to study musicology need a comprehensive background in music history, ethnomusicology, and music theory. In addition to those courses required for the major, students should consider taking Mus 154, 160, 262 as well as both Mus 254 and 259. A reading knowledge of two foreign languages (usually German and French) is normally expected of graduate students in musicology; thus, the student should study at least one foreign language in depth at Hamilton and should strongly consider studying a second foreign language at least through the first-year level. Depending upon the student’s particular interest, course work in other departments may also be helpful. For example, a student wishing to pursue Renaissance music should explore courses that deal with Renaissance culture, history, art, religion, and philosophy. Excellent writing skills are demanded of the musicology graduate student, so students should take courses (in several departments) that allow them to concentrate on their writing. Finally, the department strongly encourages a student preparing for graduate study in musicology to pursue an Honors senior project in Music History.
Students who intend to study ethnomusicology also need a comprehensive background in music history, ethnomusicology, and music theory. In addition to those courses required for the major, students should take Mus 154, 160, 262 as well as both Mus 254 and 259. Since ethnomusicology deals with music in culture, students should strongly consider taking course work in Anthropology. Depending upon the student’s particular interest, course work in other departments may also be helpful. For example, a student wishing to pursue Asian music should explore courses that deal with Asian culture, languages, art, religion, and philosophy. Excellent writing skills are demanded of the ethnomusicology graduate student, so students should take courses (in several departments) which allow them to concentrate on their writing. Finally, the department strongly encourages a student preparing for graduate study in ethnomusicology to pursue an Honors senior project in World Music or Ethnomusicology.
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A student interested in studying music theory in graduate school should carefully consider the various types of graduate-school programs that involve music theory. Some schools offer a degree in theory and composition. Other schools offer a degree solely in music theory, and a relatively few schools offer a combined program in music history and music theory. Students with questions about the various advantages and disadvantages of particular programs should consult members of the department faculty.
Students who intend to study music theory at the graduate level need a comprehensive background in music theory, aural skills, and keyboard skills. In addition to those courses required for the major, students should complete advanced training in aural and keyboard skills (Mus 380 and 381). It would be helpful to have an informed acquaintance with electronic music (Mus 277) and some in-depth study of Schenkerian analysis. The latter would need to be the subject of an independent study. Depending upon the kind of graduate program the student has in mind, study of jazz arranging (Mus 213) and composition (Mus 287) could be very helpful. A strong background in performance is suggested; student performers have the opportunity to put into practice what they have learned in theory classes.
A student intending to pursue graduate study in music theory should seek the broadest possible understanding of musical styles through the study of world music, early Western music, and contemporary Western music, in addition to the music of the common-practice period in Western music history. Finally, the department strongly encourages a student preparing for graduate study in music theory to pursue an Honors senior project in Music Theory.
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A student wishing to continue on to graduate study in performance should seek to gain as much performance experience as possible. This should include the study of solo and group performance on his/her major instrument/voice each semester, and participation as a soloist through audition on at least two student concerts. The department also recommends audition and participation in one or more of a number of summer performance schools such as the Aspen Festival, Blossom Festival, etc. Finally, the student should pursue an Honors senior project in Performance, which includes the preparation and performance of a full-length solo recital and completion of program notes and analytical paper. The most successful professional performers have a deep understanding of how the study of music history and theory can shape their musical interpretations. Since such a great variety of graduate programs exist, a student interested in pursuing graduate work in performance should consult members of the music department faculty for advice on selecting an appropriate graduate program.
The student should also seek a program of courses at Hamilton that will provide breadth within the field of music, and/or in conjunction with another discipline. Careers in instrumental music performance are extremely competitive. In addition to a very high level of performance competency, most also require a variety of non-performance skills, and many of them involve teaching. Courses in psychology or education, and other courses in music theory, history, electronic music, or computer science, etc. depending on individual interest, will be helpful. Most graduate schools also look favorably on teaching experience, so even volunteer work (sectional rehearsals, solo performance teaching) is beneficial. Strong keyboard skills are also essential for teachers of music performance. For singers, at least an elementary study of German, French and Italian is necessary.
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