Majors and Minors

Music Major | Music Minor

General Distribution Requirement

All courses in the music department count toward the general distribution requirement in fine arts except, on occasion, courses cross-listed with other departments. Credit accumulated through ensemble performance and studio instruction counts toward the general distribution requirement upon completion of four consecutive semesters. These four consecutive semesters must be taken in a single ensemble or performance medium in order to fulfill the distribution requirement.

General Education Requirements

Courses that meet the general education requirements in writing, quantitative thinking, internationalism and US identities and differences will be posted on the Registrar's web page each semester prior to registration.

Additional information regarding the general distribution requirement and the general education requirements can be found in the graduation requirements section of this catalog.

Certain courses are particularly appropriate for the general student. These include Music Appreciation, Basic Musicianship, Electronic Music, World Music, African Music, and various topics courses. Other courses, while open to all students, may require specific musical background or skills. Students interested in upper level courses should consult the instructor about prerequisites.

Performance Studies

Performing ensembles are open to students by audition without regard for music major or minor status. These groups include the large vocal and instrumental ensembles, chamber music groups in the Western concert tradition, and other ensembles performing a spectrum of musical styles: African Music Ensemble, Mac Jazz (big band jazz), Early Music Ensemble, Highland Pipe Band, and the Mac Jazz and Popular Music Combos. Additional chamber ensembles such as string quartets and flute ensembles are formed in response to student interest. Students are also involved as soloists, conductors, or managers for the ensembles. Special performance projects such as dance concerts requiring live and electronic music, opera, and musical theater are scheduled as opportunities arise.

Studio instruction in voice, piano, harpsichord, organ, guitar, all standard orchestral instruments, jazz improvisation, bagpipe, African drumming, African flute, African voice, gamba, recorder, and sitar, is available to all students in the College. Studio instruction is with studio faculty who are all active professional musicians.

Lesson fees: Please consult the "Studio Instruction/Private Lesson" section of the Music department website.

1) Students can receive credit for successful completion of a sequence of 2 semesters of studio instruction and/or 2 semesters of ensemble participation. All majors and minors enrolled in lessons must complete a 15-minute performance exam at the end of each semester. Credit is given in the following manner:

  • Credit will be applied after completion of 2 consecutive semesters of the same studio instruction and/or ensemble participation. Consecutive semesters are usually fall-spring, but may be spring-fall.
  • Credit for a single semester of studio instruction or ensemble participation is not awarded.
  • Interruption of a sequence due to participation in an approved Study Abroad program is not considered a discontinuity.

2) Performance studies will be graded as follows:

  • Students with music major/minor concentrations, those receiving fee waivers, and those in ensemble studies, will receive letter grades A/B/C/D/NC.
  • General students without fee waivers have the option of letter grade A/B/C/D/NC or S/NC in studio instruction. Letter grades will be assigned unless the student designates in writing to the department coordinator a request for pass/fail option by the all-college deadline.
  • A student must earn a grade of A,B,C,D, or S for each term to receive credit for the course. All majors and minors enrolled in studio instruction must receive a grade of C or higher and complete and end-of-semester performance review, or the waived fee will be reversed and the student will be required to pay the entire fee for the instruction.

3) A student may count no more than 8 credits for performance studies toward graduation, but no limit is placed on continued participation. Continued participation will appear on a student's transcript, but will not fulfill Macalester graduation requirements.

4) Credit for performance studies satisfies the general distribution requirement if four consecutive semesters of a single ensemble or performance medium are completed. The grade a student receives for credit-bearing performance studies is computed in the student's cumulative GPA when the block of 2 consecutive semesters is completed.

Music Ensembles

Ensembles are open to all Macalester students. Selection of members is usually made on the basis of auditions in the fall. Students joining an ensemble are expected to remain active in it throughout both fall and spring terms. However, it is possible to audition to join an ensemble in the second term. Students with a declared major in music are required to participate in ensembles for their entire residence as a major, with at least four semesters in a "large" ensemble. Students with a declared minor in music are required to participate in ensembles for a total of four semesters, with at least two in a "large" ensemble. "Large" ensembles include Orchestra, Mac Jazz Band, Concert Choir, Macalester Chorale, and African Music Ensemble.

Piano for Proficiency Requirement

All Music Majors and Minors must pass a Piano for Proficiency exam before graduation. Towards this end, each music major and minor is offered four semesters of reduced-fee lessons in piano for proficiency in order to develop basic keyboard skills, which are indispensable to the study of music. Students are encouraged to begin the four-semester sequence as early as possible, typically upon their enrollment in Theory II. At the end of each semester students will be tested on their progress, and a passing grade on the final semester's exam is required for all students graduating with a major or minor in music. Required skills include sight reading and the ability to play major and minor scales (hands together), triads in inversions (broken and solid), simple chord progressions, and short pieces in contrasting styles.

Honors Program

The music department participates in the honors program. Eligibility requirements, application procedures and specific project expectations for the music department are available from either the department office or the Director of Academic Programs. As part of the College Honors Program (administered by the Academic Programs Office), Music majors with a GPA of 3.5 and higher in their Music Department coursework may propose an honors project to be undertaken in their senior year. Projects may include performance, composition, and academic research. Guidelines and procedures for Music honors projects are available from the Department Chair or Department Coordinator (or click here for a .pdf document of the departmental guidelines).

Topics Courses

MUSI 194, MUSI 294, MUSI 394, MUSI 494

Examination of special topics of interest to faculty and students. Recent topics have included: Music, Race and Ethnicity, Introduction to Ethnomusicology, Music and Culture of East Asia, Orchestration, Beethoven, and Shostakovich. To be announced at registration. (4 credits)

Independent Study

The department offers independent study options in the form of tutorials, independent projects, internships, and preceptorships. For more information contact the department and review the Curriculum section of the catalog.

Music Major

Major Requirements

A major will consist of 40 semester hours in classroom courses, plus studio instruction, ensemble participation and piano for proficiency, and completion of a senior capstone.

Music majors whose primary advisor is not a music faculty member should establish an informal advisor in music; the complexity of major requirements necessitates regular review of one's progress toward the major.


  •  MUSI 113, MUSI 114, MUSI 213, and MUSI 314. Both MUSI 113 and MUSI 114 should be taken during the first year if possible, and no later than the second year, since these courses are prerequisites for most of the other required music courses. (Students who place out of MUSI 113 may take another approved Music course in its place.)
  •  MUSI 342 and MUSI 343  (Note: these courses are most appropriately taken after completion of MUSI 113 and MUSI 114)
  • One approved course in the historical and/or theoretical study of music that lies outside of the Western art music and Jazz traditions. Examples include Chinese Music, African Music, World Music Theory and Analysis, and Ethnomusicology
  • Approved electives for at least 12 additional credits (up to 4 credits may be the senior capstone).
  • All music courses count towards the Music major/minor with the following exceptions:
    1. MUSI 110 (Music Appreciation) and MUSI 112 (Basic Musicianship) DO NOT count towards the Music major or minor
    2.MUSI 111 (World Music), while not considered the most appropriate course for Music majors/minors, may count towards the major/minor with approval of the Department Chair.
  • Studio instruction on the primary instrument or in voice during each semester of residence as a major
  • Ensemble performance during each semester of residence as a major, with at least 4 semesters in a "large" ensemble (see Music Ensembles)
  • A senior capstone project in music
  • Fulfillment of the Piano for Proficiency requirement


The standard senior capstone project in the Music Department is a senior recital, typically 50-70 minutes in length. The department encourages all majors to include performance as a soloist as part of the presentation of this project. A student may register for MUSI 488 (Senior Project) to receive credit for preparation, although it is not necessary to receive course credit for the senior capstone. The student will plan the recital in consultation with the studio instructor; students additionally will be paired with one of the six tenure-track faculty members who will act as a general recital adviser. This adviser must approve the final program in advance of the recital. 

A small number of students elect not to do a recital to complete their capstone; in this case, students may give a public lecture-recital or a public lecture on an appropriate topic, in consultation with their assigned faculty adviser. Topics for such projects must be developed by the end of the junior year. Research and writing will take place during the fall and winter of the senior year, with revisions and public presentation taking place in the spring. Individual faculty advisers will establish specific timelines, expectations, and evaluative criteria for non-recital capstones on a case-by-case basis.

Following the completion of the senior project, the student will meet again with the recital capstone adviser for an exit review, which will include discussion of their project presentation, their achievements within the department, and their future directions.



Music Minor

Minor Requirements

The minor in music will consist of 24 semester hours in classroom courses, plus studio instruction and ensemble participation, and the Piano Proficiency Exam. All courses other than MUSI 112 may count toward the minor. A normal music minor track for course work can be accomplished in five semesters or spread out over 4 years: With careful planning, a music minor can be completed in two years. MUSI 113 should be taken no later than the fall of the 3rd year. A minor in music must include:

  • Two theory courses from MUSI 113, MUSI 114, MUSI 213, MUSI 314
  • Two Music History/Literature courses, one of which must be MUSI 342 or MUSI 343, and one of which must be in non-Western music.
  • Two or more additional electives for at least 8 credits.
  • All Music courses count towards the Music major/minor with the following exceptions:
    1. MUSI 110 (Music Appreciation) and MUSI 112 (Basic Musicianship) DO NOT count towards the Music major or minor
    2. MUSI 111 (World Music), while not considered the most appropriate course for Music majors/minors, may count towards the major/minor with approval of the Department Chair.
  • Studio instruction for four semesters.
  • Ensemble participation for a minimum of four semesters, two of which must be in a “large” ensemble (see Music Ensembles).
  • MUSI 99 - Piano Proficiency Exam