School of Music

Department of Theory, Composition & Musicology

Music Composition at ECU

Overview of the Program

The ECU School of Music's Composition program [see Handbook for Composition Students] is devoted to helping students develop the skills necessary to pursue a professional and/or academic career in the composition of contemporary concert music. Our most successful students are highly self-motivated and show initiative by taking advantage of performance opportunities and pursuing the mentoring of a variety of faculty. We place emphasis on our students' abilities to communicate effectively to their audience in professional and academic settings, both in writing and orally. Our faculty are dedicated to helping students develop their technical skills and compositional craft, with the ultimate goal of guiding students towards establishing their own artistic voice. Towards these ends, students are expected to explore a wide variety of musical styles, and to work on exercises designed to develop a wide variety of techniques--regardless of each student's chosen or preferred style. In order to facilitate exposure to a broad spectrum of technical and aesthetic approaches and perspectives, ECU composers who have been accepted as composition majors at the end of their sophomore year will begin to "rotate" their study with several of our composition faculty.

Student composers at East Carolina University work with nationally and internationally established faculty composers. Students have the opportunity to hear their compositions performed by fellow students on our three-concert Premiere Performances Series each year; In addition, the University Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Concert Band, Symphony Orchestra and concert Choirs have read and performed student compositions. Students enroll in courses which provide access to the Center for Composition with Electronic Media (CCEM) allowing them to work in the medium of electronic music, and also use our MIDI lab to access computer engraving software (Finale, Sibelius) to prepare their musical scores for traditional instruments.

Many of our students have continued their studies in some of the finest doctoral composition programs in the U.S., and some, such as William Duckworth, Claude Baker and Ray Bunch have had very successful careers as composers.

Composition, MUSC 1326, 1336, is open to all students who have taken MUSC 1156 and MUSC 1176, or are taking MUSC 1156 and MUSC 1176 concurrent with MUSC 1326, 1336.

NOTE: Any student considering a Composition Major must submit an application to the Chair of the Theory, Composition & Musicology Department (see Application Guidelines and Procedures below). A strong applicant for the composition major will, by the end of the sophomore year, have had at least three of their pieces performed on the Premiere Performances Concert Series.

The continuing Composition Major is expected to have at least two works performed each year.

Application Guidelines for undergraduates

Students typically submit application to the Composition major in their fourth semester of music study.

In order for an application to be seriously considered by the Department of Theory, Composition & Musicology, applicants are expected to consistently demonstrate substantial accomplishment in Theory, History, and Musicianship classes, as reflected by both grades and instructor recommendations.

As noted in the ECU Undergraduate Catalog: "For admission to the upper level theory-composition concentrations, a student must have a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA in music courses at the end of the sophomore year."

Application Deadline: By the first Friday in April the prospective composition major should submit a dossier to the Chair of the Theory, Composition & Musicology Department.

Acceptance to the composition major is contingent upon students' successful completion of the Upper Division Qualifying Exam on their major applied instrument.

Your Application Packet: The dossier submitted for application should include:

  • Scores, programs and, if possible, tapes of works performed at ECU
  • A "declaration of intent," which should articulate your compositional goals, professional goals, and personal evaluation of your development since beginning composition study
  • A list of courses taken, and grades received, in the Theory, Composition & Musicology Department (Basic Musicianship [Music Theory], Basic Musicianship Lab [Ear-Training], Music History, etc.)

Application Guidelines for Graduate Study

Applicants for Graduate Study in composition should submit applications online through ECU's online system, and also submit 3 scores, corresponding recordings, and a sample of an analytical paper.  Questions about the program, or about supporting materials?  Email Ed Jacobs at 

Curricular Requirements in Composition: