Focus Areas

Courses students can take to support various interests:

Core Curriculum for Bachelor of Arts in Music

All Music Majors Take the Following Courses:

Music Theory

  • MU 103. Music Theory I: Diatonic Materials. 4 units
  • MU 105. Music Theory II: Chromatic Materials. 4 units
  • MU 303. Music Theory III: Advanced Chromaticism. 4 units
  • MU 305. Music Theory IV: Contemporary Practices. 4 units

Musicianship

  • MU 104. Musicianship I. 2 units
  • MU 106. Musicianship II. 2 units
  • MU 108. Musicianship III. 2 units

Music History and Music in Culture

  • MU 121. Introduction to Non-Western Musics. 4 units
  • MU 325. America's Music. 4 units OR MU 326. Cultural Concepts and Structures in Music. 4 units
  • MU 320. Music Research and Writing. 4 units
    MU 331. Music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. 4 units
  • MU 332. Music of the Baroque and Early Classic Eras. 4 units
  • MU 431. Music of the Classic and Romantic Eras. 4 units
  • MU 432. Music of the Modern Era. 4 units

Sound Design

  • MU 311. Sound Design: Technologies. 4 units

Senior Project

  • MU 461. Senior Project. 3 units

Private Lessons (minimum of 9 units)

  • MU 150. Applied Music. 1 unit
  • MU 250. Applied Music. 1 unit
  • (elective): MU 350. Applied Music. 1 unit
  • (elective): MU 450. Applied Music. 1 unit

Major Ensembles (minimum of 9 units)

  • MU 168 / MU 368. Piano Accompanying. 1 unit
  • MU 170 / MU 370. University Jazz Band. 1 unit
  • MU 172 / MU 372. Wind Orchestra. 1 unit
  • MU 173 / MU 373. Wind Ensemble. 1 unit
  • MU 174 / MU 374. Symphony Orchestra. 1 unit
  • MU 181 / MU 381. Polyphonics. 1 unit
  • MU 185 / MU 385. University Singers. 1 unit
  • MU 186 / MU 386. Early Music Ensemble. 1 unit
  • MU 188 / MU 388. Arab Music Ensemble. 1 unit


Music Education Focus

Want to be a Music Teacher? Cal Poly’s required curriculum will give you a well-rounded foundation in the skills and knowledge essential to all educators.

A number of other elective courses can help to prepare you for a career in education:

  • MU 154. Beginning Voice. 1 unit
  • MU 155. Beginning Guitar. 1 unit
  • MU 210. Musicianship IV. 1 unit
  • MU 211. Musicianship V. 1 unit
  • MU 212. Musicianship VI. 1 unit
  • MU 161. Piano Skills I. 1 unit
  • MU 162. Piano Skills II. 1 unit
  • MU 163. Piano Skills III. 1 unit
  • MU 261. Piano Skills IV. 1 unit
  • MU 262. Piano Skills V. 1 unit
  • MU 263. Piano Skills VI. 1 unit
  • MU 265. Accelerated Piano Skills. 1 unit
  • MU 340. Conducting: Fundamentals. 2 units
  • MU 341. Conducting: Choral. 2 units
  • MU 342. Conducting: Instrumental. 2 units
  • MU 360. Music for Classroom Teachers. 4 units
  • MU 361. Instruments. 1 unit
  • MU 465. Choral Literature and Rehearsal Techniques. 4 units
  • MU 466. Instrumental Literature and Rehearsal Techniques. 4 units
  • EDUC 300. Historical, Philosophical, and Social Foundations of Public Education. 3 units

There are various professional societies for music educators; many offer student memberships

People aspiring to teach in the public schools will need a teaching credential. Visit California’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing for the current state requirements.

For more information about Cal Poly’s degree program, feel free to contact:

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Composition Focus

Want to be a Composer? Courses in Music Theory, Musicianship, and Sound Design will build your basic skills, while Music History and Music in Culture classes will introduce you to music-making strategies over time and around the world.

A number of other elective courses can help to prepare you for a career in composition:

  • MU 114. Introduction to Composing. 4 units
  • MU 210. Musicianship IV. 1 unit
  • MU 211. Musicianship V. 1 unit
  • MU 212. Musicianship VI. 1 unit
  • MU 301. Counterpoint. 4 units
  • MU 351. Jazz and Popular Music Arranging. 2 units
  • MU 352. Orchestration. 4 units
  • MU 312. Sound Design: Recording. 4 units
  • MU 411. Sound Design: Synthesis. 4 units
  • MU 412. Sound Design: Composition and Production. 4 units

Many music majors at Cal Poly have completed compositions as their senior project (MU 461) requirement. Recent examples include works for violin, guitar, sax quartet, big band, choir, and orchestra.

For more information about composition in Cal Poly’s degree program, feel free to contact:

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Music History or Ethnomusicology Focus

Want to be a Musicologist or Ethnomusicologist? Besides Music History and Music in Culture coursework, required courses in Music Theory, Musicianship, and Sound Design will help you understand music-making strategies over time and around the world.

A number of other elective courses can expand your knowledge about world music, particular genres and styles, and music of the past:

  • MU 221. Jazz Styles. 4 units
  • MU 227. Popular Music of the USA. 4 units
  • MU 229. Music of the 60's: War and Peace. 4 units
  • MU 324. Music and Society. 4 units—subtopics include “The History of Film Music,” “The History of Musical Theater,” “The History of Piano Literature,” “Iconic Women in Arab Music,” “Mozart’s Operas,” “Music and Conflict in the Middle East,” “The Symphony,” and many others.
  • MU 328. Women in Music. 4 units

Many music majors at Cal Poly have completed research papers or given lecture-recitals as their senior project (MU 461) requirement. Recent topics include:

  • Django's Caravan: The Journey of the Gypsy King
  • From "Plucked" to "Struck": The Evolution of the Pianoforte and its Music
  • From Unsung to High-strung: The Development of the Viola Through the NineteenthaAnd Twentieth Centuries, As It Is Used To Introduce Fugues
  • From War Drum to Concert Stardom: The Evolution of the Timpani
  • The Gospel Through Music: Comparing the Music of Martin Luther to Contemporary Christian Songs
  • How to Make the Jailhouse Rock: An Evaluation of Effective Music Therapy Methods Among Juvenile Offenders
  • Jews, Jazz, and Jingoism: Music Under the Nazi Regime
  • Music and Language Development: Traits of Nursery Rhymes and Their Impact on Children's Language Development
  • A Song Through Time: Tiger Rag and the Twentieth Century
  • Seeing, Hearing, and Believing: Depictions of Ethnicity from The Mikado to In the Heights
  • Synesthesia and a Comparative Analysis of Colored Composition
  • Thematic Catalogue for Upright Bass Concerti
  • When the Cradle Falls: The Subversion, Secrets, and Sentimentality of Lullabies

For more information about music history or ethnomusicology in Cal Poly’s degree program, feel free to contact:

  • Ken Habib: Ethnomusicology, Popular Music, Music of the Middle East
  • Alyson McLamore: Music History, Film Music, Musical Theater, Women in Music

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Sound Design Focus

Want to pursue Sound Design?  Courses in Music Theory and Musicianship will build your basic skills, while Music History and Music in Culture classes will introduce you to music-making strategies over time and around the world.

A number of other elective courses can expand your expertise in sound design and associated skills:

  • MU 114. Introduction to Composing. 4 units  (optional)
  • MU 312. Sound Design: Recording. 4 units
  • MU 411. Sound Design: Synthesis. 4 units
  • MU 412. Sound Design: Composition and Production. 4 units

The Sound Design Program produces a trans-media concert every year as a culminating experience for music students — composers, sound engineers, performers — along with students from other media and performance programs – including theatre, dance, engineering, computer science, business, architecture, and journalism.

A professional society in the field welcomes student memberships:

For more information about the sound design program at Cal Poly, visit the Sound Design webpage or contact Antonio G. Barata.

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Jazz Focus

Want to study Jazz at Cal Poly? All Cal Poly jazz ensembles (combos and big bands) typically perform a mixture of traditional and contemporary jazz, and the top groups enjoy an active schedule, performing locally, regionally, and internationally.

Within the core curriculum, courses in Music Theory, Musicianship, and Sound Design will build your basic skills, while Music History and Music in Culture classes will introduce you to music-making strategies over time and around the world.

A number of other elective courses can help to develop your jazz knowledge and skill:

  • MU 221. Jazz Styles. 4 units
  • MU 259. Beginning Jazz Improvisation. 2 units
  • MU 324. Humanistic Values in Jazz. 4 units
  • MU 351. Jazz and Popular Music Arranging. 2 units
  • MU 210. Musicianship IV. 1 unit
  • MU 211. Musicianship V. 1 unit
  • MU 212. Musicianship VI. 1 unit

The primary professional society in jazz is The Jazz Education Network

For more information about the jazz program at Cal Poly, visit the Jazz Ensembles webpage or contact Professor Paul Rinzler

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Performance Focus

Want to be a Performer? As a Music Major, you will receive private lessons (the Applied Music courses) as part of your standard curriculum. Required and elective courses in Musicianship, Music Theory, and Piano Skills will sharpen your abilities to sight-read and analyze music, while Music History and Non-Western Music courses will guide you through performance practices of the past and from around the globe.

At Cal Poly, you will also take an introductory course in Sound Design, giving you a foundation in how to record and preserve your performances, and you can opt to take elective technology courses that culminate in an annual mixed-media performance called RSVP.

You can get additional individual performance coaching in the several master classes offered every quarter. Master class instructors include Cal Poly faculty as well as prominent guest artists.

You can also develop your performance skills on the podium, by means of the conducting fundamentals course as well as the more specialized courses in choral or instrumental conducting.

You can take advantage of Cal Poly’s “Senior Project” requirement to present a Senior Recital, enabling you to prepare a complete program of solo works; you may also opt to present a Junior Recital.

And, to top things off, there are dozens of ensembles open to you at Cal Poly! These groups perform in the magnificent Harmon Hall of the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center, the Spanos Theatre, the historic San Luis Obispo Mission, and many other campus and community venues. Cal Poly offers ensembles for all kinds of musicians:

Vocalists can sing in Polyphonics, University Singers, Early Music Ensemble, and various small group settings. There is a Vocal Student Recital for solo performances every quarter, and vocalists may also participate in opera productions and opera scenes.

Jazz musicians can play in one of the University Jazz Bands or Combos, and are frequent performers at official University Events and Conferences.

Brass, Woodwind, String, and Percussion players can participate in the Cal Poly Symphony, Wind Ensemble, Wind Orchestra, or Mustang Marching Band, as well as in all sorts of specialized smaller groups, such as Brass Choir, Percussion Ensemble, Clarinet Ensemble, String Quartets, and so forth.

There are places for Guitarists and Pianists in many of these ensembles; moreover, Cal Poly hosts a separate Guitar Ensemble, while students in the Piano Accompanying course work with vocalists in the Vocal Student Recital and play ensemble pieces in the quarterly Piano Student Recitals. Solo pianists are showcased each quarter in the Piano Student Recitals as well.

Whether you are a vocalist or instrumentalist, you may also stretch your skills beyond the Western tradition by participating in the Arab Music Ensemble, which features music from many areas of the Middle East. No previous experience with non-western instruments or vocal techniques is required! 

A list of Cal Poly’s private (applied) music instructors are on the faculty website.

For more information about participating in large ensembles, please contact:

Arab Music Ensemble: Ken Habib

Band: Christopher Woodruff

Choir: Scott Glysson

Jazz: Paul Rinzler

Orchestra: David Arrivée

RSVP: Antonio G. Barata

For more information about performance in Cal Poly’s degree program, feel free to contact:

Department Chair: W. Terrence Spiller

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