A woman plays a stringed instrument, with water and a city skyline behind her.
Program Overview

Musical Studies

Critical and creative perspectives on music.

Photo credit: Kerem Albuyur

Study Music within a Liberal Arts Context

Oberlin’s Musical Studies Program offers students in the College of Arts and Sciences the opportunity to study music from cultural, critical, and creative perspectives. Our majors engage with everything from video game music to the history of popular forms, taking courses from both the college and the conservatory. Designed for students with serious prior musical training, the major emphasizes critical thinking, writing, and communications skills grounded in practical musical experience. Students in the major build foundations in music theory, musicianship skills, and music history, and continue more advanced work with a selection of courses chosen to enhance their individual interests. 

A Flexible and Complementary Major

Musical studies is a partnership between the College of Arts and Sciences and Conservatory of Music, offering students an interdivisional approach to musical study. Majors take courses in both divisions and earn a Bachelor of Arts degree with a focus on music. Many students pair musical studies with other majors in the arts and sciences, from politics or Africana studies to cinema studies or theater and dance. With its combination of history, theory, and creative practice, the musical studies curriculum prepares graduates for a wide range of careers in music education, conducting, ethnomusicology, music theory, performance, and other related disciplines.

In a typical semester more than 300 students from arts and sciences enroll for credit in conservatory classes

Music All Around Us

When you combine music and the broader liberal arts, amazing things can happen. At Oberlin, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Conservatory of Music share one campus. College and conservatory students take classes together, live together, eat together, and perform together.

A choir rehearses.
Oberlin sponsors approximately 500 concerts on campus each year

Musical Pathways

Five interdivisional programs offer students in both the college and conservatory the chance to engage with music from a range of disciplinary perspectives. Each pathway offers a unique course of study encompassing both well-established and emerging fields.

A trumpet player leads a jazz combo.

Undergraduate Research

Lena (Huizhou) Yang

I analyzed how Nico Muhly updates Britten’s musical techniques in opera compositions to portray 21st-century taboos.

Featured Courses

ETHN 100

Introduction to Musics of the World

Using case studies from around the world, this course will challenge how you think about music. Through interactive performance, critical listening, and musical analysis, we examine the diverse ways people think about and structure music. We also examine music as an inherently social act, illustrating how music is informed by - and conversely informs - historical, political, cultural, and economic processes, along with what music means to the people who make and engage with it.

Taught by
Jennifer Fraser
TECH 103

Sonic Arts in Society

Sonic Arts in Society is a community-based learning course that brings innovative music technology workshops and programming-with an emphasis on interdisciplinary Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) activities-to community members of all ages. Students apply their creative aptitudes and technical skills to the development and implementation of workshops and programming tailored to the needs of the communities that they will serve.

Taught by
Abby Aresty
MUTH 131

Music Theory I

Tonic, dominant, leading-tone, subdominant, submediant, and supertonic triads; the dominant-seventh chord (including inversions); the leading-tone diminished seventh chord and the cadential six-four chord. Introduction to phrase and period structure. Analytical and writing skills are introduced and developed.

Taught by
Bryan Parkhurst
AAST 171

Introduction to African American Music I

The first semester of a one-year survey of musical styles and forms cultivated by African Americans. First semester includes West African music and West African continuity in the American, early African American instrumental-vocal forms, and the social implications of African American music. Second semester includes later instrumental and vocal music (jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, gospel, soul, etc.) and important composers and performers of works in extended forms.

Taught by
Courtney-Savali Andrews

Student Profiles

Starting a Life in Music

Majoring in Musical Studies with a concentration in music theory, Alex Ngo ’19 combined his passions for the theoretical and performative by writing his musical, Retold. His synthesis of classroom study with practical application allowed him to pursue his plans to train as a musical theater composer-lyricist.

Alex Ngo portrait

Music Theory and Biology

At Oberlin, Lisa Learman ‘16 was a biology and musical studies double major.  The experience of studying science and music helped Lisa develop the creative as well as analytical thinking skills she is now putting into practice as a PhD student in the Cellular and Molecular Medicine program at Johns Hopkins University.

Lisa Learman

Fulbright to India

Musical studies major Sophia Bass ’20 was awarded a Fulbright research grant to study Carnatic music in India. After completing her study in India, the West Chicago, Illinois, native plans to attend graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in composition for film.

Sophia Bass

What does Musical Studies at Oberlin look like?

Singers in the library.

Oberlin’s Black Musician Guild gives a special performance at the reference desk of the conservatory library.

Photo credit: Julie Gulenko
A woman holds sticks over a brass percussion instrument.

Çudamani, one of Bali’s most active and respected performing ensembles, gave a hands on workshop to students and members of the Oberlin Community.

Photo credit: Yvonne Gay
A student works with tools and wires.

In Abby Aresty's Sonic Arts in Society course, students prepare for innovative music and technology workshops as part of Elyria Hospital's arts therapy initiatives.

Photo credit: Julie Gulenko
A bassist performs alongside a projection screen.

A series of small TIMARA groups played live experimental music accompaniment to selected silent, animated, and avant-garde films.

Photo credit: Dale Preston

Next Steps

Get in touch; we would love to chat.

Several cellos are exhibited along a corridor wall.
Photo credit: Dale Preston