Composition Major Frequently Asked Questions

What does the Composition Department teach?

Berklee’s Composition Department teaches core courses, required of all majors, in tonal harmony, counterpoint, music history, and conducting. The department also teaches specialized courses in composition, including:

  • Composing for orchestra and voice.
  • Contemporary harmony and form.
  • Music of modern and contemporary composers.
  • Advanced conducting for the concert stage, musical theater, and recording studio.
  • Private lessons in composition and conducting.


What will I learn as a composition major?

Composition is probably the most creative major at Berklee. You will learn the craft to create music for any combination of instruments and voices, from a soloist to a full symphony orchestra and choir, including electronic sounds. We help you find and develop the unique combination of sounds that make your music yours. You will also learn how to make a successful career creating new music. 


What kinds of careers are out there for composers?

Most composers make a living from a combination of activities. Composers work at all levels of the music industry as:

  • Independent artists, writing on commissions from ensembles and soloists. As a sole income, this is admittedly rare.
  • Composers for touring ensembles, such as Bang on a Can, and performers in such ensembles as well. 
  • Composers for film, dance, theater, and television.
  • Composers for educational institutions, especially for choir and band.
  • Music editors for publishers.
  • Teachers, especially at the college level.
  • Music copyists for publishers and ensembles.


What’s the difference between Berklee’s Composition Department, and the Jazz Composition Department?

The Composition Department teaches a way of composition that stems from the traditions of European “classical” music, but in the last hundred years has expanded to encompass influences from the entire world. We incorporate old and new, from Bach and before to John Adams and beyond. In general, but with many important exceptions, our music is written out, with little improvisation from the performers.

Jazz Composition takes its basis from the improvised tradition of American Jazz, and the methods of masters like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Ornette Coleman. Although much of the music is written down, improvisation is taken for granted.

The two departments recognize that there is no real “wall” that separates their teaching, and collaborate to create the richest musical experience possible for all Berklee students.


What’s the difference between Berklee’s Composition Department and its Film Scoring Department?

The Composition Department is mostly concerned with concert music, meaning music that holds its own with no other media. However, the department does work with creative multimedia, from traditional opera and theater to contemporary electronic and mixed media.

Film Scoring teaches the craft required to work in the film industry, especially the environment of commercial Hollywood and independent film. The film scoring degree emphasizes more technical and technology-based skills.

Many film scoring majors double-major in composition, building strong technical skills at the same time they develop their creative voices.


For more information, contact:

Arnold Friedman, Chair

Department of Composition

617 747-8185