Graduate Admissions

Music Composition for the Screen MFA

PLEASE NOTE: These are samples only. Course offerings are subject to change and not all courses are offered each term or each year. Be sure to check the online course catalog and the current class schedule for details about pre-requisites, terms offered, class fees, etc.).

The Film Score: (3 credits) 32-6631
An exhaustive review of the development of film scoring art and  craft, from the generic "cues" written to accompany silent film and the defining work of Max Steiner and Erich Korngold to "golden age" auteurs such as Herrmann and Bernstein and contemporary composer/producers like Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman and Thomas Newman. The emphasis is on the unique musical vocabulary of the film score and on learning to recognize the signatures of benchmark composers, and students will conduct detailed analyses of both written and recorded examples. 

History of Cinema (3 credits) 32-6630
This course presents a chronological investigation of film from the pre-history of cinema up to the digital age. Emphasis is on understanding film as both an engine for and artifact of society, culture and geography. Students are introduced to important moments in film history from around the world and across a range of genres and movements via representative works. The course includes the full gamut of roles that sound (and its absence) can play in the cinema. Students develop critical methodologies designed to connect their experiences as viewers with the collaborative filmmaking process.

Scoring I (4 credits) 32-6221
The first in a four-semester composition and orchestration sequence which is the core of the MFA program, this course is designed to introduce the composer with little or no experience in dramatic scoring to the craft of marrying music to story. Composition for the screen is an applied art, and requires that the composer be guided in his or her choice of musical vocabulary by the emotional and thematic values embodied in script, performance, and directorial intent. This course will explore the application of both familiar and novel musical devices to the depiction of emotional states like joy, sorrow, fear, tension, awe and wonder. Lessons in technique will drive writing assignments geared to specific non-dialogue scenes wherein music must supply both text and subtext, leading ultimately to a final cue scored for an original dialogue scene and live orchestral ensemble. Taken in tandem with Lab I and utilizing Logic Studio.

Lab (Tutorial) I-IV (1 credit) 32-6901
The Lab (Tutorial) will be offered in each semester of the MFA program but the last (semester in Los Angeles), and is designed to function as an adjunct to the core composition classes. It is in the lab that students will not only accomplish the sketching and sequencing which leads to the realization of the ideas initiated in the classroom, but learn to use and master the technical tools of the trade, which include workstations outfitted with Apple Intel iMacs, M-Audio controller keyboards, Logic Studio software, both Finale and Sibelius notation software, and numerous other music applications.

Aesthetics of Cinema (3 Credits) 32-6632
Aesthetics of Cinema builds on the knowledge acquired in History of Cinema. Students investigate key historical moments through close critical analysis, with particular emphasis on the role of sound and music in the cinema. They are expected to develop a sophisticated analytical approach to the aesthetics of cinema as a basis for acquiring their own vocabulary and methodologies to utilize as music composers for the screen.

Scoring II (3 credits) 32-6222
The second installment of the core four-semester composition sequence, this course will add color and nuance to the “black and white” musico-dramatic palette explored in semester one through an intensive focus on orchestration and timings as well as further studies of the harmonic vocabulary. The effective use of the wind and percussion sections of the film orchestra will be added to the aspiring screen composer’s tool kit, as will special categories such as scores driven by rhythm section and electronic elements. The basic protocol of the film and television scoring date will be introduced and then illustrated through live sessions recorded at the Sherwood Community Music School with members of the Chicago area’s excellent contemporary music ensembles. Taken in tandem with Lab II and further studies in the use of Logic Studio as a mixing tool.

Scoring III  (4 credits) 32-6223
This course opens the second year/third semester of the core composition sequence. By this time, the composer has acquired a basic arsenal of dramatic scoring techniques and is ready to begin tackling the bigger, more authoritative statements that lead to a distinctive musical identity. Action scoring, whether for film, television, or videogames, gives the screen composer’s craft has its most exciting expression. It is a muscular enterprise that requires rhythmic propulsion and an “activation” of harmony that encom-passes forms from rock and jazz to the music of the dance. Likewise, scoring scenes of romantic passion requires fleshing out musical ideas and giving them pulse. Action and romance also involve much greater attention to timings and to the director’s choreography. The composer’s role as conductor is more critical, and composers must learn to “step out of their own shadows.” With videogames now providing a portal into feature and television work, the ability to create thrilling and propulsive music that makes the viewer feel like a participant is an essential career skill.  Taken in tandem with Lab III.

Thesis Development/Practicum (5 credits) 32-6997
Offered in collaboration with the Dept. of Film & Video and in preparation for the final graduate semester in Los Angeles, this course is taken in Spring semester of the MFA candidate's second year, and is designed to guide the student toward selection of a thesis scoring project through mediated interaction with advanced film students selected for participation in the Practicum program. The course will enfold a number of thesis-related activities, including development of a written proposal, ideation and sketching, advising, script breakdown and budgeting, pre-production meetings, interaction with other crew members, and intensive involvement with the filmmakers themselves.

Scoring IV  (3 credits)  32-6224
At this stage, the composer is one semester away from defining a personal signature and expressing the sum of what he or she has learned in a thesis score. Moreover, he or she is less than a year away from entry into one of the world’s most competitive fields. The final installment in the four semester composition sequence will assist the composer in identifying his or her personal style through a practicum in genre techniques, including rock/contemporary scoring, jazz scoring, comedic, horror, period, and animation. These studies will also serve to help the composer to make a thesis choice appropriate to his or her musical strengths. Taught in tandem with Lab IV and Thesis Development.

Conducting I & II (2 credits) 32-6441
Tutorials in the art and mechanics of conducting a live ensemble in synchronization with picture, including training in the use of variable click tracks as well as "free timings" with streamers and punches. Coursework includes both simulations, in which students will practice baton technique with concert score, and practical assignments involving live studio musicians and picture.

Career Development
(1 credit) 32-6972 
The combined efforts of faculty, internship providers, and industry partners will serve to aid the student into the field of scoring for visual media. Coaching on how to prepare an attention-getting presentation reel, acquire an agent, how to network, conduct oneself at job meetings and navigate the shark-infested waters.

Internship/Apprenticeship (1 credit) 32-6989
As an integral part of the Summer Semester in L.A., students are placed in internships or apprenticeships in the music wing of the film, television and electronic media industries. Such positions may include work for the music department of a major studio, in a recording studio, for a performing rights society, or assisting an individual composer or a music production company.

Thesis/Practicum: Final Project (6 credits) 32-6998
The culmination of four semesters' work and of the capstone semester in Los Angeles, the thesis score is a complete orchestral underscore for a short dramatic film television project, or approved new media property, to be composed, conducted and produced by the MFA candidate on a motion picture scoring stage.