Columbia College Chicago

Music Composition for the Screen, MFA

Becoming a successful composer requires practice. Columbia’s program centers on applied full-length projects so you can gain experience composing for various visual media across musical genres. You’ll learn how to integrate orchestral instruments with electronic samples using the latest recording, production and mixing techniques in a dedicated MFA music lab. You’ll take courses on history and film theory while mastering technical industry standards.

You’ll work with renowned composers in residence to re-score their original works in three distinct workshops that each span seven weeks. Think of this like a flight simulator: Professional composers re-create real-life challenges they faced on the project so you can learn how to anticipate and adjust.

The capstone is a five-week semester in Los Angeles where you’ll intern with a working composer while planning and executing your thesis project: recording your original score with a full studio orchestra. You’ll graduate with a clear path and strong connections that will help you succeed in this competitive industry.

Application Information

Alumni and Student Work Samples

What to Expect Your First Year

On your first day at Columbia, you’ll join a small team of talented, diverse composers from different musical backgrounds. Mirroring the industry, you’ll learn from each other and hold one another to high standards.

You’ll begin with rigorous courses in scoring and orchestration. You’ll dive into practice mode right away, scoring your first full-length feature film, first with our faculty of working professionals, and in the second semester with a composer in residence. Instead of working on a few isolated scenes, you’ll deal with entire projects. This will allow you to learn how music evolves to tell a complete story, and will help you see the full context of a score.

You’ll also begin developing original work of your own. You’ll collaborate with students who study film, game design and other visual media to practice and hone your craft outside the classroom.
What to Expect Your Second Year

Throughout your second year, you’ll continue to score various cinematic genres with composers in residence and with our faculty, while conducting classes and Chicago recording sessions will prepare you to record with a full live orchestra in Los Angeles. In the spring, you’ll also concentrate on an original thesis composition: a complete orchestral score for a short dramatic film, TV show or other visual media project.

The capstone of the MFA program is a five-week term in Los Angeles. It’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity for you to intern with leading Hollywood composers. You’ll take daily career development workshops with visiting professionals and visit the studios of leading composers. You’ll conduct your final recording session for your thesis composition with a full professional studio orchestra, mixed by a leading scoring engineer. By the time you graduate, you’ll have developed a body of work and a professional network that will help propel you into the industry with confidence.

Program Advisory Council

The program maintains close contact with a number of working professionals who provide ongoing feedback on the program curriculum and its alignment with the always-changing landscape of visual media composition. Advisory Council members are: Harry Gregson-Williams, Laura Karpman, Blake Neely, Miriam Cutler, Garry Schyman, Gerard Marino, Eimear Noone, Craig Stuart Garfinkle, and Reinhold Heil, plus program alumni Steven Melin, David Mitchell, Allison Geatches and Mae Crosby.

Detailed Program Information

For More Degree Requirements and Transfer Plans, Visit the Catalog

Real-world Opportunities

What experience will I get outside the classroom?

In addition to scoring assignments within the program, you’ll be encouraged and expected to build your portfolio by working on your own scores and compositions throughout your studies, long before composing your thesis. You’ll take advantage of the vibrant interdisciplinary atmosphere of Columbia’s campus, and find collaborators in the robust music scene in Chicago. Columbia is home to one of the largest film departments in the nation, which has produced a number of Oscar, Emmy and Spirit Award winners.

The MFA program’s capstone experience in Los Angeles is a hands-on culmination of your journey, including an internship with leading Hollywood professionals tailored to your planned career path, and the final of a number of opportunities throughout the program to record your original music with professional musicians.



Graduate Counselor
David Marts

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