Why take courses in this discipline?

Music is an essential part of human life. It has been used for millennia to bring people to laughter, to tears, and to inspire a sense of solidarity. The Grinnell College Music Department is committed to helping students become more skilled, creative, critically reflective, and socially aware members of a community by integrating music-making with theory, context, and critical engagement. We offer a range of courses on diverse practices from multiple disciplinary perspectives that are anti-racist, inclusive, and equitable so that all students feel a sense of belonging and can expand the possibilities of what music can be for them. Whether they are majors or taking a single course, students will learn to integrate music into their lifelong quest for meaning.

How does this discipline contribute to the liberal arts?

Courses in music involve creative expression and the study of human behavior and society.

How does a student get started?

Prospective majors should take the required gateway course Introduction to Music Studies and Lab (MUS 100/100L) in the fall and Music Theory I and Lab (MUS 112/111) in the spring of their first year. Prospective majors are encouraged to take MUS 261 or 262, and either MUS 202, 203, 204, or 205 as early as possible, preferably in the second year.

Non-majors are welcome in all classroom-based courses. Numerous courses require no previous background in music and have no prerequisite. These include our new Intro course, Introduction to Music Studies (MUS 100), Music, Culture, Context (MUS 116) (designed explicitly for non-majors), and several 200-level courses that are open to all students, including first-years (MUS 201, MUS 202, MUS 203, MUS 204MUS 205, MUS 208, MUS 214 and MUS 219).

AP/IB Credit

A 4 or 5 on the AP music theory exam counts for four credits in the humanities division.

Courses in Music

All courses in Music

Regularly Offered 100-Level Courses

  • Introduction to Music Studies
  • Music Theory I
  • Music, Culture, Context

Recently Offered 200-Level Courses

  • Music, Mind, and Brain
  • Music, Gender, and Sexuality
  • Digital Music-Making
  • Topics in American Music
    • Hip-Hop Culture
    • Popular Music
    • Country Music
    • Sonic Activism
    • Broadway Theatre
  • Topics in Ethnomusicology
    • Theory & Method in Ethnomusicology
    • Performing Difference
    • Global Heavy Metal
    • Topics in Sonic Creativity & Rhythmic Exploration
  • Jazz Traditions
  • Music in Africa
  • Music Theory II
  • Introduction to Composition
  • Jazz Improvisation
  • Conducting
  • Electronic Music
  • Music in Europe to 1750
  • Music in Europe and the Americas from 1720 to the Present

Recently Offered 300-Level Courses

  • Cognitive Theories of Music
  • Music and Capitalism
  • Advanced Tonal Theories
  • Composition Seminar
  • Musical Meaning & Social Value
  • Tonal Counterpoint
  • Men, Women, and Pianos
  • Baroque Improvisation
  • Orchestration
  • Race & Musical Taste
  • Instrument Making

Recent Special Topics

  • Ngoma Dance, Drumming, and Singing from Zimbabwe
  • Tap is Music
Music Major Curriculum (Effective fall 2018)
Credits Courses
4 MUS 100 Introduction to Music Studies
0 MUS 100L Music Notation & Keyboard Lab or proficiency exam
4 MUS 112 Music Theory I
0 MUS 112L Aural Skills I
4 either MUS 261 or MUS 262
4 MUS 202, 203, 204, or 205 (not 201)
12 Three additional 4-credit courses above 100 level
2 MUS 220 or 221 Private Lessons (not MUS 120)
2 MUS 101 Ensembles
Total 36  

Contributions to Other Majors/Concentrations

Courses in music contribute to concentrations in:

Department Events and Opportunities

Private Lessons

Half-hour private lessons (MUS 120 or MUS 220) on one instrument or voice are included in the comprehensive fee.

Declared music majors may take an unlimited number of lessons at any level without additional charge (majors must declare before the end of the add/drop period to receive free lessons for that semester). 

Non-majors may take one course of 30-minute private lessons (MUS 120 or MUS 220) every semester without additional charge. For a small fee, non-majors can upgrade to 60-minute lessons (MUS 221, MUS 320, and MUS 420) or take 30-minute lessons in a second area. A limited number of competitive awards are available to cover these fees; see the music department website for details.

Entering students generally register for lessons at the 100-level; registration at the 200-level requires the permission of the instructor.

Please note: registration in music lessons is subject to enrollment caps, like other courses. Credits earned in music lessons or ensembles are not counted in the number of credits that determine whether a student is liable for an “overload” fee (over 18 credits).

To enroll in music lessons:

  • Students must obtain permission from the instructor to enroll in music lessons at any level.
  • To enroll in lessons, submit a course change form with the instructor’s and adviser’s signature. In most cases, the form can be signed by someone at the music department orientation session. If you do not get a signature at this session and the instructor is not on campus, you must obtain the instructor’s permission via email, print off the email, and submit it along with the Course Change form.
  • Have your adviser sign the Course Change form and bring it to the Post- Registration Forum Wednesday at 3 p.m. in Harris, or
    fill out the Course Change form (with required signatures) and return it to Registrar’s office before the fall add/drop deadline.
  • Lesson sections have enrollment limits and can fill up like other classes. You cannot be guaranteed a spot in the section until you submit your completed forms to the Registrar. Please submit forms as early as possible.


Six musical ensembles (MUS 101) are open without audition to all students regardless of previous musical experience (Oratorio Society, Collegium Musicum, YGB Gospel Choir, Symphonic Band, Zimbabwean Mbira Ensemble, and Balinese Sound Ensemble). The remaining ensembles require auditions for placement purposes. These take place just before or during the first week of classes in the fall; individual ensemble directors can provide detailed information on auditions for their ensembles.

Winners of the Hill Ensemble Scholarships (selected during ensemble auditions) will receive free music lesson upgrades in exchange for participation in a music department ensemble.

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