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Undergraduate Research

What do we mean by "research in music?" It depends on who is doing the researching.

Music theorists, composers and performers all experiment with sound and rhythm: creating sound and rhythm on various instruments, capturing sound, finding and using new sounds and rhythms, and writing down original compositions. How can we use electronic sounds in music? How can we express the sounds that are created by nature - or even sub-atomic particles? For this sort of researcher, a performance is when they get to see the results of their experiments.

Music historians and ethnomusicologists explore how music was made across the ages and all around the world. Who composed the music that is performed? Under what circumstances do people make music? What instruments do they use? How do rhythms differ across societies? What could account for those differences? This sort of research involves delving into books, visiting other countries, or interviewing people. This type of research looks a lot like history research, or research in anthropology.

How to Get Started with Research in Music

Our courses teach the different approaches to research in music. To get involved with your own independent research, talk to a professor who has similar interests. Discuss your ideas with them, and ask if they will serve as your research advisor. They can can tell you the best way to get started.

We offer several courses for majors and non-majors to get involved with independent research, including

  • MUSC 207, Independent Composition I - You will work on original composition and engage in analytical issues raised by this work. (Prerequisite: MUSC 201, Tonal Theory I
  • MUSC 391, Projects in Music - You will conduct independent research for a semester that results in a research paper or a composition. (Prerequisites: Two 4-credit music courses)
  • MUSC 495-496, Honors in Music - This is a one-year project that may be in performance, theory, music history, composition or a combination of these.

Every music major will do an independent research project as part of their major requirements (MUSC 491, Senior Project). These projects can result in an original composition, full-length recital, or substantive scholarly research paper.

Research in music often crosses disciplines. Philosophy, psychology, sociology, physics and biology are all areas that can overlap with music. These overlaps contain many opportunities for new discoveries and insights. For this reason, we welcome non-music majors to participate in all aspects of the music program at W&M - even research.