As a Berklee jazz composition major, you’ll acquire significant technical skills and also begin to develop your voice as a jazz composer. Through the college’s rigorous core music program, you’ll receive the foundational training that will allow you to become a versatile musician. In this major, you’ll engage in critical analysis of a wide variety of music, compose and arrange for a variety of ensembles, and have the opportunity to hear your pieces performed, have access to state-of-the-art music facilities, and work with a large and diverse community of faculty, students, and industry professionals. You’ll gain real-world experience while earning a Bachelor of Music degree.
The student majoring in jazz composition will receive a comprehensive overview of the history of jazz composition. Students at Berklee have the opportunity to attend numerous concerts, clinics, and master classes given by students, faculty, and visiting artists that will broaden their experience of jazz music. Through the study of the scores of acknowledged masters, the student will develop a sense of aesthetics within the larger genre and the critical ability to discuss jazz compositions qualitatively.
Through a carefully sequenced program of study, the student will learn techniques of harmonization, counterpoint, motivic development, and orchestration, and will demonstrate understanding of these skills and concepts at every level of the program by completing arrangements and original compositions that are recorded and then evaluated. The student will also learn to produce printed scores and parts that promote efficient rehearsal and accurate performance. Students will develop interpersonal skills while rehearsing for recording sessions and public performances with fellow students, guest artists, and faculty musicians.
The capstone project of the major is the assembly of a portfolio of original compositions and arrangements for ensembles of varied size and instrumentation. In the final semester, students in the program work with a faculty mentor to evaluate, edit, and expand on the work done in previous semesters. The collected compositions along with live recorded performances are evaluated by the concentration faculty to ensure that the student has met the appropriate level of proficiency for graduation and leaves the college with a portfolio that is representative of their best work.
The jazz composition major will develop skills sufficient to pursue a professional career as a jazz writer or to gain entry to graduate programs in jazz studies in preparation for an academic career in the fields of jazz theory, composition, and improvisation.
What Will I Learn?
Upon completion of a jazz composition major, students will:
- recognize and discuss the major trends in jazz composition;
- describe music qualitatively, using appropriate terminology and exhibiting deep analysis;
- transcribe and analyze music;
- synthesize and apply knowledge of harmony, counterpoint, and compositional development techniques in the creation of original compositions and arrangements;
- balance concerted sections in a composition or arrangement with space for improvised solos in order to create a satisfying musical narrative;
- develop musical ideas into pieces with a larger temporal structure;
- compose and arrange music for ensembles of varying size and instrumentation;
- notate musical scores and parts to a professional standard in a variety of formats from lead sheet to a full score for extended jazz orchestra;
- lead an ensemble effectively in rehearsal and performance; and
- collaborate effectively with other musicians in rehearsal and performance.
As an enrolled Berklee College of Music undergraduate student, you will be required to declare a major field of study by your third semester.
Before declaring jazz composition as your major, you must complete AR-111 and HR-112.
Curriculum and Courses
There are 30 required credits specific to this major in addition to the B.M. required core music courses (41 credits), liberal arts courses (39 credits), and general electives (10 credits) for a degree total of 120 credits. See the sample curriculum here.
- ISKB-211 Basic Keyboard Techniques 1 (1 credit)
- ISKB-212 Basic Keyboard Techniques 2 (1 credit)
- AR-112 Arranging 2 (2 credits)
- AR-228 Survey of Jazz Composition and Arranging (2 credits)
- AR-201 Chord Scale Voicings for Arranging (2 credits)
- AR-331 Big Band Arranging and Score Analysis (2 credits)
- HR-325 Reharmonization Techniques (2 credits)
- CM-371 Jazz Composition 1 (2 credits)
- CM-373 Jazz Composition 2 (2 credits) - all students must pass the Score & Parts Proficiency
- CM-375 Jazz Composition 3 (2 credits)
- CP-361 Jazz Counterpoint 1 (2 credits)
- CP-362 Jazz Counterpoint 2 (2 credits)
- CM-499 Directed Study in Jazz Composition (2 credits)
- Major electives (6 credits)
- CM-489 Senior Portfolio Project
Updated for catalogue year fall 2022
Sample Curriculum by Semester
Explore the Jazz Composition Program
Get a glimpse of what it's like working with a diverse community of professional jazz musicians, on stage and in the studio, all while gaining real world experience.
Financial Aid and Scholarships
Learn about financial aid, scholarships, and others ways of paying for your Berklee education.
Study abroad at our Valencia, Spain, campus. It is recommended that jazz composition majors study in Valencia during their third, fourth, fifth, or sixth semester. For specific program information, please see the chair of your major or contact the study abroad office.