Theory-Musicianship and Composition

Coordinator – Dr. Aaron Jacobs
Faculty Liaison – Dr. Stephen Taylor

About the Program

Taught by an engaging team of graduate student and postdoctoral instructors, Theory/Musicianship and Composition classes are open to youth, age 10-18 – with exceptions based on instructor consent. 

Students should have studied an instrument for at least one year before enrolling into theory/musicianship classes. However, no other prior knowledge or instruction in music theory or musicianship is required for enrollment. Acceptance is contingent on class size, instructor availability, and section openings based on a theory assessment and/or interview with our instructors.


Theory/musicianship classes are organized in three levels based on the skills of the student: elementary, intermediate and advanced. Ear-Training and Composition classes are offered as an option (class descriptions below). Composition is held in the lower level computer lab, giving students access to state-of-the-art musical composition software. Students of the Illinois Chamber Music Academy will perform student compositions during our end of the year recital in May.

Registration Form


  • Dr. Zhanna Lehmann – Ear-training / Theory
  • Ralph Lewis – Composition / Advanced Theory
  • Dr. Tatiana Shustova – Theory / Musicianship


Dr. Aaron Jacobs – Program Coordinator, Illinois Chamber Music Academy
Dr. Tatiana Shustova – Assistant Coordinator, Theory / Musicianship



The primary goal of the theory class is to develop ear-training skill and musical memory (dictation), and to understand and analyze intervals, chord structures, rhythm, phrasing and basic part writing. It is the perfect addition to the musical education of youth who wish to develop their musical knowledge and skill. The course can be used as preparation for ABRSM, AP and AIM exams as well.

Materials used:

  • Alfred’s Piano Library, ear-training books
  • ABRSM Music Theory in Practice
  • Fundamentals of Piano Theory by K. Neil


Ear training class is offered for the development of basic aural skills for students with little or no experience in such training. The class will focus on instructing two fundamentals: identifying the elements of music such as intervals, chords, simple harmonies, melodies, and rhythms; and secondary, on the activity of sight-singing intervals, scales, and melodies. The first component of the ear training will include hearing and writing musical dictations; the sight-singing component will also incorporate work on management of the voice. The class will address students who need more focused aural skill training and individual attention.


The composition class is geared toward a broad and flexible conception of creativity. While basic notational and computing skills are preferred, there is no compositional experience level required for the class — it is open to any student with an enthusiasm for creative expression and a curiosity about how that creativity can be productively harnessed.

The possibilities for how one can compose in the 21st century are quite literally endless — traditional styles of tonal harmony, timbral music, improvisational music, graphic scores, film music, computer music — the list goes on an on. As such, the most crucial skill for the contemporary composer is his or her ability to hone in on a unified idea, and then to be able to create a plan for executing the clear expression of that idea. This is no easy task, but the cultivation of this skill — applying creativity directly to problem solving — will help students in every facet of their lives. Studying composition teaches us how to better organize our lives, how to better express ourselves in conversation, and how to mentally organize and manipulate complex concepts.

The first semester of the composition class is very much focused on these more generalizable skills: we will spend the semester discussing various pre-compositional planning strategies, formulating and refining some compositional plans of our own, looking to existing works of art for guidance, and getting familiar with notational conventions. The second semester of the class will be geared more toward preparing a new work for our end of the year performance. Some weeks we will simply have open work days, when students will spend the entire hour working on their piece, and I will come around to help individually as needed. As the deadline approaches, we will work together to budget our time — there’s never enough time! — and as we move into the rehearsal phase, we will discuss how to best communicate our compositional goals to performers.