Variable Topic Courses

Variable courses are senior-level studies that explore special topics and perspectives in music. These courses, which vary in subject matter from year to year, are available to both graduate and undergraduate students and focus on unique subject and perspectives in musicology, ethnomusicology, theory and harmony, instrumental literature, composition, music technology, and popular music.

Students from other departments and faculties are invited to join us in these special topics to complement their chosen course of study or to expand upon their understanding of music and its broader social, sonic, and historical impact.

A current listing of this year's special topics are available below. For further information on course content, consult the instructor directly. To view variable offerings from previous years, see Variable Course Archive.

How it Works: Eligibility and Registration 

  • Course numbers starting with 4xx courses are for undergraduate study, while slash courses (ie. 4xx/5xx) denote courses that are open to both undergraduate and graduate enrollments.
  • Undergraduate students who wish to enroll in slash courses will need permission of the department prior to enrolling.
  • Course listings on this page that are followed by an asterisk (*) show all topics open to undergraduate students.
  • Courses labeled as 6xx are available to graduate students only.

Once you have identified the variable topic(s) you are interested in and eligible for, you must then access BearTracks to verify that the course number and schedule is correct. All courses are subject to schedule and content changes, however BearTracks will list all current course information.

To find variable topics in BearTracks, go to "Search for Classes" and ensure that you have selected "Show Open Classes" in your query.

The department strongly recommends that you consult your Academic Advisor and Associate Chair before enrolling in any variable topic course.

Special Topics offered in 2017-2018

FALL 2017

Music 481/581: Playing with Sound - The Role of Sound and Music in Video Games

Instructor: Scott Smallwood

TR 9:30 AM - 10:50 AM


 In this seminar, we will explore topics surrounding the use of audio and music in video games through readings, films, and the games themselves. In exploring sound, we will interrogate the many uses of sound in games, from sound effects, dialog, and music to sound puzzles and experimental audio mechanics.  We will also look at trends in 3D sound, including binaural and ambisonic sound.  Warning:  students WILL be expected not only to read about games, but also to play them.  A games list will be distributed early in the semester, along with readings and other forms of media discussing games and game theory.


Music 487/587: Period Studies - Popular Music in the Digital Age

Instructor: Brian Fauteux

F 9:30 AM - 11:50 AM



Over the last few decades the music industry has been subject to a severe case of “disruption,” due to changes in technology, the economy, and listening practices. Artists like Chance the Rapper, Beyoncé, and Radiohead have challenged record industry customs by releasing music with experimental funding and promotional models. New services like Spotify and YouTube have become common ways of listening to music but have also been criticized for failing to pay artists a fair price per stream. Popular Music in the Digital Age is a course that looks at the relationship between popular music and digital culture, charting the history of digital music from the development of digital audio technologies to their role in the music industries today.


Music 495/595: Music and Business

Instructor: Guillaume Tardif

W 6:00 PM - 9:00 PM



This course introduces students to specialized literature focusing on today's music careers and the business of music in a Canadian context. We will review basic concepts and discuss the intersections between music and business including how this may or will apply to you.


Music 555: Theory and Analysis - Music and Text

Instructor: Maryam Moshaver

W 1:00 PM - 3:50 PM


 This seminar examines the many problems and registers of text-music interaction, with a focus on Romantic and Symbolist repertories of the 19th century. Beginning with the idea of mimesis, where music is seen to imitate or express the images and sentiments presented in a poetic text, the seminar will focus on the transformations of this model in the philosophical aesthetics of the 19th century, as well as in the compositional practice Schubert, Schumann, Wagner, Wolf, and Debussy. Readings include works by Rousseau, Lessing, Goethe, Schlegel, Hoffmann, Hanslick, Nietzsche, Baudelaire, Mallarmé, among others. Emphasis will be on written interpretive analysis.


Music 645: Seminar In Computer Music Composition - The Aesthetics of Error, Malfunction, Failure, and Glitch

Instructor: Mark Hannesson

TR 3:30PM - 4:50 PM



The course will begin with the history of glitch music and art.  We will then look into the aesthetics and cultural significance of such art forms.  The main focus of the course will be on the techniques and methods used by glitch artists.  Digital techniques such as, datamoshing, databending, pixel sorting, text and hex editors will be explored, as will analog and physical methods of malfunction and error.  Creative projects will be carried out using these methods in order to gain hands-on compositional experience with this genre.




Music 488/588: Studies in Music and Film

Instructor: Christina Gier

TR 12:30 - 13:50



This course studies the various developments in film music during the last century. We address how music functions in films and identify techniques that have made film music effective. We gain an appreciation for how the relationship between music and the screen has developed. The foci for the course are diverse: from early film to Hermann and Hitchcock to news music. Questions to be explored: How did film music evolve in the early films? How did music work in classic Hollywood film? How did it work in film noir? Why is music important to have in film? What are some recent critiques and studies of music and “the moving image”?


Music 608: Seminar in 20th Century Music - Listening

Instructor: Mary Ingraham 

T 9:00 AM - 11:50 AM


In this graduate seminar students will explore experiences of listening to 20th and 21st century music and sound from practical and theoretical perspectives. Through listening, discussion, and critical readings in musical aesthetics, affect studies and contemporary explorations in intersensory and sound studies, we will consider ways of listening. We will also consider methods of communicating the fullness of our experiences in documentation ranging from musical notation to graphic and text- and image-based representations. Over the semester, we will explore scholarly approaches to listening from Adorno, Subotnik, Clarke, Schafer, Howes, and others who theorize models of listening in structural, social, and phenomenological domains, and will examine creative opportunities for writing around rather than about specific works in our own responses. Musical materials will be selected from 20th/21st century art music as well as representations of sound embodied in photographs, poetry and other literary works as well as the visual arts.