21M.065 | Spring 2014 | Undergraduate

Introduction to Musical Composition

Instructor Insights

Course Overview

This page focuses on the course 21M.065 Introduction to Musical Composition as it was taught by Prof. Keeril Makan in Spring 2014.

This course is one of several introductory music subjects offered at MIT for which no prior formal training is assumed. It uses a hands-on approach to composition as a means to explore sound, listening and music.

Course Outcomes

Course Goals for Students

  • Investigate the sonic organization of musical works and performances, focusing on fundamental questions of unity and variety.
  • Use written composition assignments to develop musical ideas and notation methods that effectively transmit to performers.

Instructor Interview

"Listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give to somebody."
—Prof. Keeril Makan

In the following pages, Prof. Makan gives more details on how he teaches 21M.065 Introduction to Musical Composition_._

Curriculum Information



Requirements Satisfied



Every spring semester


The students’ grades were based on the following activities:

  • 50% Sequence of 10 composition assignments
  • 20% In-class participation
  • 20% Final project
  • 10% One-page responses to weekly listening and reading

Instructor Insights on Assessment

Read how Professor Makan made purposeful pedagogical decisions about the composition assignments.

Student Information


17 students

Breakdown by Major

Students tend to be in the pure sciences, Math or Mechanical Engineering. This semester we had three Nuclear Science and Engineering majors for the first time. We have Music majors as well.

Typical Student Background

Typically 50% of students are able to read music, and 50% cannot. Many students who cannot read music play music in some way. Some students have experience singing with a cappella groups or are singers in other capacities. There are typically a few students who have backgrounds in electronic music.

There are also students with no training or experience in music. Those are often times the most interesting students—particularly those who think they don’t like music, and take the course to test that preconception.

In future iterations of this course, we may experiment with offering two sections: one section for students with some training and experience in music, and one for students without this background.

Enrollment Cap

Limited to 18 students

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:

In Class

Met 2 times per week for 1.5 hours per session. Class activities were a mix of lecture/discussion and student demonstrations of their composition assignments.

Out of Class

Reading and listening assignments and composition assignments. Occasional attendance required at concerts and composer forum events.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2014
Learning Resource Types
Projects with Examples
Written Assignments
Activity Assignments with Examples
Instructor Insights