Composition Frequently Asked Questions

What do I do with a degree in composition?


According to the Department of Labor statistics, there are approximately 8,610 employed composers and musical directors (the statistic does not include self-employed composers), almost one sixth of all instrumentalists and vocalists.*

Film, internet, public music installations, educational arranging/composing, religious music, as well as the concept of traditional commissioning and other mediums have created historically fertile opportunities for classical-trained composers. 

*Statistics from the Department of Labor.


7% of total university/college music faculty teach composition.*

17% of total university/college music faculty teach composition's cousin, music theory.

The career is rewarding, allowing for both the stimulation of working with talented students, and the resources and time necessary to produce your own creative works. The competition for university teaching positions is stiff. A degree from Lamar is an important first step. 

*Statistics from The College Music Society

What will I learn in the composition program?

Strange as it may seem, incoming freshman composition majors spend their first year studying just about everything except composition. The reason for this policy is simple: to make certain that the student has a through grounding in the fundamentals of music theory, as well as an introductory knowledge of music literature. Additionally, the composition major focuses their first year on a minor instrument--perhaps one that they have played since youth, or at least since high school—and performs in one of the major ensembles such as Chorus, Wind Ensemble, or String Chamber Ensemble. 

In the second year of study, composition lessons begin. What does one do in a composition lesson? We know that in--for instance--a trumpet lesson, the student learns technique, musicianship, literature and finally, artistry.  Composition lessons aren't that different:  

Technique: The ability to create, expand, mold, and intensify musical sounds into a satisfactory whole.

In the service of technique, a student will work on individual writing drills, for instance, taking a simple melodic idea and subjecting it to variations; or, learning about depth of texture by combining different melodic and harmonic elements in a process called counterpoint.

Literature: Intensive study of scores by the composers of all periods with an eye toward imitating some of the tendencies of the composer being studied. Not to worry; imitation is the most natural way of learning something, and you will still develop your own "voice" or "style" in the process.

Artistry: As you mature, you will discover new trends, and also begin to develop a self-identity, or style. Perhaps rhythm is an important feature in your compositions, or orchestral color, or pure lyricism, or... these attributes will be pointed out in the composition lesson, with an eye toward development.

Finally, one needs to be aware of career. Do you want to score films? If so, then collaboration with the film studies division is warranted. Do you want to teach at a university? Then scholarly research becomes very important. It is the responsibility of your composition teacher to introduce you to the fundamentals of film scoring, or the basics of research. It is your responsibility to follow through on professional leads established by your composition teacher and others.

To learn more about studying composition, visit the university catalog website or contact Dr. Nick Rissman at 409-880-8079.

Will I have my works performed?

All composition majors have an opportunity to have at least one work read, recorded, or publicly performed by one of the department's large ensembles (chorus; wind ensemble). Furthermore, smaller chamber ensembles-both student & faculty-are available to perform other works.

By the time a composition major reaches his/her junior year, they will have already had a minimum of one or two works performed in a high profile venue, such as the Departmental Recitals on Fridays. By the time a student is a senior, they will be preparing for a one hour senior recital of their compositions, performed by students, faculty and guest artists. 

Is financial aid and/or a scholarship available?

In addition to ensemble scholarships (available through auditions), composition majors have a unique opportunity to “learn and earn,” working in the department’s recording facilities brain. Send inquires to Dr. Nick Rissman.

How do I apply to be accepted as a Composition Major at Lamar University?

 Prospective students are asked to submit a portfolio of original compositions-scores (and recordings if available) and a brief biography. Bear in mind that you will have separate auditions for scholarships.