Nathan Lam

Assistant Professor of Music Theory
Eastman School of Music

I study scales in 20th-21st c. Western and Chinese music. There’s a lot of intricacy in diatonic scales that’s often overshadowed by chromaticism, so I’m working on a unified solfege set theory to capture that complexity. I’m also documenting and extending a 2500-year-old Chinese theoretical framework for pentatonic scales. My research draws from global and historical music theories, since they allow me to see the bigger picture and remind me there’s more than one way of approaching things. I also write music—especially canons—that engage the wider public in music theory.

Professor Lam holds a BM in clarinet performance from Queensland Conservatorium (Australia) and a PhD in music theory from Indiana University. Before joining Eastman, he taught music theory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is co-editor of a forthcoming volume of essays titled Mathematical Approaches to World Music, and he is working on a book entitled Diatonic Modes from Plato to Pokémon.

(John Schlia Photography)



Music Theory

open access
Pentatonic Xuangong 旋宮 Transformations in Chinese Music
Music Theory Online
Forthcoming 2024

Diatonic Slide Ruler
2017 rev. 2023 (Ver. 0.22)

Finding Common Ground in the Do-/La-minor Solfege Debate
The Routledge Companion to Aural Skills Pedagogy

Modal Spelled Pitch Class, La-minor Solfege, and Schubert’s Third Relations
Journal of Music Theory

Tonalité grégorienne: Musica recta as Prescriptive Harmony
Music Theory and Analysis

open access
Relative Diatonic Modality in Extended Common-practice Tonality
Ph.D. dissertation

Email me if you need a copy of any of the above.


Listen to the album (coming soon)

Purchase scores

77 Canons on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
piano solo
77 movements in five parts, 1 hour

Ten Pentatonic Canons
violin (or clarinet) and cello
10 movements, 7 minutes

Subtactus Canons
clarinet and bass clarinet (or baritone sax)
3 movements, 7 minutes