Rodney Lister received his early musical training at the Blair School of Music in Nashville, Tennessee. He was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music (Bachelor of Music degree, with honors) from 1969 to 1973 and at Brandeis University (Master of Fine Arts degree) from 1975 to 1977. In between his stay at those two institutions, he lived in England, where he studied privately with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. He subsequently was a member of Davies's composition seminar at the Dartington Hall Summer School of Music (1975, 1978, 1980-82). He was a Bernstein fellow at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood in 1973. His composition teachers, aside from Davies, have been Malcolm Peyton, Donald Martino, Harold Shapero, Arthur Berger, and Virgil Thomson. He has also studied piano with Enid Katahn, David Hagan, Robert Helps, and Patricia Zander.