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Music PhD Program Information

Get information on doctoral programs in music theory and music composition. Look into admission requirements and find out what courses you'll take, and explore potential career options after graduation.

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Essential Information

Doctoral programs in music theory are often intended for students who want to teach at the university level. Admission requirements typically include a music-related bachelor's degree and sometimes a master's degree. Courses may be offered both on-campus and online.

Unlike music theory doctoral programs, a Ph.D. in Music Composition program may not focus as heavily on scholarly work, but rather on the creation of new musical works. These programs are designed for aspiring composers and orchestral arrangers, and students may need a master's degree in order to enroll. Doctoral programs are available in other related specialties as well, including music education and conducting.


Ph.D. in Music Theory

A Ph.D. program in music theory is an advanced course of study that is geared toward students who wish to pursue academic careers in music education and analysis. Most programs take between two and four years to complete and they emphasize critical music literature and analytical methods. Some universities offer parts of a music theory Ph.D. curriculum online.

Educational Prerequisites

Most Ph.D. programs in music theory require students to have an undergraduate music degree and sometimes a master's degree in music. Applicants to a music theory doctoral degree program may need to submit a scholarly paper that demonstrates research and musical analysis competence.

Program Coursework

The curriculum of a Ph.D. in Music Theory program examines advanced musical analysis techniques for compositions from many historical periods and for many ensemble types. Students explore approaches to teaching musical analysis. Nearly all programs require students to complete an original dissertation and defend it orally before a panel of academic advisors. Below are some of the topics that may be included in a music theory doctoral curriculum:

  • Music theory pedagogy
  • Historical music theories
  • Tonal analysis
  • 20th century music analysis
  • Schenkerian analysis
  • Measurement and evaluation in music

Popular Career Options

The majority of Ph.D. graduates pursue careers in academic institutions and publish scholarly works that examine musical works from all eras. Below is a list of some of the positions associated with a Ph.D. degree in music theory:

  • College music theory professor
  • Music theory historian
  • Museum music specialist

Doctoral Degree in Music Composition

Music composition doctoral degree students focus on the theoretical underpinnings of music and practical aspects of creating musical works for solo performers and ensembles. Composition programs place less emphasis on analysis and scholarly work. Although the majority of music composition doctoral degree programs lead to a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA), some lead to a Ph.D. in Music Composition.

Educational Prerequisites

Much like a Ph.D. program in music theory, most music composition doctoral degree programs require applicants to hold a master's degree in music. Aspiring composers may be asked to submit one or more samples of original musical works.

Program Coursework

The curriculum of a doctoral degree program in music composition emphasizes techniques and theories associated with the creation of musical works. Students may study both the aesthetic and structural properties of orchestral and symphonic compositions. Most programs focus on the incorporation of both historical and contemporary styles in new works. Seminars in the curriculum of a doctoral degree program in music composition cover:

  • Compositional processes
  • Composition software
  • Film scoring
  • Advanced orchestration
  • Stylistic analysis

Popular Career Options

Graduates of music composition doctoral degree programs may choose to pursue high-level freelance composition or arrangement work. Below are some of the careers for which this degree program may prepare students:

  • Freelance orchestral arranger
  • Film score composer
  • Orchestral copyist

Other Doctoral Degree Programs in Music

Other doctoral degree programs offered in music include a Ph.D. in Music Education and a DMA in Conducting. A music education Ph.D. program prepares students to teach secondary and postsecondary music classes. The curricula of these programs explore theories regarding the dissemination of musical knowledge and music pedagogy. DMA programs in conducting allow aspiring ensemble directors to work with orchestras and symphonies so as to refine their skills in communicating with the group and interpreting works for performance.

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Other Schools:

  • School locations:
    • California (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Stanford University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Music Composition and Theory
      • Photography, Film, and Video
  • School locations:
    • Connecticut (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Connecticut include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Music Performing
  • School locations:
    • Kentucky (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Kentucky include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Music History and Literature
        • Music Performing
  • School locations:
    • Texas (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Texas Tech University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Music Composition and Theory
        • Music Pedagogy
        • Music Performing
        • Musical Conducting
        • Musicology and Ethnomusicology
        • Piano and Organ
  • School locations:
    • Oklahoma (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Oklahoma Norman Campus include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Music Performing
      • Photography, Film, and Video
  • School locations:
    • Texas (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of North Texas include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Jazz
        • Music Composition and Theory
        • Music History and Literature
        • Music Performing
        • Musicology and Ethnomusicology
      • Photography, Film, and Video
  • School locations:
    • Washington (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Washington include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Jazz
        • Music Composition and Theory
        • Music History and Literature
        • Music Merchandising and Management
        • Music Performing
        • Musical Conducting
        • Musicology and Ethnomusicology
        • Piano and Organ
        • Stringed Instruments
        • Voice and Opera
      • Photography, Film, and Video
  • School locations:
    • Florida (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of South Florida include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Music Performing
  • School locations:
    • Illinois (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at University of Illinois include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Non-Degree: Diploma
      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Dance
      • Design and Applied Arts
      • Drama and Theatre Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts
        • Jazz
        • Music Composition and Theory
        • Music History and Literature
        • Music Performing
        • Musicology and Ethnomusicology
        • Voice and Opera
      • Photography, Film, and Video
  • School locations:
    • Massachusetts (1 campus)
    Areas of study you may find at Harvard University include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Undergraduate: Associate, Bachelor
    • Visual and Performing Arts
      • Fine Arts and Studio Art
      • Musical Arts

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