Degree Programs


The Graduate Program of the Department of Music offers advanced training in historical musicology, ethnomusicology, theory, and composition, leading to the degree of PhD in music. There is no admission to an AM program separate from these PhD programs. In unusual cases, students who cannot successfully complete the General Examination may be given the option of completing the requirements for a terminal AM degree.

The Graduate Program of the Department of Music also offers an AM Degree in Music with a specialty in Performance Practice. This two-year program is designed for a small number of specialized students who are preparing or engaged in careers as performers and teachers. The program description and requirements follow the description of the PhD program.

The faculty of the department includes about 20 members. There are 60 to 70 graduate students in residence; six to ten new graduate students enter each year. The Music Building contains a concert hall (the John Knowles Paine Hall), classrooms, faculty and graduate offices, a superb research library (the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library), a microfilm library of primary source materials (the Isham Memorial Library), an archive of world music recordings, listening facilities, an electronic music studio (HUSEAC), an ethnomusicology lab, a Sound Studies lab, a collection of early instruments, chamber music rehearsal rooms, and individual practice rooms. Other facilities throughout Harvard University include the vast resources of Widener Library, the Houghton Library (which contains rare music prints and manuscripts, and autographs of major composers), Lamont Media, and the libraries and practice rooms of Dudley House, the center of graduate student activities. In addition, a wealth of musical opportunities is readily available to students at Harvard and at the many neighboring universities (e.g., Boston University, Brandeis University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and New England Conservatory) and civic and professional institutions (e.g., Boston Public Library, Museum of Fine Arts with the Mason Collection of Musical Instruments, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra).

Since teaching is an integral part of graduate training, most graduate students are teaching fellows during part of the time they are at Harvard. Teaching fellows are also eligible to apply for a resident or nonresident tutorship in one of the 12 undergraduate houses or the graduate center, Dudley House. In addition to financial benefits, teaching fellowships and tutorships provide excellent professional experience.

In recent years virtually every graduate student has received one or more of the fellowships and grants awarded by the University and the music department. Awards given by the department each year include several prizes in composition, the John Knowles Paine Traveling Fellowships, the Oscar S. Schafer Fellowship, the Richard F. French Fellowship, the Ferdinand Gordon & Elizabeth Hunter Morrill Fellowship, and the Nino and Lea Pirrotta Research Grant. Graduate students are awarded six years guaranteed funding (including living expenses) when accepted to a PhD program.

All applicants are required to take the GRE General Examination and must submit, along with their applications, samples of their previous scholarly work in musicology (for the musicology PhD), ethnomusicology (ethnomusicology PhD), or theory (theory PhD). The online application will allow you to upload up to 20 pages of material. Applicants to the composition program must submit three to four compositions, both scores and recordings where possible, along with their application. Printed scores and CDs are accepted; links to samples and downloads are not. All supplemental materials should be sent to the Admissions Office of the GSAS. Samples of work should be sent with a self-addressed, stamped envelope if they are to be returned to the student. Applications for admission and for financial aid must be received at the Admissions Office of the Graduate School by January 2 for candidates who seek entrance in the following fall term. For applications for admissions and financial aid write: Admissions Office, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center 350, 1350 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138. The application must be submitted online at the GSAS Admissions site.

The Program in Musicology and Ethnomusicology

At Harvard, musicology is broadly defined as the disciplined study of music and includes the historical, comparative, and systematic aspects of the field. The program incorporates two tracks: historical musicology, with an emphasis on the history, theory, and literature of Western music in its contexts, from antiquity to the present; and ethnomusicology, which concentrates on the ethnographic study of any musical tradition in relationship to its cultural setting. Most graduate courses in historical musicology and ethnomusicology are research seminars; many treat specific topics, periods, and regions, while others deal with current problems and methods. On the completion of preparatory training and the passing of the General Examinations, PhD dissertations may be written in either field.

The Program in Theory

The PhD in music theory is characterized both by a deep involvement in the inner workings of music and by an engagement with the wider philosophical, cultural and psychological questions surrounding music. The program reflects this interdisciplinary interest of our students, and seeks to explore the links of music theory to other areas of critical engagement, while providing our theorists with the specialized skills they require.

The teaching in the program emphasizes analytical techniques—all students take courses on Schenkerian theory and on a range of tonal and post-tonal analytical practices, as well as an introductory course to explore current issues in the field. At the same time, the program also encourages students to build a framework in which to place these techniques and to reflect on the underpinnings of music theory. Regular courses on questions in psychology, temporality, history of music theory, and aesthetics round off our course offerings and often take music theory into interdisciplinary territory. Graduate courses on challenging repertoires—e.g. modal theory, non-Western music, or very recent composition—frequently round off our offerings.

The dissertation projects our theory graduates work on reflect this unique combination of interests. Recent and current PhD topics include feminist approaches to performance analysis, microtonality and tone imaginations, multi-modal analysis of boy-band videos, Athanasius Kircher’s Musurgia universalis (1650), and neuro-scientific imaging of perceptual parameters.

Our theory faculty is enhanced on a regular basis by exciting visiting faculty, who complement our existing research and teaching strengths in interesting new ways. Recent visitors have included Allan Keiler (Brandeis), Fred Lerdahl (Columbia), Allen Forte (Yale), Ellie Hisama (Columbia), and Martin Scherzinger (NYU)—as well as Brian Ferneyhough (Stanford), Helmut Lachenmann (Stuttgart) and Harrison Birtwistle (London).

The Program in Composition

Harvard’s program in composition is designed to give students the time and opportunity to develop as composers by offering general musical guidance as well as specific individual criticism of their works. The program is centered on students’ achieving clarity of expression through developing their command of compositional technique. In addition, acquaintance with the literature of the past and present through analysis and performance is considered indispensable. Most courses are seminars and deal with specific topics or student works. The student typically spends the first two years in the department on coursework. The third and fourth years are devoted to work on the dissertation and teaching, as well as active participation in composition colloquia and Harvard Group for New Music concerts. Composers may spend one term during their fourth year at another art institution or university if a particular research project or artistic residency can be obtained. On the completion of preparatory training and the passing of the General Examinations (during the summer before the third year), PhD dissertations comprising a substantial portfolio between five and seven pieces of varied scoring and length may be submitted.

Normally, students do not transfer from one program to another. Under exceptional circumstances, a change from one department graduate program to another may be possible. Students applying for a change must be in good standing in their original program. They must submit a formal request to the director of graduate studies no later than the first week of May of the first year of study, including a list of courses indicating how they propose to fulfill the requirements of the new program. The admissions committee of the new program will make the decision in consultation with the graduate advisors; the decision will be presented to the department faculty. The students have to fulfill all the requirements of the new program (number and area of courses, languages, general exams).

PhD Program and Degree Requirements


A total of 16 half-courses is required to receive the PhD. Fourteen courses are usually taken during the first two years. Historical musicology students must take two half-courses in ethnomusicology and two half-courses in either theory or composition. No more than one seminar in Medieval theory will count toward the theory requirement; no more than one analysis course can be counted towards the theory requirement. Ethnomusicology students are required to take at least two half-courses each in historical musicology and in offerings outside the department. Ethnomusicology students must also take at least two half-courses in music theory. It is recommended that at least one theory seminar be in cross-cultural music theory. The choice of courses will be determined in consultation with the ethnomusicology advisor.

Theory and Composition students do not have a set curriculum and should plan their course of study with their advisor.

Students may be allowed academic credit (normally no more than two half-courses) for work done in other graduate schools in the United States or abroad, subject to the evaluation by the department and acceptance by the Graduate School. Petitions may be submitted after the completion of one full year of graduate work in the department.

In general, for all students, 100-level courses should be taken as supplemental to the graduate program, and should not be the major portion of the student’s coursework. In order to receive graduate credit, permission to take any half-courses at the 100 level must be granted by the graduate advisor before taking the course.

Graduate students who have one or more incompletes will not be considered for department summer grants.

Analysis/Tonal Writing

Competence and fluency in traditional harmony, counterpoint, strict composition, and analysis (including analysis of 20th-century music) are prerequisites for taking the General Examination. Entering students will be given a placement test to assess skills. Music B will address these musicianship skills but does not count as one of the required 16 courses Work must be undertaken in the first year of study.


Written language examinations are given at specified times throughout the year. Reading knowledge of the following languages must be proved before taking the General Examination:

Historical musicology students must pass German and French or Italian. Alternative language choices should be discussed with the musicology advisor.

Ethnomusicology students must pass two research languages, to be determined in consultation with the ethnomusicology advisor.

Theory students must pass German plus one other language (French, Italian, Latin).

Composition students must pass German, Italian or French unless an alternative language is approved in writing by the graduate advisor.

Historical musicology students and ethnomusicology students must pass a third language appropriate to the field of specialization after completing the General Examinations and within one year of the approval of a dissertation proposal.

Requirements for languages not tested regularly within the department may be satisfied through special examination, or through presentation of other documentation at the discretion of the graduate advisor.


Advising in the department during the pre-generals period is primarily handled by the appropriate graduate advisors and faculty members in the various programs, with the director of graduate studies available for further advice. After successful completion of the general examination, students consult with individual faculty members on their proposed fields of concentration, and when a dissertation proposal has been completed it is presented to the faculty in that field of study. When the dissertation proposal has been approved by the faculty in the program, it is brought to the entire department for final approval, and a dissertation committee is set up for each student. The dissertation committee consists of an advisor and two readers. Any questions or concerns about advising in the department can be brought to the attention of the director of graduate studies or the chair.


The progress of all graduate students is reviewed at the end of each year. In addition to adequate course work, there are special requirements for first- and second-year students. Every student must submit at least one paper written for a graduate course as part of the first-year review. In musicology, every first- and second-year student must write at least one seminar paper per term.

General Examinations

The General Examination consists of two parts: written and oral. The orals are taken within one or two weeks of passing the written. The exams differ by program but are usually taken between May and August of the student’s second year. Both the written and the oral parts can be repeated, but no more than once. The format, which is significantly different for each program, is as follows:

Historical Musicology - For historical musicologists, the general test will have three main parts — written, analysis and oral. The written exam consists of essays and short answer questions related to six of eight topics chosen by the student. The two prepared topics not selected for the written exam will be presented in the oral exam. The open-book analysis exam will be given in the summer, around mid-July. This will be a take-home exam, distributed on a Friday, and returned on Monday, mid-afternoon. It consists of two pieces of music chosen from a) before 1700, b) 18th or 19th century, or c) 20th century. Students will choose one topic on which they will make a ten-minute presentation in the oral examination. Students will choose a second topic on which they will prepare a syllabus for a 13-week graduate seminar on the subject. This syllabus will be presented in written form, and may be the subject of discussion in the oral examination.

Ethnomusicology - The written exam consists of an analysis test and a general test. The analysis test includes two musical examples, one from the student’s major area (i.e., North Indian music, Swedish music, etc.) and a second drawn from a contrasting musical tradition agreed on in advance in consultation with the ethnomusicology faculty. The general test is divided into four sections: one on ethnomusicological theory and method; a second on world music; a third on interdisciplinary problems; and a fourth on the intellectual history of ethnomusicology. By request of the student and in consultation with the ethnomusicology faculty, another subject area may be substituted as the focus of the fourth section of the test. The oral examination in ethnomusicology focuses on the special field or area chosen by the student, but may include questions about general ethnomusicology not necessarily related to topics covered in seminars. The remainder of the examination focuses on questions posed in the written examination.

Theory - The examination consists of four different parts: 1. A preliminary oral examination on repertoire and analysis ("single sheets"), lasting 30 minutes, with 30 minutes preparation time, usually taken at the beginning of the summer. 2. Four written exams of 3 hours each: (a) systematic theories, (b) history of music theory, (c + d) two examinations in special fields relevant to dissertation research. 3. Analytical essays on two musical works from different periods (take-home paper over 4 days). 4. A two-hour oral examination will allow discussion on the written work and may broaden to engage a variety of related issues in music theory.

Composition - For composers, a written analysis is to be completed in three days at the end of the spring term of the second year of graduate study. It consists of a piece or set of pieces that should be analyzed by the student in the allotted time period. Students are also required to write an original composition of 7–10 minutes length with an imposed instrumentation, to be submitted by mid-August. The oral examination is based on an in-depth discussion of three major works that are assigned in the late spring of the second year of graduate study, plus an analytical presentation of the student’s original composition.


Beginning in the third year, graduate students in good standing are eligible for teaching fellowships. Most teaching fellows devote 2/5 TIME to teaching. Following successful completion at the general exam, students are required to take M250ht (Teaching Practicum). This course does not count towards the 16 required courses.

Additional third-year requirements

The third year is primarily devoted to developing a dissertation proposal and the beginning of work on the dissertation. All students will complete their required courses; in most cases, that will mean two half-courses. Musicology students will begin their third language (to be completed within one year of the approval of a dissertation proposal). All students are required to enroll in Music 250hf, a year long Pedagogy Practicum.


Within the academic year in which the General Examination is passed the PhD candidate is expected to develop a proposal for a dissertation, which should be a major original contribution to the field. The proposal must be submitted for approval to the department, which is responsible for assigning the student a committee consisting of a dissertation advisor and two other faculty members. Normally, the complete dissertation must be submitted within five years after passing the General Examination, and satisfactory progress must be demonstrated every year in order for the student remain in good standing. If the dissertation is submitted thereafter the department is not obligated to accept it. The formal requirements for the dissertation are set forth in The Form of the PhD Dissertation, provided by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The department requires one bound copy submitted to the department for the Music Library, in addition to the two copies required for the Registrar: one bound and one digital (for submission to ProQuest).

Doctoral Colloquium/Conference

All departmental doctoral candidates (including composers) who are about to submit or have submitted their dissertation are required to make a final presentation of their work. A dissertation workshop (Doctoral Conference) is required of all dissertation-writing students in historical musicology, ethnomusicology, and theory.

Final Steps in the Dissertation Process

The procedure for completing the dissertation is as follows:

1. The full text must be submitted to the members of the dissertation committee for suggestions, corrections, changes, etc. Candidates are encouraged to discuss drafts of individual chapters with all members of the dissertation committee.

2. The candidate should check with the Director of Administration to be sure that all degree requirements have been met.

3. The application for the degree must be submitted to the Registrar by the date published in The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Handbook for the November, March, or May degree (usually six weeks before anticipated graduation).

4. After the committee has approved the dissertation in its final form, an unbound copy must be submitted to the department at least four weeks before the Registrar’s deadline. During this period the members of the department are free to examine the completed dissertation.

5. For all students a public colloquium on the dissertation is required shortly before or after it has been approved.

6. Copies: one copy bound and one digital copy (to be submitted to ProQuest) for the Registrar. One copy bound for the Music Library must be submitted to the department office at the same time the Registrar copy is submitted. At this time, the university microfilms and RILM forms must be completed.

Satisfactory Progress

A student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences must be making satisfactory progress in order to be eligible for any type of financial aid. The following nine items provide a general definition of satisfactory progress that has been adopted for this purpose by the Music Department. It is hoped that this requirement will have a healthy effect on students’ academic progress, and that it will enable us to preserve resources for those most deserving of financial assistance.

1. During the first two years of graduate study any student who is permitted to register is considered to be making satisfactory progress.

2. A prospective third-year student must have achieved the minimum grade-point average required by this faculty (B).

3. A prospective third-year student must have passed general examinations.

4. A prospective fourth-year student must have obtained approval of a dissertation prospectus.

5. A prospective sixth-year, or more advanced, student must have produced at least one acceptable chapter of the dissertation or its equivalent for each year beginning with the fifth.

6. Requirements 2–5 shall be cumulative.

7. A student who fails to meet a requirement may, upon the department’s recommendation, be considered to be an "exception" —and remain eligible for financial assistance —for a grace period of up to one year. At the close of the grace period, in order to be considered to be making satisfactory progress, the student must have met both the requirement missed earlier and the requirement that would normally be imposed at that time.

8. No student may have more than one such year of grace during his or her study.

9. In addition, the requirements of this calendar may be deferred by a department during one year of departmental approved leave. A department may, if it wishes, defer requirements for a more extended period of approved leave in order to facilitate a student’s obtaining a professional degree.

AM Program and Degree Requirement

The A.M. Degree in Music with a specialty in Performance Practice is designed to provide intellectual and scholarly background to finished musicians who are preparing or engaged in careers as performers and teachers.

The emphasis is on preparing students to work with sources, editions, theoretical writings, organology and other matters of importance to performance styles as related to repertories. Additional areas such as differences in the meaning of terminology and notation from composer to composer or from era to era; ornamentation; liberties of tempo and declamation; and improvisation will be addressed.

The A.M. in Performance Practice is a two-year program in which students take a selection of departmental courses focused on this specialty, and write an A.M. thesis. The student’s program must be approved by the department before study cards are submitted. The A.M. degree will be awarded on completion with passing grade (B- or above) of at least 8 and no more than 12 half-courses. The Registrar requires a minimum of 4 blocks per term.

Students interested in pursuing the A.M. degree should submit the GSAS Admissions form. Ordinarily, the department expects to enroll 1–2 A.M. students a year or every two years. No auditions are required. A cassette or CD representing the level and breadth of accomplishment should accompany the application form.

Languages — Students will be expected to demonstrate a reading knowledge of French, German, or Italian. An examination must be passed before entering the 2nd year of graduate work (by the beginning of the third semester)

Analysis/Tonal Writing — Competence and fluency in traditional harmony, counterpoint, and strict composition, and analysis (including 20th-century analysis) are expected. Music Bhf must be passed before entering the 2nd year of graduate work.

Thesis — A thesis proposal (subject and scope to be decided in consultation with the Advisor) should be submitted for department approval by March of the 1st year of graduate work. A Masters Committee, comprised of 1 Advisor and 2 Readers is approved by the faculty following the acceptance of the proposal.

Theses should be approximately 50 pages in length and submitted to the department no later than May 15 for the June degree and September 1 for the November degree. Applications for degree are due to the Registrar’s Office in March (for June degree) and August (for November degree). Please note that thesis deadlines are updated each year. Student ID cards are valid until the last day before fall registration. Health insurance expires on July 30th.

Financial Aid — Financial Aid for this program is very limited. Students may apply for travel and research funding such as Paine Traveling Fellowships and/or the Department Travel Fund. All fellowship funding is at the discretion of the Scholarship Committee. Other University funding may be available.

Residence — There is a minimum residence required of three terms. Two years will ordinarily be required to complete the degree.

Students wishing to continue at Harvard for the PhD will apply in the normal manner, and their applications will be considered in the customary way. Students admitted to the PhD program will be granted credit for work done at Harvard or elsewhere according to departmental guidelines, which normally grant credit for two graduate courses taken before entering the PhD program.

NOTE: Some aspects of the graduate programs in music may be under review and in process of revision. For additional or updated information, applicants are advised to visit the departmental website.

Faculty of the Department of Music