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.

At any given time, 55 to 70 graduate students are in residence, and between 6 and 12 new graduate students enter each year. The Music Building contains a concert hall (the John Knowles Paine Concert 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, a high-quality electronic music studio (HUSEAC: Harvard University Studio for Electroacoustic Composition), an ethnomusicology lab, a collection of early instruments, chamber music rehearsal rooms, and individual piano 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 library and practice rooms of Dudley House (the center of graduate student activities). In addition, a wealth of musical opportunities is readily available to Harvard students at many neighboring universities (e.g., Boston University, Berklee College of Music, Brandeis University, M.I.T, and the New England Conservatory) and civic and professional institutions (e.g., Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Public Library, and Museum of Fine Arts with the Mason Collection of Musical Instruments).

Graduate students are awarded six years guaranteed funding (including living expenses) when accepted to a PhD program.

Programs and Degrees

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 are also available 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 around the 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, fourth, and fifth 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 4th 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 of between five and seven pieces of varied scoring and length may be submitted. 

AM in Performance Practice

* Applications are not being accepted for fall 2018 

The AM 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, ornamentatio, liberties of tempo and declamation, and improvisation will be addressed. It is a two-year program in which students take a selection of departmental courses focused on this specialty and write an AM thesis.

Cross-Disciplinary Research

Many innovative research areas are not classifiable along traditional lines but rather borrow from a variety of approaches and methods. This includes projects that integrate creative components or performance into academic work. Candidates interested in the cross-disciplinary category should clearly lay out their academic interests and musical experience. They should present a clear rationale for the cross-disciplinary nature of their interests. Where appropriate, candidates are encouraged to include performance materials in their application. Candidates admitted through the cross-disciplinary category will declare one of the departmental programs and will take generals and pursue dissertation work in that program, with modifications as appropriate.

Admissions Requirements

Admissions decisions are made by Department of Music faculty, who weigh a combination of factors such as GRE scores, past academic record, strength of scholarly (or compositional) work, and recommendations. The TOEFL test may be required if English is not your first language (recommended minimum score is 80). All applicants are required to take the GRE general test.

More information is available the Department of Music and The GSAS Student Handbook details program requirements.

Samples of previous work

Applicants to the all programs except the composition PhD must submit, along with their applications, samples of their previous scholarly work in musicology (for the musicology PhD), ethnomusicology (for ethnomusicology PhD), or theory (for the theory PhD). The online application will allow you to upload up to 20 pages of material.

Applicants to the composition PhD must submit three to four compositions. Scores are required in printed format and should be mailed to the GSAS Office of Admissions (scores will not be returned unless a self-addressed, stamped envelope is included). Recordings are highly recommended; links to SoundCloud or other online resource should be noted in the Additional Academic Background section of the application.

Requirements for the AM in Performance Practice

* Applications are not being accepted for fall 2018

Ordinarily, the department expects to enroll one to two AM students a year or every two years. No auditions are required. 

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

NOTE: 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.

Visiting the Department

You are welcome to visit the Department of Music at any time, although we in no way require or expect you to make the trip. You should know that we do invite the students we admit to our program to come to Cambridge as part of our admissions process. At that time, admitted students meet with faculty, get to know our current students, and are introduced to other students who have also been admitted.

We regret that we are not able to make appointments with individual faculty members during a pre-admissions visit.

If you do decide to make a visit prior to the admissions deadline, there are optimal times to visit, such as between October and our December holiday break. If you visit at another time of the year, check the academic schedule to avoid reading/exam periods and semester breaks. It is not necessary to visit, nor should you see it as a way to improve your chances of admission.

Rather, a visit is simply a good way to learn about our department's intellectual environment and infrastructure. We urge you to consult the course schedule so that you can plan to sit in on one or more graduate seminars (please e-mail the department to ask permission of the instructing professor first). This is the best way to get to know the professors and students. You may also want to attend any colloquia, lectures, or faculty seminars that coincide with your visit or make an appointment to tour the music library and other Harvard libraries. It may also be possible to chat informally with some of our current graduate students, who are apt to be working in the department and library during the academic year.

Contact Kaye Denny or Charles Stillman or call 617-495-2791 for more information about the schedule of events.

Theses & Dissertations

Theses & Dissertations for Music