The graduate program of the Department of Music offers advanced training in historical musicology, ethnomusicology, theory, composition, and creative practice and critical inquiry 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), media production suites and equipment available to any Harvard affiliate (The Sound Lab), an ethnomusicology lab, 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 (Boston University, Berklee College of Music, Brandeis University, M.I.T, and the New England Conservatory) and civic and professional institutions (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 frequently expand the field in new directions.

The dissertation projects our theory graduates work on reflect this unique combination of interests. Recent and current PhD topics include microtonality and enharmonicism in the 19th century, musical forgery and forensics, the practice of recomposition in music theory, Scandinavian death metal, and theories of musical and visual lines in the early 20th century.

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, PhD dissertations comprising a substantial portfolio of between five and seven pieces of varied scoring and length may be submitted.

The Program in Creative Practice and Critical Inquiry

The program in Creative Practice and Critical Inquiry is designed as a special opportunity for exceptional, engaged artist-scholars. Such individuals might frame themselves as composer-performers whose work is driven by a research sensibility, or as committed scholars whose concurrent active involvement in music-making informs and propels their intellectual projects. Candidates interested in this category should clearly lay out their academic interests and musical experience, including research goals and a portfolio of creative work. They should present a clear rationale for the integrated, cross-disciplinary nature of their work. The dissertation should offer original research and creative work that strikes a balance within this unique combination of interests.

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.

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 or performance) 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), theory (for the theory PhD), or any of the above (for the Creative Practice and Critical Inquiry PhD). The online application will allow you to upload up to 20 pages of material.

Applicants to the Creative Practice and Critical Inquiry PhD program must also submit 20 to 30 minutes of original creative work, in the form of links to online audio or video streams (Soundcloud, YouTube, Vimeo, etc) or links to a file download (via Dropbox or similar). You may upload or share accompanying scores in PDF format. Please do not email files.

Applicants to the composition PhD must submit three compositions. Recordings can be submitted as links to SoundCloud or other online resources. Students should include one page PDF containing links to online recordings. The year of composition must be marked on all scores and recordings.

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.

Theses & Dissertations

Theses & Dissertations for Music