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, 45 to 55 graduate students are in residence, and between 4 and 8 new graduate students enter each year. The first two years are typically devoted to graduate seminars and coursework. After successful completion of the general examinations in the student's program (which take place in the summer following the second year), they teach as (paid) Teaching Fellows for the third and/or fourth year, while developing their dissertation prospectus and pursuing professional development opportunities. Students usually complete the PhD in their fifth, sixth, or seventh year.  

Graduate students are awarded five years guaranteed funding (including living expenses) when accepted to a PhD program. This funding includes two years of paid teaching as a Teaching Fellow (normally in the third and fourth year), and a fully-funded, teaching-free year in which to complete the dissertation. 

All graduate students are encouraged to explore interdisciplinary possibilities and to take classes across the five programs and in other departments. We view music scholarship and creative work as mutually enhancing. 

The Music Building contains a historic 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 the GSAS Student Center. 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).

Programs and Degrees

The Program in Musicology

Musicology at Harvard offers intensive training in historical and cultural approaches to the study of music. While our program has an emphasis on Western music, students increasingly explore wide-ranging geographies and subjects. We take an expansive view of the field and encourage our students to do the same. Most graduate courses in historical musicology are research seminars; many treat specific topics and theoretical approaches, while others deal with methodology and recent trends in the field. The musicology faculty also offer proseminars that are open to both graduate and undergraduate students. At the end of two years of study, graduate students take a General Examination. In year three, having passed the general exam, students begin to teach and craft a PhD dissertation proposal; subsequent years are devoted to teaching, research, writing, and professional development.

An important aspect of the Harvard program in musicology is its interdisciplinary breadth, which includes training in ethnomusicology and music theory. Students often also take seminars in other departments—and are encouraged to do so. Accreditation in secondary fields is available through many programs, such as American Studies, Critical Media Practice, Medieval Studies, Romance Languages and Literatures, and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, to name but a few.

Special Resources

The deep holdings of the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library include a substantial recording archive, and the Isham Memorial Library houses rare original books, scores, and personal archives ranging from the Randy Weston Archive to Sir Georg Solti’s annotated conducting scores. Additional resources on campus include the Special Collections at Houghton Library and the Harvard Theater Collection, one of the largest performing arts collections in the world. The department also maintains a large collection of musical instruments for study and performance, including early keyboards and a consort of viols.

The Mahindra Humanities Center, Film Study Center, Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies at Villa I Tatti (Florence), Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Charles Warren Center for the Study of American History, and several other campus institutions provide additional intellectual resources and funding for graduate student research. Faculty and graduate students hold conferences each year on a variety of topics; artists in residence and visiting artists often enrich coursework, and some courses provide opportunities for students to perform.

Language Requirements for Musicology

Two languages are required. The languages will be chosen in consultation with the program’s graduate advisor, and wherever possible should be relevant to future research. We encourage students to pass both languages before taking the general exam. In the event this is not possible, both languages need to be passed by the end of the fall semester of the third year.

The Program in Ethnomusicology

Ethnomusicology at Harvard offers intensive training in ethnographic method as well as study of theories, problems, and approaches relevant to the study of any living musical tradition in its cultural setting. By the end of the second year of study, students select primary and secondary fields of specialization, which may be defined by region (for example, Turkish or West African music); by musical styles (such as jazz or popular music); or by topic or theoretical approach (organology or aesthetics). The Harvard program has particular strengths in regions stretching from the Mediterranean to India, in Africa and African diasporas, and in urban America. There are excellent resources both in the music department and across the disciplines at Harvard in critical theory. Collaborations are encouraged among ethnomusicology and other music department programs in historical musicology, music theory, composition, and creative practice and critical inquiry. 

Six to eight ethnomusicology courses—four seminars and four proseminars or undergraduate classes—are offered each year as part of the regular curriculum. Graduate seminars explore ethnomusicological methods and theories as they are applied to the study of music, as well as a wide range of issues and materials, while proseminars focus on music styles or distinctive musical settings.

An important aspect of the Harvard ethnomusicology program is that students receive training in Western music and its history as well as exposure to the methods and theories of historical musicology and music theory. A vital aspect of ethnomusicological training at Harvard is exposure to other disciplines, with particular emphasis upon anthropology, history, area studies, linguistic training, and theoretical frameworks related to the student’s specialization.

Special Resources

Ethnomusicology laboratory, Archive of World Music, special library collections, Peabody Museum, musical instrument collection (India, Iran, Mali, Zimbabwe), extensive sound and video archives (including the Archive of World Music and Hiphop Archive & Research Institute). The Asia Center, Reischauer Institute, Center for African Studies, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, South Asia Institute, David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, and several other campus institutions provide additional intellectual resources and funding for student research and language study. Faculty and graduate students hold conferences each year on a variety of topics; music faculty, artists in residence, and visiting artists often enrich coursework and provide opportunities for students to perform.

Language Requirements for Ethnomusicology

Two languages are required. The languages will be chosen in consultation with the program's graduate advisor and wherever possible should be relevant to future research. We encourage students to pass both languages before taking the general exam. In the event this is not possible, both languages need to be passed by the end of the fall semester of the third year.

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 explores the links between music theory and other areas of critical engagement. The graduate curriculum in music theory was fundamentally revised in 2018 with the view to the specific needs of professional music theorists in the 21st century.

The diverse dissertation projects that doctoral students propose reflect the unique combination of interests. Recent and current PhD topics include microtonality and colonialism in the 19th century, musical forgery and forensics, the practice of recomposition in music theory, Scandinavian death metal, transformation theory and Hollywood film, and musical and visual lines in the early 20th century. Many of our students establish their interdisciplinary credentials by taking formal qualifications in a secondary field outside of music.

Students receive a solid basis for their research by honing their musicianship and analytical skills, particularly during their first year in the program. 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 graduate seminars on questions in psychology, temporality, history of music theory, hermeneutics, and aesthetics round off our course offerings and often take music theory into interdisciplinary territory. In addition to studying canonic repertories, graduate courses on challenging repertoires—e.g. modal theory, vernacular musics, or avantgarde composition—expand the field in new directions.

Our course offerings are complemented by a regular workshop in music theory, currently called TheoryTuesdays, in which faculty and students discuss current work, practice analytical techniques, or engage disciplinary and transdisciplinary questions in an informal setting. Our faculty are actively engaged in Harvard’s numerous interdisciplinary centers (MBB, Medieval Studies, CES, HUCE, etc.). Harvard’s state-of-the-art Sound Lab provides the tools and expertise for digital and media-based research, and provides a conduit for music theory to the field of sound studies.

Language Requirement for Theory

Theorists must pass translation exams in two relevant research languages. The languages will be chosen in consultation with the graduate advisor, and should reflect, wherever possible, languages that will be relevant to future research. One language requirement must normally be completed before generals, and the second may be completed in the fall semester of the third year.

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.

Language Requirement

Once enrolled, composition students must pass a language exam in German, Italian or French unless an alternative language is approved in writing by the graduate advisor.

The Program in Creative Practice and Critical Inquiry

The program in Creative Practice and Critical Inquiry (CPCI) 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.

In the first two years of coursework, students survey multiple fields of intellectual inquiry while nurturing and refining their creative work. Students in the program may take any of the graduate courses offered by the Department of Music, and occasional courses in other departments and programs with approval from the graduate advisor, as well as practice-based music-making courses (composition, improvisation, creative music, and interdisciplinary collaborations).

During the summer after the second year of study, candidates will take three to four exams, to be determined in close consultation with the faculty. These include a preliminary portfolio of creative work, written exams on theoretical/analytical and historical/cultural topics relevant to the candidate’s individual research goals, and an oral exam encompassing all of the above.

The dissertation should offer original research and creative work that strikes a balance within this unique combination of interests.

Language Requirement

Once enrolled, CPCI students must pass a language exam in a language relevant to their research interests, to be approved in writing by the graduate advisor.

AM in Performance Practice

* Applications are not currently being accepted

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 or IELTS test may be required if English is not your first language (recommended minimum TOEFL score is 80, the minimum IELTS score is 6.5). All applicants are required to take the GRE general test.

More information is available from the Department of Music and GSAS Policies

Samples of previous work

Applicants to all programs must submit, along with their applications, samples of their previous scholarly work. The application will allow you to upload up to 20 pages by using the Additional Materials page of the application.

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) by using the Digital Portfolio page of the application.

Applicants to the composition PhD program must submit three compositions in the form of links to online audio or video streams (Soundcloud, YouTube, Vimeo, etc.). Recordings can be submitted as links to SoundCloud or other online resources by using the Digital Portfolio page of the application. Students should include a one page PDF containing links to online recordings and PDF scores where applicable. The year of composition must be marked on all scores and recordings.

Requirements for the AM in Performance Practice

* Applications are not currently being accepted

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