Music PhD Program Information

Music doctoral programs offer various specialties for students, including music theory and music composition. Music doctoral programs can take up to 4 years to complete.

Essential Information

Doctoral programs in music theory are often intended for students who want to teach at the university level, but a Ph.D. in Music Composition program may focus on the creation of new musical works rather than scholarly work and are designed for aspiring composers and orchestral arrangers. Specializations may include music theory, composition, education, and conducting.

Admission requirements typically include a music-related bachelor's degree and sometimes a master's degree and the student must make a final presentation at the end of the 2-4 year program. Some music theory program courses may be offered online.

Ph.D. in Music Theory or Music Composition

The program for a Ph.D. in Music Theory is an advanced course of study that emphasizes critical music literature and analytical methods for continuing education students in music who wish to pursue academic careers in music education and analysis. Most programs require the applicant to submit a scholarly paper that demonstrates research and musical analysis competence, and defend a dissertation before graduation. Some universities offer parts of a music theory Ph.D. curriculum online. The curriculum examines advanced musical analysis techniques, explores approaches to teaching musical analysis. Topics in a music theory doctoral curriculum include:

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

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 also place less emphasis on analysis and scholarly work. Aspiring composers may be asked to submit one or more samples of original musical works.

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.

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

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

Other Doctoral Degree Programs in Music

These 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. Curricula explore theories about dissemination of musical knowledge and music pedagogy. DMA programs in conducting allow aspiring ensemble directors to work with orchestras and chamber groups to refine their skills in communicating with the group and interpreting works for performance.

Popular Career Options

The majority of Ph.D. graduates in music theory pursue careers in academic institutions and publish scholarly works that examine musical works from all eras.

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

Graduates of music composition doctoral degree programs may choose to pursue high-level freelance composition or arrangement work, such as:

  • Freelance orchestral arranger
  • Film score composer
  • Orchestral copyist

Doctoral music students can often choose to focus their studies on music theory, composition, education, or conducting, with programs providing the gateway to various musical careers and freelance opportunities.

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