Information for PROSPECTIVE Graduate Students


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.

Language Requirements for Historical Musicology and Ethnomusicology

Once enrolled, students must pass three language exams. The specifics follow:

Historical Musicology—German and French or Italian. Alternative language choices should be discussed with the musicology advisor, and students much 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.

Ethnomusicology—two research languages and a field language to be determined in consultation with the Ethnomusicology advisor. Students must pass their third language after completing the General Examinations and within one year of the approval of a dissertation proposal.

Admissions requirements



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, which 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).

Language Requirement: Once enrolled, theorists must pass a German language exam plus one other language (French, Italian, or Latin).

Admissions requirements



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.

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.

Go to Admissions requirements
Norton Lecturer Herbie Hancock with composition students, 2014.




Many innovative research areas are not classifiable along traditional lines but rather borrow from a variety of different 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.)

During the summer after the second year of study, candidates will take four exams, to be determined in close consultation with the faculty. Part of these exams may involve a significant element of performance, improvisation, and/or composition.



Secondary Field in Musicology/Ethnomusicology


• Completion of a minimum of four half-courses.
• One of these courses must be an introductory course: Music 201a: Introduction to Historical Musicology, Music 201b: Introduction to Ethnomusicology, or Music 221: Current Issues in Theory.
• The remaining three courses may be chosen from other graduate courses (200 level: “Primarily for Graduates”) or intermediate courses (150 level or above: “For Undergraduates and Graduates”). (No more than two courses may be chosen from the 150 or above level.)
• Neither Pass/Fail nor audited courses will count towards a secondary PhD field. Contact the advisor in Ethnomusicology or in Musicology in the Department of Music for additional information on a secondary PhD field.

Declaring a Secondary Field

Students interested in declaring a secondary field in music should submit the “GSAS Secondary Field Application” to the Director of Graduate Studies as evidence of their successful participation in four appropriate courses in the Music Department. Once they obtain the approval of the DGS they and the registrar will receive certification of successful completion of secondary field requirements.


For further information contact the Director of Graduate Studies, Harvard University Department of Music, Music Building, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138 617-495-2791 musicdpt@fas.harvard.edu

For additional information click here



The Masters Degree with a Specialty in Performance Practice*

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; 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 A.M. thesis.

* Applications are not being accepted for the AM program at this time [3.1.2017]

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Admission to the Graduate Program: Frequently Asked Questions

Are GRE scores required? GREs are required of all students applying to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS); scores are valid for five years. You do not need to take the Music GRE test. Only the general GRE (math/language) is required.

How important are GRE scores? We take GRE scores into consideration along with the entire dossier, not as a single factor that determines the outcome of an application.

When is the deadline for application to Harvard? The annual deadline is usually around January 2 for entrance the following fall term. Check the GSAS website for each year's deadline.

Does Harvard offers scholarships or financial aid? Yes. If you are accepted into our PhD program, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences will offer you a financial package that guarantees funding for six years, and includes both tuition and living expenses. Teaching stipends may make up part of the package from the student's third year on. There are also opportunities for additional funding. The Department (and GSAS) awards prizes, fellowships, stipends, and grants each year to graduate students for language study, dissertation completion, research assistance, and travel, among other pursuits.

Do I need to submit samples of my work? Yes. You need to support your application with samples of your work, be it scholarly (musicology/ethnomusicology/theory) or creative (composition).

Does Harvard accept international students?
Yes. The music department accepts a number of foreign students each year.

Are foreign students required to take the TOEFL exam? Students whose native language is not English or who do not have an undergraduate degree from English-speaking university are required to take and pass the TOEFL exam. The recommended passing score is 80.

I don’t have an undergraduate degree in music. Am I still eligible for admission? While many of our entering students do have degrees in music, backgrounds and degrees vary widely. We look at all-around preparation of our applicants and their overall excellence. As a Music Department, we do look for training and expertise in one or more music traditions and an ability to deal successfully with a curriculum that has requirements across the music subdisciplines as well as interdisciplinary studies.

Can I apply for a Master’s Degree? The Harvard graduate program in Music is a doctoral program. The subdisciplines of musicology, ethnomusicology, composition, and music theory do not admit candidates for the Master's Degree only.

I have already received a Master’s Degree and wonder if I can transfer credit for courses taken? We permit transfer of credit for no more than two courses. Students are allowed to request transfer credit if they are in good standing after the first year of coursework at Harvard and on submission of details about the course for which credit is requested. Graduate courses taken as an undergraduate student may not be presented for credit if those courses counted toward the undergraduate degree.

I am interested in taking courses in other Music subfields. Is this possible at Harvard?
Our programs both require and encourage coursework in other sub-disciplines of music.

I am interested in more than one sub-discipline in music. Which graduate program should I apply for? We have graduate programs in historical musicology, ethnomusicology, theory and composition. Our programs are small, so it is important that you apply to the program closest to your major interests. If the faculty feel your application would be better served in another sub-discipline, they will direct it there.

Can I take courses outside the Music Department?
Harvard has extraordinary course offerings across the disciplines and we encourage our graduate students to take courses that will enhance their knowledge.

Do foreign language courses count toward degree credit?
You can enroll in language courses to meet the language requirements of our programs, but these courses do not count toward credit for the PhD.

What are the possibilities for financial support for graduate studies at Harvard? The Graduate School at Harvard typically offers admitted Music students six years of full funding, in the form of stipends, teaching fellowships and finishing grants (this amount covers living expenses as well as tuition). Departmental resources include special funds for summer research and some additional fellowships.

I am a performer and wonder if the Music Department gives credit for performance activities to graduate students? What opportunities are there for performance at Harvard?
Although we encourage performance, our graduate program is an academic one and performance activities do not count towards a degree. As a Department of Music which does not have a performance faculty, we are not able to provide vocal or instrumental lessons. There is a lively musical scene on campus and graduate students are welcome to join many University ensembles, including those sponsored by Dudley House or Gamelan Si Betty. Graduate student musicians sometimes perform on the special noontime University Hall Recital Series. The Harvard Group for New Music performs student compositions. Boston is home to an active musical world and many students participate as performers in music traditions ranging from early music to jazz.

Will interviewing with the Music Department aid my chances of acceptance to Harvard?
No. Unfortunately, faculty are not usually available to meet with prospective students.

If I want to talk to a member of the music department about the program, how do I go about it?
Prospective graduate students can email musicdpt@fas.harvard.edu to ask questions. If you visit the campus you may be able to talk with other students, sit in on a class, or attend a concert or lecture; email ahead to see what is possible.






Admissions Requirements

PhD Program

To apply to the PhD program in musicology, ethnomusicology, theory, or composition, you must make an application to the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. All applications are online, and may be found (along with all the requirements, fee information, and procedures) at http://www.gsas.harvard.edu/apply

All recipients of a four-year college degree or its international equivalent may apply (students with and without master's degrees may apply). If you are unsure whether you are eligible, please read the GSAS guidelines.

Admissions decisions are made by Music Department 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). Detailed information pertaining to requirements for admission are on the GSAS site listed above. All applicants are required to take the GRE General Examination.

Samples of previous work
Applicants to the all programs except Composition 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 program must submit three to four compositions. Scores are required in printed format and to be send along with your application materials. In addition, recordings are highly recommended and can be submitted as Audio CDs or links to soundcloud or other online resources. Samples of work must be sent with a self-addressed, stamped envelope if they are to be returned to the student.

AM in Performance Practice*

Students interested in pursuing the A.M. degree should submit the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Admissions Form. Ordinarily, the department expects to enroll one to two A.M. students a year or every two years. No auditions are required. A sound recording representing the level and breath of accomplishment should accompany the application form.

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.

*Applications are not being accepted for the AM program at this time [3.1.2017]

Submitting an Application

Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) handles the admissions materials. All questions about the admissions process, as well as all application supplementary materials, should be sent to them by December 31 for candidates who seek entrance in the following fall term.

Admissions and Financial Aid
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Harvard University
1350 Massachusetts Avenue
Holyoke Center 350
Cambridge, MA 02138-3654

Download an application electronically: http://www.gsas.harvard.edu/apply
You are required to upload all supporting documents (transcripts, writing samples, recommendations, etc) to the online application.

If you have questions about your application, call 617-496-6100 (2-5pm EST) or write admiss@fas.harvard.edu

For financial aid questions call 617-495-5396 or email gsasfinaid@fas.harvard.edu

NOTE: Please do not call the Music Department about the status of your application or the return of your materials. Application materials only come to the Music Department at the very last stages of the process, and are held here in complete confidentiality until admissions recommendations are made.



Visiting the Department

You are welcome to visit the Department at any time, although we in no way require or expect you to make the trip. 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 optimum 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 ask permission of the instructing professor first: music professors can be reached via email at musicdpt@fas.harvard.edu). 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 (check our calendar), or 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.

Admitted students are invited to visit as part of our admissions process (usually in March). 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. This is not required, but is a good way for admitted students to get a sense of the program before they make their final decision.


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