Prospective Graduate Students

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PhD programs

PhD 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 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 Ph.D. 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 StudiesCritical Media PracticeMedieval StudiesRomance Languages and Literatures, and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, to name 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 selection of musical instruments for study and performance, including early keyboards and a consort of viols.

The Mahindra Humanities CenterFilm Study CenterMinda 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.

PhD 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—usually 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

The Ethnomusicology laboratoryArchive 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 CenterReischauer InstituteCenter for African Studies, Center for Middle Eastern StudiesHutchins 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.

PhD in Music 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 its structure is designed to explore the links of music theory to 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 twenty-first century. 

The diverse dissertation projects that our 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 courses 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, non-Western music, or very recent composition—expand the field in new directions. 

Our course offerings are complemented by a regular workshop in music theory, currently called Theory Tuesdays, 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 (MBBMedieval StudiesCESHUCE, 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 useful to future research. One language requirement must normally be completed before generals, and the second must be completed in the fall semester of the third year.

PhD 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.PhD candidates in composition take 16 courses throughout their first two years. Students get a weekly individual composition lesson, and choose from composition and electronic music courses and other offerings within the department in theory, historical musicology, ethnomusicology, and CPCI, or graduate courses from other departments at Harvard. When needed, in the first year there is also a remedial course in harmony and analysis. Students of all years are required to attend the weekly composition colloquium.

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.

PhD in Creative Practice and Critical Inquiry (CPCI)

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.

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, CP/CI students must pass a language exam in a language relevant to their research interests, to be approved in writing by the graduate advisor.

Admission to the Graduate Program: Frequently Asked Questions

Are GRE scores required?

The Music Department does not require applicants to submit GRE scores. Submission of scores is permitted, and when submitted, GRE scores are taken into account during the admissions process. But those who do not submit such scores will not be penalized.

Note: Those who choose to take the GRE and submit their results do not need to take the Music GRE test, and should take the general GRE (math/language).

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 January 2 for entrance the following fall term. Check the GSAS website for each year’s deadline.

Does Harvard offer 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 or creative.

Does Harvard accept international students?


Are foreign students required to take the TOEFL?

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. 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, creative practice/critical inquiry, 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, creative practice/critical inquiry, 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 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 (with the exception of creative practice/critical inquiry). 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. 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 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, composition or CPCI, 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

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 or performance) 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 must submit, along with their applications, samples of their previous scholarly work (for composition applicants, this means scores and recordings; see below). 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 to SLATE. Students should include a one page PDF containing links to online recordings.

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. 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.

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:
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

For financial aid questions call 617-495-5396 or email

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.


Graduate Music Forum

Started in spring 1998, the Graduate Music Forum (GMF) aims to provide an opportunity for Harvard Music Department graduate students in all programs to discuss issues of common interest of concern to them. To date, these have ranged from matters of departmental administration and facilities to the structure of degree programs and the inception of new student projects, such as conferences.

Barwick Colloquia, Friday Lunch Talks, Theory Tuesdays, & Composer’s Colloquia

Each year the department nominates scholars and musicians to invite to campus to give a colloquium, and graduate students are actively involved in this process. Speakers are chosen by vote. Graduate student volunteers act as hosts to each speaker. The Department provides the funds that make the colloquium series, now named the Barwick Student Colloquium Series, possible. This is not the only series of colloquia offered by the Department, but it is the only one which gives graduate students the opportunity to request specific speakers whose work is of particular interest, or in fields which are not necessarily reflected by the day-to-day offerings of the Department.

Friday Lunch Talks are a series of informal colloquia where students are invited to give “works in progress.” The Composer’s Colloquium is another weekly forum for graduate student colloquia, as is Theory Tuesdays. These sessions bring together composers, theorists, and musicologists from both within and outside Harvard for discussion.

Southern Pian Society

The Southern-Pian Society, the Music Department affinity group for graduate students of color, was named after the two tenured women of color on the faculty of the music department: Eileen Southern (1920-2002) and Rulan Pian (1922-2013). It was the brainchild of ethnomusicology graduate students, and the Department also supports its events. MORE

Dudley House

Dudley House, located in Lehman Hall on the Yard, houses the GSAS center. There is a host of events, including lectures, concerts, movies, outings, and activities tailored to graduate students. outlines services available. The House sponsors opportunities to share lunch or dinner with faculty, and houses a dining room, computer facilities for graduate students, the office of the Graduate Student Council and the offices of Director of Student Services for GSAS and the office of the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs. Most notable for music graduate students, Dudley House is home to the Dudley House Jazz Band, Dudley Choir, a Dudley World Music Ensemble, and Dudley House Orchestra, all open to (and mainly composed of) graduate students.

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 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.

Secondary Field in Musicology/Ethnomusicology


• Completion of a minimum of four 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

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