How to Get a PhD in Music

Getting a Ph.D. in music requires an extended commitment to schooling and the ability to perform or compose on a specific instrument. Ph.D. candidates must demonstrate an expert knowledge of their chosen emphasis by defending dissertations, recitals and a battery of courses and testing in music theory and pedagogy.

Individuals that complete a Ph.D. program will be viewed as the top experts in their field, and have earned the credentials necessary to teach in a university. While this piece is largely satirical, I think it's a fun way to reduce the complex process of getting a Ph.D. to a simple step-by-step article. Still, it should provide some valuable information for those who know nothing about the process.

Step 1 Learn to play an instrument at a high level. You will need to take private lessons for at least a year before auditioning for a university.

Step 2 Attend a university to obtain a bachelor degree in music. You will be required to complete an audition and take entrance theory exams to determine what level music theory you will start with. The bachelor program will take five to seven years.

Step 3 Apply for a master's program in music. The master's program in music will be more competitive, so you will need to demonstrate proven expertise in your field before being admitted. The end of a master's program will test every aspect of your musical knowledge, including theory, knowledge of composers and subject matter from your concentration. A master's program will take two to four years.

Step 4 Begin work in a Ph.D. program. You will be required to demonstrate language proficiency in at least one language other than English. You will also be required to submit a portfolio of compositions as a composer, complete several recitals as a performer or complete a dissertation in the theoretical fields.

Step 5 Work with your advisor and program director to define a field of concentration in your program. The director will help you to focus your studies, act as a guide and provide you the information necessary to complete your program.

Step 6 Select your committee members. The committee members will ask you questions and require you to defend your knowledge of music in a private setting. One of the members will be your private instructor or mentor throughout the program. The other members should be in the college of music and usually may be selected by you.

Some music programs have options to obtain a masters and a Ph.D. program in one. This will reduce the amount of time needed to graduate. An alternative to a Ph.D. is a DMA, which still provides you with a doctorate and reduces the time it takes to graduate. DMAs are useful for performers and composers that don't necessarily need a heavy emphasis in research.


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