PhD in Musicology

The Doctor of Philosophy in Musicology program offers two tracks: Historical Musicology or Ethnomusicology, as well as a double concentration in Historical Musicology and Ethnomusicology. It is primarily for students who are preparing to pursue research and teaching at a university, college, or conservatory. The curriculum for this degree offers breadth, depth, and considerable flexibility, and is therefore also of value to administrators, executives, performer/scholars, conductors, and pedagogues at the very highest levels. Entering students usually possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree in music, with a background in musicology, ethnomusicology, music theory, composition, or performance. The PhD in Musicology is offered by the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GRS) in close collaboration with the College of Fine Arts (CFA) School of Music.

Course Requirements

A minimum of 64 credits must be completed for the Master of Arts in Music and PhD in Musicology. Students accepted for the program may be required by the faculty to take prerequisite courses if their undergraduate degree was not in music or in the case of necessary remedial work. Students may take up to four seminars per semester, though the normal load is two or three. This program does not lead to the double specialization in Historical Musicology and Ethnomusicology. Students pursuing this degree must apply to this program separately upon completion of their MA requirements.

Candidates choose one of the following tracks:

Historical Musicology

Requirements are as follows:

  • CFA MH 820 Pro-Seminar in Musicology and Ethnomusicology (taken in first semester)
  • CFA MH 710 Research and Bibliography (Music) (taken in first year)

Other than these, there are no further required courses for the PhD in Historical Musicology, but students should customize their program in consultation with their advisor. A general guide for the distribution of remaining courses can be found on the department website.


Requirements are as follows:

  • CFA MH 820 Pro-Seminar in Musicology and Ethnomusicology (taken in first semester)
  • CFA MH 860 Research Methods in Ethnomusicology
  • CFA MH 861 Contemplating Ethnomusicology
  • At least two semesters of CFA MH 561 World Music Ensemble, either as instructor or participant (worth 0 or 1 credit)
  • Knowledge of the undergraduate survey course CFA MH 336/436 Musical Cultures of the World, either as a teaching fellow or by auditing the course
  • CFA MH 799 Master’s Thesis (taken after 28 credits)
  • CFA MH 921 Research and Directed Study in Music (taken after 60 credits)

A general guide for the distribution of the 36 remaining credits can be found on the department website.

Language Requirement

All students pursuing a PhD in Musicology are required to demonstrate graduate-level reading proficiency in two foreign languages prior to completion of the degree. Language proficiency can be demonstrated either through a language examination or successful completion of a non-credit graduate-level foreign language reading course offered by Boston University or an accredited outside program.

  • PhD candidates in the Historical Musicology track must demonstrate a reading knowledge of German and one other foreign language.
  • PhD candidates in the Ethnomusicology track must demonstrate a reading and speaking knowledge of two foreign languages relevant to their studies.
  • PhD candidates in the double track in Historical Musicology and Ethnomusicology must demonstrate a reading knowledge of German and a reading and speaking knowledge of one other foreign language relevant to their studies.

Qualifying Examinations

Students should take the written and oral qualifying examinations for the doctorate when they have only four credits remaining to be fulfilled toward the degree (CFA MH 921). Students must have the written approval of the advisor for each attempt at these examinations. As part of the evaluation of the written and oral examinations, the examiners may specify areas for further study above the minimum credit requirement for the degree, whether or not the examinations were passed. In the case of an unsuccessful attempt, the examiners may specify such further requirements before allowing the student to repeat the examinations. The examinations may not be taken more than three times.

The oral examination takes place approximately one month after the completion of all written exams and receipt of the dissertation prospectus (see below). The oral exam may include questions arising from the written exams, but will concentrate mainly on the dissertation prospectus. For more information on the qualifying exams, please see the department website.

Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

The final outcome of the PhD program in Musicology/Ethnomusicology is the completion of a dissertation representing original research or creative scholarship. A prospectus for the dissertation (and any IRB compliance, if necessary) must be completed and approved by the readers, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the department chair/program director. Candidates undergo a final oral examination in which they defend their dissertation as an important contribution to knowledge in their field and demonstrate a mastery of their area of specialization. All portions of the dissertation and final oral examination must be completed as outlined in GRS General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree.

Students who wish to obtain an MA in Music must meet the stated requirements for the MA, pass a comprehensive exam, and submit a master’s thesis.