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Doctor of Philosophy in Music Composition and Theory

The joint program leading to the Ph.D. in music composition and theory has been designed to take advantage of the unusual strengths of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance in both composition and theory. The program is administered by a steering committee comprising faculty from the two departments and chaired by Professor Andrew Mead. A relevant master's degree is required for admission.

How to apply for admission

  • In addition to the necessary transcripts and recommendations, each applicant for the Ph.D. in music composition and theory must demonstrate by scores and recordings of original music and by interview, when requested, the qualities of mind, the gift, the technical resources, and the musical maturity requisite to graduate study in composition. Each applicant is required to submit examples of several scores, with separate recordings of each score, for review by the faculty. A sample of his or her writing related to music theory must be submitted; the applicant's master's thesis or a major term paper are particularly recommended.
  • As indicated on the Request for Audition form, an information session will be arranged with a member of the Composition faculty on specific audition dates; your composition portfolio will be reviewed by the Composition Department at a later time. This session is optional and not required for admission.
  • If you intend to take private lessons on your principal instrument, please contact the SMTD Admissions Office to arrange for an audition. This audition has no impact on your admission to the Composition program.
  • The deadline for applying to the program is December 1, and all required materials including scores, writing samples, recommendations, and transcripts, must be received no later than that date. International applicants whose native language is not English must submit a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) score or the Michigan English Language Battery (MELAB) score. No action will be taken on your application until your file is complete. No application for admission to graduate study in music composition is accepted for the winter term or the summer half-term

Financial Aid

  • Among other forms of financial aid, a limited number of graduate student instructorships are available to qualified students in music theory. Any evidence you can provide of unusual skill or experience as a teacher will significantly enhance your prospects for appointment. Such evidence should be communicated directly to Professor Walter Everett, Chair of the Department of Music Theory. If an applicant for admission is also applying for a graduate student assistantship, it is essential that at least one of the three recommendations required for admission be from a person familiar with the applicant's ability as a teacher and, if applicable, a person who has supervised a substantial teaching experience by the applicant.
  • No application for financial aid is considered until the applicant has been admitted as a student. The application for financial aid, together with the required recommendations, transcripts, and GRE scores, must be received no later than December 1.

Prior Preparation

Students in the Ph.D. program in music composition and theory will have a broad range of backgrounds and experience. Ideally, the student's master's-level work should include the following core of studies. Students lacking these courses should elect them at the doctoral level:

  • Composition 515, Introduction to Electronic Music (2 hrs.). An elementary study of the scientific and technological basis for the electronic medium, with emphasis on studio procedures and techniques.
  • Composition 516, Introduction to Electronic Music (2 hrs.). A continuation of Composition 515 with an introduction to computer technology and its electronic music applications.
  • Music Theory 531, Schenker Theory and Analysis (3 hrs.). An introduction to the music analytical techniques developed from the work of Heinrich Schenker. This is the preeminent analytical and theoretical approach to tonal music and the foundation for a vast array of research in the standard repertoire of European art music.
  • Music Theory 534, Twentieth Century Theory and Analysis (3 hrs.). An overview of the compositional and analytical techniques of non-tonal music, centering on Arnold Schoenberg's twelve-tone system. This represents one of the most radical departures from the standard musical practice of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
  • Music Theory 552, Tonal Composition (2 hrs.). Creative work to model traditional composition forms with careful attention to developmental processes attendant to the common practice period.

In addition, each student should have elected at least one of the following:

  • Music Theory 532, Advanced Schenker Theory and Analysis (3 hrs.). A continuation of Music Theory 531.
  • Music Theory 721, Readings in Contemporary Music Theory (3 hrs.). Students are introduced to current research in music theory through reading and discussion of recent articles and books. A broad spectrum of specializations, topics, and philosophical viewpoints are represented in order to explore the range of thought and activity subsumed by the discipline.
  • Music Theory 560, Special Studies (3 hrs.). Music theory faculty offer topics stemming from their own research or investigating new avenues of research arising in the field.

Program of Study

Language Requirement. The language requirement consists of either a demonstrated basic reading ability in two foreign languages or a demonstrated basic reading ability in one foreign language plus an approved eight-hour program of study in a pertinent field (e.g., advanced electronic music, conducting, computer science) beyond other requirements.

The required core of the program will consist of the following:

  • Composition 891 or 892, Doctoral Studies in Composition (4 or 6 hrs. each). Individual composition lessons with members of Composition faculty.
  • Composition 850, Advanced Seminar in Composition (1 hr.). A seminar in which students and faculty discuss a range of compositional interests. Twentieth century art music will be a primary focus. (The preceding two courses in Composition, which must be elected concurrently, may be repeated for credit.)
  • Music Theory 807, Individual Studies in Music Theory (2-4 hrs.). Studies with members of the Music Theory faculty aimed at developing the student's research abilities and preparing the student for the dissertation essay. In past experience, this course has sometimes led to the production of published papers. MT 807 may be repeated for credit.
  • Music Theory 805, Seminar in Music Theory (3 hrs.). A seminar of special theoretical topics of interest to faculty and students. MT 805 may be repeated for credit.
  • Composition 526, Advanced Studies in Electronic Music (2-4 hrs.). The study of digital synthesis techniques in which special attention is devoted to the relationship between technology, the creative process, and one's individual statement.
  • Musicology 503, Bibliography of Music (3 hrs.). Elected during the first term of enrollment as a precandidate, this course is an introduction to library research techniques primarily intended for graduate students intending careers outside musicology. (Musicology 503 and Composition 526 are required unless they were completed at the master's level.)
  • In addition, precandidates will elect a variety of courses dealing with the various periods of music history. Such courses constitute essential preparation for the preliminary examinations. Fifteen hours of course work or five courses totaling a minimum of twelve hours must be completed in musicology and music theory, including one musicology (MHM) course at the 600-level. Music performance may also be elected. Elections should include other courses in music, related fields, and languages that will help to satisfy the student's needs and requirements.
  • Composition 995, Dissertation/Candidate (8 hrs.), elected for at least one term.

During the first year, each doctoral student will be given a list of 60 to 75 works from which to choose or be assigned ten works on which to be examined at the general oral preliminary examination. These works should be studied both analytically and historically. The oral preliminary examination will be based, in part, on these scores, but it is a comprehensive examination and may include other material.

Cognate Field. Since music composition and theory are mutual cognates, only one additional cognate field will be required. The cognate must consist of at least six hours of academic credit or eight hours of performance credit. The cognate, which may include work previously done for the master's degree, must be approved by the Program Steering Committee. Studies in fields outside music should relate to the student's interests as a composer and musician. They should provide broad knowledge, insight, and awareness of the relationships between music and other relevant disciplines.

Residence Requirement

At least one academic year of full-time residence is required.

Requirements for Candidacy

  • Pedagogy. Every doctoral student in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance must satisfy the pedagogy requirement during the first two terms of enrollment. A list of courses that satisfy this requirement may be found in the Handbook for Rackham Students in Music, Dance, or Theatre.
  • Major Field Requirement. Before being admitted to candidacy each student must submit to his or her advisor the scores of the works completed during the student's work as a doctoral precandidate. Recordings of performances should also be submitted when possible. These works may be in any form and for any combination of performers. They should total approximately sixty minutes of playing time.
  • Prior to candidacy, each student must complete the general preliminary examination in Music History or elect the prescribed coursework alternative.
  • Preliminary examinations in the fields of Composition and Theory, both oral and written, are required prior to admission to candidacy. These examinations cover not only the student's field of specialization and the cognate fields, but also the broad general field of music and the relationships between music and other disciplines. These examinations are not necessarily based upon the specific individual courses taken by the student, although coursework will be exceedingly helpful in preparing for the exams.
    • Composition exam: During the first year of doctoral study, each student in the program will be given a list of 60 to 75 works from which to choose or be assigned ten works on which to be examined during a general oral preliminary examination. These works should be studied both analytically and historically. The preliminary examinations will be based on these scores, but it is a comprehensive examination, and may include other material.
    • Theory exam: The two-part analysis examination emphasizes the importance of written and oral communication to the professional theorist. Each of the two analyses is presented formally, one as an essay and the other as a lecture. The oral problem will be distributed on the Monday prior to the resulting oral presentation on the following Friday. The written problem will be distributed on that same Friday; the resulting essay will be due the following Tuesday. Of the two examinations, one will focus on a tonal work from either the 18th- or the 19th-century; the other will focus on a non-tonal work from the 20th century. Students will not know in advance which examination will treat which type of work.

Candidacy will be conferred upon completion of these requirements and examinations. A dissertation committee must have been appointed by the time candidacy is achieved.

Dissertation Requirement

The program culminates in a two-part dissertation consisting of an original composition for large ensemble and a substantial essay on a theoretical topic. Each of these projects will be undertaken after the acceptance of a proposal from the student by the steering committee. The dissertation committee, which may include members of the steering committee, will consist of at least four faculty members, including at least one from the Composition Department, at least one from the Theory Department, and at least one from outside the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

Final Oral Examination

A comprehensive oral examination on the candidate's dissertation will be conducted by the dissertation committee following the completion of the dissertation.

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