Doctor of Philosophy in Composition & Music Theory

Department of Composition, Department of Music Theory

This unique joint program leading to the PhD in Composition & Music Theory has been designed to take advantage of the unusual strengths of the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance in both Composition and Theory. Designed for students seeking the highest degree in the field, the PhD is a rigorous five-year course of study culminating in a doctoral dissertation.

Program Requirements


Foreign Language

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.

Prior Preparation

Ideally, a 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)
  • Composition 516: Introduction to Electronic Music (2 hrs.)
  • Music Theory 531, Schenker Theory and Analysis (3 hrs.)
  • Music Theory 534, Twentieth Century Theory and Analysis (3 hrs.)
  • Music Theory 552: Tonal Composition (2 hrs.)

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

  • Music Theory 532: Advanced Schenker Theory and Analysis (3 hrs)
  • Music Theory 721: Readings in Contemporary Music Theory (3 hrs)
  • Music Theory 560: Special Studies (3 hrs)
Core Curriculum

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

  • Composition 891 or 892: Doctoral Studies in Composition (4 or 6 hrs each)
  • Composition 850: Advanced Seminar in Composition (1 hr)
  • Music Theory 807: Individual Studies in Music Theory (2-4 hrs)
  • Music Theory 805: Seminar in Music Theory (3 hrs) – May be repeated for credit
  • Composition 526: Advanced Studies in Electronic Music (2-4 hrs) – Unless completed at the master’s level
  • Musicology 503: Bibliography of Music (3 hrs) – Unless completed at the master’s level
  • Composition 995: Dissertation/Candidate (8 hrs)
  • Musicology & Music Theory electives
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.

Residency Requirement

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

Requirements for Candidacy


Every doctoral student in the School 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.

Preliminary Examinations Prior to Candidacy
  • Music History General Preliminary Examination (or the coursework alternative)
  • Written Preliminary Examination in the field of specialization
  • Comprehensive Oral Preliminary Examination

During the first year, each doctoral student will be given a list of 60-75 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.

Major Field Requirement

Before being admitted to candidacy each student must submit to their advisor the scores of the works completed during the student’s work as a doctoral pre-candidate. 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.

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 Requirements

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, one from the Theory Department, and one from outside of SMTD.

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.


Nearly all PhD students receive full-tuition fellowships. Most also receive health benefits and a stipend attached to a Graduate Student Assistantship, which can vary in proportion to the appointment fraction and the duties associated with it. In addition to the funding packages offered by the SMTD, Rackham students are also eligible to apply for a wide range of fellowships to fund research, travel, and performance.

Audition & Interview Dates

For requirement details, please see the Degree Requirements and Term-by-Term Layout for Current Students.

How To Apply

Academic Eligibility

Applicants to the Doctor of Philosophy in Composition & Music Theory must have completed a master’s of music degree or equivalent to be eligible for admission.

Applicants must:

  • Apply to U-M via the Rackham Graduate School Application by December 1
  • Submit an SMTD Artistic Profile by December 1
  • Send official transcripts from all previous schools to the Rackham Graduate School

Click “Apply Now” below to read more detailed information about the application requirements and procedures.

Apply Now

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