Doctor of Philosophy Program in Music

(2015 - 2017)

Admissions: For students interested in Music Theory/Composition two or three music samples that demonstrate recent work are required. For notated music examples, a recording should be included. Submitted samples may include electroacoustic or multimedia works, in which case there is typically no score. A short writing sample of 5-15 double-spaced pages, on any musical topic, is also required. It is preferred that you submit recordings and musical scores by using a URL to point to an online collection of your materials. Please refer to the instructions at If you are unable to make electronic versions of the material available, please contact the Music Department directly at the e-mail address

For students interested in Ethnomusicology or Historical Musicology, one or two written papers, double-spaced, that demonstrate analytical and writing abilities are required. These will play a major role in the admission decision.

Requirements: All graduate students in the Department of Music are enrolled for the Ph.D. degree and take a total of 72 points of course work. All graduate students receiving funding through the MacCracken program are required to maintain full-time status over the duration of their support—in most cases for five years. Full-time status means the following (1) While enrolled in classes, a student must be registered for 24 points of credit each year. Ordinarily, these 24 points are distributed evenly over the fall and spring semesters. Foreign students holding student visas must register for 12 points each semester; if for some reason they register for fewer points, the department must officially confirm their full-time status to the Office of Global Services (OGS). (2) Although not encouraged to do so, a student may carry a reduced course load of 8 points of course work during the semester preceding the general examination. (3) During the final year of course work, a student may, if she or he no longer has 24 points of work remaining, take a reduced load equal to the number of points still to be completed for the Ph.D. (4) A student who has completed all course work for the Ph.D. and who is no longer being supported under the MacCracken program must maintain matriculation for each semester in order to retain full-time status. This requires formal registration, as though for a course.

The specialization in Historical Musicology is intended to familiarize students with the modes of thought and research techniques in that discipline. Students should expect to develop skills in document study, archival research, analysis, editing, the study of performance and performance practices, historiography, and recent critical approaches such as genre, gender, and reception studies. The 36 points of course work taken before the general examination typically include the following recommended courses: Introduction to Musicology, MUSIC-GA 2101, Ethnomusicology: Theory and History, MUSIC-GA 2136, one other graduate course from the department, and a course in the humanities or social sciences (approved by the director of graduate studies and the student’s adviser). Students should choose the remaining courses from a range of repertoires and critical perspectives.

The Ethnomusicology specialization at NYU emphasizes critical and experimental approaches to the anthropology of sound. While this area assigns central importance to ethnography, we are resolutely interdisciplinary, incorporating methodologies and theoretical orientations from fields throughout the humanities and social sciences. Our broad definition of ethnomusicology allows us to engage with issues of perennial concern to the discipline (e.g., representation, identity, memory, nationalism, diaspora, indigeneity, place/space, performativity, listening practices, power, ethics) as well as with less conventional sets of questions that are emerging from sound studies, psychoacoustics, trauma studies, science and technology studies, and other hybrid fields. This commitment to seeking out new and flexible avenues of inquiry is grounded by our shared interest in producing analyses that combine close attention to sonic detail with a heightened awareness of the ways people make, disseminate, and consume music. While we support ethnographic projects in all possible contexts, our students hone their research skills within the complex environment of New York City and grapple with the production and circulation of “local” knowledges in densely populated areas that are shot through with transnational flows and disjunctures. We are highly selective, accepting two or three students each year in order to maintain excellent advising, funding, matriculation, and job placement. We regard our graduate students as colleagues and collaborators, and work to engage them in joint teaching, research, and publication projects. The ethnomusicology specialization is conceptualized in profound interrelationship with other areas of study in the department and departments in the University. Typical course work recommended for ethnomusicology includes the following, Introduction to Musicology, MUSIC-GA 2101, Ethnomusicology: Theory and History, MUSIC-GA 2136, Musical Ethnography MUSIC-GA 2166, one other graduate course from the department, a course in the humanities or social sciences (approved by the director of graduate studies and the student’s adviser).

The specialization in Composition and Theory is designed to provide training through original creative work, theoretical and analytical study, and readings pertaining to issues particularly germane to music of the 20th and 21st centuries. Students explore techniques of 21st-century music composition and develop expertise in areas of contemporary musical thought, aesthetics, and philosophy. The department’s computer music studio is an integral part of the composition specialization. Students receive regular performances of their compositions by professional New York City musicians in department-sponsored concerts. Additionally, concerts are presented by the graduate student-run organization, First Performance, and by the department’s professional series, Washington Square Contemporary Music. Groups performing student works at NYU in recent years have included the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Argento, Talea New Music Group, TimeTable, and the JACK and Mivos String Quartets. In addition to its full-time faculty, the department has offered semester-long seminars in composition and theory taught by distinguished visitors. Recent guests have included Helmut Lachenmann, Chaya Czernowin, Maria de Alvear, and Joan Tower, among others. Recommended course work typically is comprised of the following: Five semesters of Techniques of Music Composition, MUSIC-GA 2162, Introduction to Musicology, MUSIC-GA 2101, Ethnomusicology: Theory and History, MUSIC-GA 2136, and one additional course from the offerings in musicology and ethnomusicology.

Students are expected to be in good academic standing at all times. In the Department of Music, “good academic standing” means the following: (1) a grade point average of 3.5 or better; (2) no more than two grades lower than B over the course of the student’s career, and no grades of F (3) no more than two grades of Incomplete over the course of the student’s career; (4) passage of the general examination and satisfaction of other degree requirements in a timely manner, as described in this bulletin and on the department’s Web site. Students who fail to meet the criteria for good academic standing may be placed on academic probation for up to one semester, during which time they can work with the director of graduate studies and other faculty to resolve their academic difficulties. Students on probation who do not return to good academic standing by the end of the probationary semester risk termination of their fellowship.

Language Examinations: Students must demonstrate reading competency in one modern language by passing a written examination administered by the department before taking the general examination. Between the general and special examinations, students must demonstrate reading knowledge in a second language (students in composition are exempted from this requirement). Students are expected to select a second language appropriate to their research topic. Ordinarily, students will have passed the second language examination by no later than the third year of study. No student in musicology or ethnomusicology may advance to candidacy without having passed the second language.

General Examination: The general examination tests the student’s knowledge of all major aspects of the field. Students are expected to display sophisticated skills in dealing with intellectual problems and should be able to create and support thoughtful lines of argument from a wide range of evidence. Those specializing in historical musicology should demonstrate a thorough general knowledge of Western musical history, of Western music’s changing styles, and of current issues in the discipline. Students are expected to cite and discuss recent musicological writing and to advance and support coherent arguments about major issues in response to the questions posed on the examination. Those specializing in ethnomusicology should demonstrate an understanding of the history of the discipline, its theories and principal ethnographies, and major musical cultures. Students specializing in composition and theory are expected to be familiar with the principal composers and compositional models of the last century and to be able to handle problems of practical analysis. Whatever their field of specialization, students are also expected to have a basic knowledge of the other fields of music scholarship and to incorporate this knowledge into their examination responses. Preparation for the examination should therefore include independent study of both repertoire (with extensive listening and analysis as appropriate) and scholarly writing about music. There are two possible outcomes of the examination: (1) A student may pass the examination at a level deemed appropriate for continued studies toward the Ph.D. or (2) A student may fail the examination outright. Students who fail the examination may repeat it only once, one year after the original, and may register for further study only provisionally until the examination is passed.

Special Examination, Dissertation Proposal, and Advancement to Candidacy: During the third or fourth year of study, students should select a principal adviser for the dissertation and, in consultation with their adviser, should select two other faculty to form a dissertation committee. One member of the committee may come from outside the department, or, more rarely, from outside the University. Students should develop a dissertation project in close consultation with the committee they have chosen. Ordinarily, this work should be sufficiently developed to allow students to take the special examination by sometime in their fourth year of study. The special examination requirement may be met in one of two ways, which students should choose after close consultation with their adviser and committee, subject to approval by the director of graduate studies. Students must satisfy the special examination requirement before they will be advanced to candidacy.

Students may elect to ask their committee to prepare an individualized special examination that tests the student’s competence in the planned field of research, in related fields, and in current methodological and theoretical approaches to the dissertation subject. The examination may consist of written and oral components at the discretion of the committee. Students who satisfy the special examination requirement in this way will simultaneously develop a dissertation proposal that must be submitted to the committee for approval. Students may elect, instead, to develop a dissertation proposal in consultation with their committee and to present it to that committee as the central text on which the committee will conduct an oral examination. Lasting from one to two hours, this examination will probe the student’s competence in the planned field of research, in related fields, and in current methodological and theoretical approaches to the dissertation topic. Students should expect that the committee may require substantial revisions of their proposal and/or additional work. Students who pass this oral examination on their dissertation proposal will be approved to begin work immediately on the dissertation.

Whether prepared after a special examination or as the central text of a special examination, the dissertation proposal should succinctly state (1) the research question to be studied; (2) how the question relates to existing scholarship; (3) the methods to be used (e.g., approaches to fieldwork, analytical techniques, theoretical framework); (4) how the dissertation will contribute to knowledge of the field; and (5) a working bibliography. In some cases, chapter outlines will be required. For students specializing in composition, the principal part of the dissertation will be a composition of significant proportions accompanied by a thesis. In their dissertation proposal, composers must include a brief description of the intended composition, and they must discuss scoring, any texts to be set, and the planned structure and size. Additionally, they should discuss the thesis as described above.

Dissertation Defense: The completed dissertation will be defended in a public oral examination to be administered by a committee of five faculty. This defense will follow rules established by the Graduate School of Arts and Science. Ordinarily, the examining committee will consist of the three-member committee that advised the dissertation and two additional faculty who are appointed by the director of graduate studies in consultation with the student and principal adviser. The examining committee must include at least three members of the Arts and Science faculty. At least three committee members must approve the dissertation prior to the scheduling of the defense. The dissertation must be distributed to all members of the committee at least a month before the scheduled defense. At least four of the five members of the examining committee must vote to approve the dissertation’s oral defense.