Doctor of Philosophy

IMPORTANT: For complete information on graduate degrees offered at the Bienen School of Music, please visit the Current Students - Academics page.

  • Please note that the PhD admission process uses The Graduate School's online application. Additionally, a number of materials must be sent directly to the Bienen School of Music.  For a full list of the required supporting materials, visit Graduate Application Info.

The Bienen School of Music's distinctive PhD program is structured to take full advantage of the many and varied academic opportunities available at Northwestern University. Majors are offered in music theory and cognition, music education, and musicology.

Students in this integrated program design a course of study incorporating their individual interests and a broad-based approach to contemporary music research. A unique aspect of this program is a cognate area requirement in a non-music field such as cultural studies, social sciences, learning sciences, humanities, arts, or communication studies.

Each student pursues a major field of study in close consultation with a faculty advisor. Faculty coordinators who assist with assignment of advisors are:

At several key points in the student's program of study, a department-wide assessment process asks students to demonstrate that they are making appropriate progress. This evaluation includes:

  • preliminary portfolio assessment at the end of the first year or beginning of the second year
  • successful demonstration of foreign language proficiency (as required by the major area)
  • teaching demonstration in the form of a classroom or other professional presentation similar to the sessions the Bienen School of Music requires as a part of its own faculty search procedures
  • written comprehensive examination including approval of a dissertation prospectus
  • oral defense of the comprehensive examination
  • public lecture, paper, or presentation outside the Bienen School of Music, to be given before completion of the dissertation. (This is designed to stimulate early involvement in the presentation of original research at the regional, national, or international level.)
  • completion of a Ph.D. dissertation based on original, independent research
  • final evaluation, consisting of a public defense of the dissertation

Full-time residency of nine academic quarters is required of all students, with three of those quarters waived if a student enters with a master's degree.

Prospective students in Musicology, and in Music Theory and Cognition may enter after the completion of a bachelor's degree.

Music Education students must have completed a masters degree, hold state certification, and have taught at least three years. If you are interested in the PhD program for Music Education, you should visit the site for the Center for the Study of Education and the Musical Experience (CSEME).

Music Theory and Cognition students can read additional information contained in the Music Theory & Cognition PhD Frequently Asked Questions page.

Program of Study

Curricula Distribution (27 units, or 18 beyond the master's degree)

  • Departmental Colloquium (0 units)
  • Major Area (9 units)
  • Cognate Area (3 units)
    • All students are required to take three 300- or 400-level courses outside the Bienen School of Music in an approved cognate area. Students whose work touches fields such as cognitive psychology, learning sciences, performance studies, comparative literature, linguistics, cultural anthropology, African studies, acoustics, film, or dance are encouraged to take enough coursework in these areas to develop meaningful intellectual connections and true depth of understanding. The purpose of this requirement is to learn to think as a scholar in another field — a fundamentally epistemological orientation
  • Electives, including 590 Research (12 units)


Other Curricular Offerings

Beyond the core pro-seminar series, the PhD program includes a cluster of courses that function inter-programmatically. These include Improvisation and World Musicianship, Multimedia Software Development, Music Cognition, Psychology of Music Teaching and Learning, Creative Thinking in Music, Music Historiography, Music and Meaning, Music Aesthetics, Ethics of Ethnography, and Music and Film.


Resources Through The Graduate School

Academic Services 

Academic Calendar

PhD Timeline

Community Building Grants and Activities

TGS News

Satisfactory Academic Progress Criteria