The music theory and cognition program at Northwestern is unique among music-research institutions in the way in which it treats the study of musical structure as a fundamentally interdisciplinary pursuit.

Northwestern has long been a world leader in connecting music theory and cognition, and its internationally known faculty bring historical, cultural, anthropological, and psychological vantage points to bear on the study of musical structure in relation to listening, composition, performance, and analysis. It shares with the musicology program a humanistic view of music shaped by culture. The added resources of Northwestern's many distinguished programs in related disciplines create unique opportunities for research.

All entering doctoral students receive a full tuition scholarship and a work stipend.

Music Theory and Cognition Faculty

Richard Ashley

Associate Professor, Music Theory and Cognition

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Mark J. Butler

Professor, Music Theory and Cognition

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Vasili Byros

Associate Professor, Music Theory and Cognition

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Robert Gjerdingen

Professor, Music Theory and Cognition

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Susan Piagentini

Senior Lecturer, Music Theory and Cognition

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Robert Reinhart

Lecturer, Music Theory and Cognition

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About the Music Theory and Cognition Program

At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, students receive first-class training and experience in the ever expanding and diversifying discipline of music theory.

Our faculty are leaders in evolving sub-disciplines such as systematic music theory, popular music studies, historical music theory, and situated cognition. Northwestern students have the further advantage of studying with renowned scholars in the interdisciplinary field of cognitive science, both within and outside the Bienen School of Music.

Undergraduate students develop facility in traditional areas such as counterpoint, harmony, ear-training, melody, rhythm, and form, while also studying music history and culture. The undergraduate programs of study address questions involving musical construction, listener response, the features of musical style, and the basis for common metaphors used in describing music. They offer excellent preparation for continued graduate study in music research—be it in theory, musicology, or cognition—or for careers in other sectors where a solid foundation in music will be useful.

Graduate students are encouraged to pursue research in areas among the faculty's expertise. These include topics such as the following:

  • Schema theory, categorization, and style

  • Music and memory

  • Tonality

  • Rhythm and meter

  • Eighteenth-century music

  • Popular music

  • Musical design in relation to gender and sexuality

  • Technologically mediated performance; expressive performance

  • Music and communication

  • Historically informed theory and cognition

Beyond these specializations, the faculty may supervise a broad range of topics, from traditional areas of music theory such as Formenlehre and the history of music theory to specialized topics in the cognitive sciences, including music and neuroscience.

Music Theory and Cognition PhD Students

3rd Year PhD

anjniamin2014@u.northwestern.edu

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Anjni Amin

3rd Year PhD

anjniamin2014@u.northwestern.edu

Anjni Amin was born and raised in New York. She received her Bachelor of Science in music education and teaching certification from The College of Saint Rose. She holds a Master of Music degree in music theory and cognition from Northwestern University, where her studies with Richard Ashley culminated in her thesis project investigating the relationship between timbre and emotion perception in culturally unfamiliar music. Anjni taught K-12 general and instrumental music before returning to Northwestern University to further her studies. Her primary research focuses on assessing the psychological reality of the music-theoretical concept of tāl in North Indian music, aiming to understand the acquisition of mental constructs that facilitate the perception of meter and tension/release in Hindustani music and alternatively, their application to other musics. Recently, Anjni presented on North Indian folk music and dance at the annual meeting for the Society for Ethnomusicology. Additional musical interests include expressive performance skill acquisition and development, music and emotion, theory pedagogy, and multi-cultural music education.

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2nd Year PhD

seancurtice2016@u.northwestern.edu

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Sean Curtice

2nd Year PhD

seancurtice2016@u.northwestern.edu

Sean Curtice is from San Diego, California. He received his Bachelor of Arts in music and English at Wesleyan University, where his honors thesis included the composition of a piano concerto in the style of Mozart. He holds a Master of Arts in Composition and Music Theory from the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland, where he studied under Felix Diergarten and Johannes Menke. His master's thesis was a complete edition of the partimenti of Luigi Cherubini and a study of the Neapolitan-inspired teaching methods developed at the Paris Conservatory under Cherubini's directorship. He is also co-editor of a new German-English edition of Hans Peter Weber's Generalbass-Compendium, used for decades in ear-training classes at the Schola and other German-language conservatories. Sean's musical interests include period composition and historical music theory, particularly thoroughbass practice of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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3rd Year PhD

sarahgates2015@u.northwestern.edu

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Sarah Gates

3rd Year PhD

sarahgates2015@u.northwestern.edu

Sarah Gates completed an Honours Bachelor of Music in saxophone performance and contemporary composition at Wilfrid Laurier University (2011), as well as a Master of Music in saxophone performance at the University of Toronto (2013). She recently finished a Master of Arts in Music Theory at McGill University where she studied under Stephen McAdams and Robert Hasegawa. Her thesis project, which was awarded the Joseph Armand Bombardier Award (CGS-M) by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, investigated perceptual interactions of pitch and timbre by exploring the effect of timbre change on musicians’ ability to categorically identify melodic intervals. Empirical findings from her research projects have recently been presented the International Conference on Music and Emotion, in Geneva, Switzerland in October (2015) at, and the International Conference for Music Cognition and Perception, In San Francisco in July (2016). Her primary academic research interests include auditory imagery, aural skills acquisition, multimodal interactions, musical learning, plasticity and literacy, and musical performance. Her current doctoral studies are supported by a doctoral fellowship awarded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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Anjni Amin

3rd Year PhD

anjniamin2014@u.northwestern.edu

Anjni Amin was born and raised in New York. She received her Bachelor of Science in music education and teaching certification from The College of Saint Rose. She holds a Master of Music degree in music theory and cognition from Northwestern University, where her studies with Richard Ashley culminated in her thesis project investigating the relationship between timbre and emotion perception in culturally unfamiliar music. Anjni taught K-12 general and instrumental music before returning to Northwestern University to further her studies. Her primary research focuses on assessing the psychological reality of the music-theoretical concept of tāl in North Indian music, aiming to understand the acquisition of mental constructs that facilitate the perception of meter and tension/release in Hindustani music and alternatively, their application to other musics. Recently, Anjni presented on North Indian folk music and dance at the annual meeting for the Society for Ethnomusicology. Additional musical interests include expressive performance skill acquisition and development, music and emotion, theory pedagogy, and multi-cultural music education.

Sean Curtice

2nd Year PhD

seancurtice2016@u.northwestern.edu

Sean Curtice is from San Diego, California. He received his Bachelor of Arts in music and English at Wesleyan University, where his honors thesis included the composition of a piano concerto in the style of Mozart. He holds a Master of Arts in Composition and Music Theory from the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel, Switzerland, where he studied under Felix Diergarten and Johannes Menke. His master's thesis was a complete edition of the partimenti of Luigi Cherubini and a study of the Neapolitan-inspired teaching methods developed at the Paris Conservatory under Cherubini's directorship. He is also co-editor of a new German-English edition of Hans Peter Weber's Generalbass-Compendium, used for decades in ear-training classes at the Schola and other German-language conservatories. Sean's musical interests include period composition and historical music theory, particularly thoroughbass practice of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Sarah Gates

3rd Year PhD

sarahgates2015@u.northwestern.edu

Sarah Gates completed an Honours Bachelor of Music in saxophone performance and contemporary composition at Wilfrid Laurier University (2011), as well as a Master of Music in saxophone performance at the University of Toronto (2013). She recently finished a Master of Arts in Music Theory at McGill University where she studied under Stephen McAdams and Robert Hasegawa. Her thesis project, which was awarded the Joseph Armand Bombardier Award (CGS-M) by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, investigated perceptual interactions of pitch and timbre by exploring the effect of timbre change on musicians’ ability to categorically identify melodic intervals. Empirical findings from her research projects have recently been presented the International Conference on Music and Emotion, in Geneva, Switzerland in October (2015) at, and the International Conference for Music Cognition and Perception, In San Francisco in July (2016). Her primary academic research interests include auditory imagery, aural skills acquisition, multimodal interactions, musical learning, plasticity and literacy, and musical performance. Her current doctoral studies are supported by a doctoral fellowship awarded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

1st Year PhD

StefanGreenfield-Casas2022@u.northwestern.edu

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Stefan Greenfield-Casas

1st Year PhD

StefanGreenfield-Casas2022@u.northwestern.edu

Though technically born across the pond, Stefan Greenfield-Casas was raised in the Phlegethonian summers of Texas. He previously attended the University of Texas at San Antonio as a McKinney Scholar (BMus with Highest Honors in horn performance, 2015), and The University of Texas at Austin as a South Texas and Kennan Fellow (MM in music theory, 2017). His Master’s Report explores the interconnected historical, cultural, and (ludo)philosophical dialogues in which the music of Final Fantasy X participates. Stefan’s commitment to multi- and interdisciplinary research is primarily driven by ontological queries of how one can “read” music and/in/quaepics, particularly vis-à-vis video games and modernist poetry. Other research interests that inform his scholarship include critical theory (he is affiliated with Northwestern’s Critical Theory Cluster) and film theory (most recently as pertaining to sonic analyses of (post)millennial wuxia films). He has presented original research on these topics and others at varying conferences, including meetings of the Texas Society for Music Theory, Music and the Moving Image, and the North American Conference on Video Game Music.

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2nd Year PhD

fredhosken@u.northwestern.edu

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Fred Hosken

2nd Year PhD

fredhosken@u.northwestern.edu

Fred Hosken is from London, England. He holds a BMus from King’s College London, where he most enjoyed studying the aesthetics of music and the analysis of performances on record, and where he was awarded the Purcell Prize for the highest degree result. From here, Fred went straight on to an MSt at Oxford University where he studied the perception and phenomenology of groove with Professor Eric Clarke (a revised form of this research was recently submitted to Psychology of Music). His research addresses human interaction with music, particularly the subjective and multifarious ‘feel’ of groove music, and the possible music-theoretical reasons for these experiences. A focus of this is the perception and enjoyment of rhythm, looking to develop theories of groove beyond micromusical phenomena and with an emphasis on ecological validity. In the summer of 2017, Fred presented experimental research on embodied responses to the drop in dubstep at the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music conference. Prior to moving 3,935 miles from home, Fred spent a few years teaching music in English schools and performing saxophone with swing and soul groups in venues as diverse as historic London halls, the Montreux Jazz Festival, and an Italian castle!

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PhD Candidate

stephenhudson2018@u.northwestern.edu

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Stephen Hudson

PhD Candidate

stephenhudson2018@u.northwestern.edu

Stephen Hudson was born and raised in California, where he graduated with a double major in mathematics and cello performance from the University of California, Davis. At Northwestern, in addition to his studies in the Bienen School of Music, he completed a course cognate in Performance Studies, and is now a Graduate Writing Fellow, tutoring graduate students from across the sciences and humanities, exploring writing collaboratively through Interdisciplinary Writing Groups, and giving workshops at the Writing Place. Stephen's dissertation project seeks to understand how we use ways of moving the body to understand and create rhythmic structure, from headbanging in metal music to dance forms in baroque music. From a wider perspective, Stephen is interested in the role of different kinds of musical knowledge in our use of music to perform and assert personal and cultural identity. He has presented research about how identity is created in metal culture through dance practices, genre judgements, and musical style at numerous national and international conferences, most recently at the 2017 conference of the Society for Music Theory. In addition to his scholarly work, including a recent publication in Metal Music Studies, Stephen is committed to engaging as a fan and performer as part of his research. Stephen continues to play baroque and modern cello as a perennial performer in Northwestern's Baroque Music Ensemble and the annual student-organized NU Chamber Opera Initiative, and occasionally performs in other shows, masterclasses, festivals, and recitals. He also participates in the metal community by making transcriptions, attending concerts, and writing for the International Society of Metal Music Studies blog in addition to maintaining his own blog, http://metalintheory.com.

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Stefan Greenfield-Casas

1st Year PhD

StefanGreenfield-Casas2022@u.northwestern.edu

Though technically born across the pond, Stefan Greenfield-Casas was raised in the Phlegethonian summers of Texas. He previously attended the University of Texas at San Antonio as a McKinney Scholar (BMus with Highest Honors in horn performance, 2015), and The University of Texas at Austin as a South Texas and Kennan Fellow (MM in music theory, 2017). His Master’s Report explores the interconnected historical, cultural, and (ludo)philosophical dialogues in which the music of Final Fantasy X participates. Stefan’s commitment to multi- and interdisciplinary research is primarily driven by ontological queries of how one can “read” music and/in/quaepics, particularly vis-à-vis video games and modernist poetry. Other research interests that inform his scholarship include critical theory (he is affiliated with Northwestern’s Critical Theory Cluster) and film theory (most recently as pertaining to sonic analyses of (post)millennial wuxia films). He has presented original research on these topics and others at varying conferences, including meetings of the Texas Society for Music Theory, Music and the Moving Image, and the North American Conference on Video Game Music.

Fred Hosken

2nd Year PhD

fredhosken@u.northwestern.edu

Fred Hosken is from London, England. He holds a BMus from King’s College London, where he most enjoyed studying the aesthetics of music and the analysis of performances on record, and where he was awarded the Purcell Prize for the highest degree result. From here, Fred went straight on to an MSt at Oxford University where he studied the perception and phenomenology of groove with Professor Eric Clarke (a revised form of this research was recently submitted to Psychology of Music). His research addresses human interaction with music, particularly the subjective and multifarious ‘feel’ of groove music, and the possible music-theoretical reasons for these experiences. A focus of this is the perception and enjoyment of rhythm, looking to develop theories of groove beyond micromusical phenomena and with an emphasis on ecological validity. In the summer of 2017, Fred presented experimental research on embodied responses to the drop in dubstep at the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music conference. Prior to moving 3,935 miles from home, Fred spent a few years teaching music in English schools and performing saxophone with swing and soul groups in venues as diverse as historic London halls, the Montreux Jazz Festival, and an Italian castle!

Stephen Hudson

PhD Candidate

stephenhudson2018@u.northwestern.edu

Stephen Hudson was born and raised in California, where he graduated with a double major in mathematics and cello performance from the University of California, Davis. At Northwestern, in addition to his studies in the Bienen School of Music, he completed a course cognate in Performance Studies, and is now a Graduate Writing Fellow, tutoring graduate students from across the sciences and humanities, exploring writing collaboratively through Interdisciplinary Writing Groups, and giving workshops at the Writing Place. Stephen's dissertation project seeks to understand how we use ways of moving the body to understand and create rhythmic structure, from headbanging in metal music to dance forms in baroque music. From a wider perspective, Stephen is interested in the role of different kinds of musical knowledge in our use of music to perform and assert personal and cultural identity. He has presented research about how identity is created in metal culture through dance practices, genre judgements, and musical style at numerous national and international conferences, most recently at the 2017 conference of the Society for Music Theory. In addition to his scholarly work, including a recent publication in Metal Music Studies, Stephen is committed to engaging as a fan and performer as part of his research. Stephen continues to play baroque and modern cello as a perennial performer in Northwestern's Baroque Music Ensemble and the annual student-organized NU Chamber Opera Initiative, and occasionally performs in other shows, masterclasses, festivals, and recitals. He also participates in the metal community by making transcriptions, attending concerts, and writing for the International Society of Metal Music Studies blog in addition to maintaining his own blog, http://metalintheory.com.

2nd Year PhD

aubreyleaman2021@u.northwestern.edu

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Aubrey Leaman

2nd Year PhD

aubreyleaman2021@u.northwestern.edu

Aubrey Leaman holds a Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance with honors distinction from the University of South Carolina. Her research has focused on how music evokes imagery and tells stories, with the goal of making classical music more accessible and enjoyable for listeners who are not classically trained. Such projects have spanned the creation of a narrative mapping strategy for in-time listening to classical music as well as a silent film based on the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood,” which she coupled with a Haydn piano sonata and performed live at her senior piano recital. Her current research interests include individual differences in musical meaning (specifically relating to personality and empathy), the role different implicit analogies and associations may have in affecting musical preferences and enjoyment, and creative multimedia programming.

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PhD Candidate

osanchez@u.northwestern.edu

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Olga Sanchez-Kisielewska

PhD Candidate

osanchez@u.northwestern.edu

Olga comes from Madrid and is working with Vasili Byros and Robert Gjerdingen on a dissertation entitled "The Hymn as a Musical Topic in the Age of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven." She holds bachelor's degrees in clarinet performance (Real Conservatorio Superior de Música de Madrid) and economic science (Universidad Complutense), and master's degrees in musicology (Universidad de la Rioja) and music theory (Northwestern University). Her research gravitates around meaning and expression in music, embracing a variety of perspectives such as topic theory, schema theory, cognitive metaphor, corpus analysis, embodiment, and intertextuality. Her papers have received awards at the meetings of the Music Theory Society of the Mid-Atlantic, the Music Theory Society of New York State, and the Society for Eighteenth-Century Music. She has contributed with a chapter to the forthcoming volumes The Heroic in Music and Singing in Signs: New Semiotic Explorations of Opera. In the fall of 2017, Olga joined the faculty at the University of Chicago as a lecturer in Music Theory.

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PhD Candidate

miriampiilonen2018@u.northwestern.edu

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Miriam Piilonen

PhD Candidate

miriampiilonen2018@u.northwestern.edu

Miriam Piilonen specializes in the history of music theory and its scientific, philosophical, and social contexts. She earned a bachelor’s degree in composition from the New England Conservatory and a master’s degree in human development from Virginia Tech, where she conducted empirical research with the Carilion Research Institute’s fMRI lab. Her dissertation, which is recognized by a 2017-18 Franke Humanities Fellowship, examines the convergence of music studies and evolutionary theory, with emphasis on the rise of music evolutionism in nineteenth-century Britain. She has presented her work at national and international conferences, including the annual meetings of the Society for Music Theory, American Musicological Society, International Association for the Study of Popular Music, and American Comparative Literature Association. She currently serves as a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Northwestern and as a student representative on the executive board of Music Theory Midwest. Beyond her academic life, she is a composer and devoted fan of experimental electronic music and a rock climbing instructor.

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Aubrey Leaman

2nd Year PhD

aubreyleaman2021@u.northwestern.edu

Aubrey Leaman holds a Bachelor of Music degree in piano performance with honors distinction from the University of South Carolina. Her research has focused on how music evokes imagery and tells stories, with the goal of making classical music more accessible and enjoyable for listeners who are not classically trained. Such projects have spanned the creation of a narrative mapping strategy for in-time listening to classical music as well as a silent film based on the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood,” which she coupled with a Haydn piano sonata and performed live at her senior piano recital. Her current research interests include individual differences in musical meaning (specifically relating to personality and empathy), the role different implicit analogies and associations may have in affecting musical preferences and enjoyment, and creative multimedia programming.

Olga Sanchez-Kisielewska

PhD Candidate

osanchez@u.northwestern.edu

Olga comes from Madrid and is working with Vasili Byros and Robert Gjerdingen on a dissertation entitled "The Hymn as a Musical Topic in the Age of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven." She holds bachelor's degrees in clarinet performance (Real Conservatorio Superior de Música de Madrid) and economic science (Universidad Complutense), and master's degrees in musicology (Universidad de la Rioja) and music theory (Northwestern University). Her research gravitates around meaning and expression in music, embracing a variety of perspectives such as topic theory, schema theory, cognitive metaphor, corpus analysis, embodiment, and intertextuality. Her papers have received awards at the meetings of the Music Theory Society of the Mid-Atlantic, the Music Theory Society of New York State, and the Society for Eighteenth-Century Music. She has contributed with a chapter to the forthcoming volumes The Heroic in Music and Singing in Signs: New Semiotic Explorations of Opera. In the fall of 2017, Olga joined the faculty at the University of Chicago as a lecturer in Music Theory.

Miriam Piilonen

PhD Candidate

miriampiilonen2018@u.northwestern.edu

Miriam Piilonen specializes in the history of music theory and its scientific, philosophical, and social contexts. She earned a bachelor’s degree in composition from the New England Conservatory and a master’s degree in human development from Virginia Tech, where she conducted empirical research with the Carilion Research Institute’s fMRI lab. Her dissertation, which is recognized by a 2017-18 Franke Humanities Fellowship, examines the convergence of music studies and evolutionary theory, with emphasis on the rise of music evolutionism in nineteenth-century Britain. She has presented her work at national and international conferences, including the annual meetings of the Society for Music Theory, American Musicological Society, International Association for the Study of Popular Music, and American Comparative Literature Association. She currently serves as a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Northwestern and as a student representative on the executive board of Music Theory Midwest. Beyond her academic life, she is a composer and devoted fan of experimental electronic music and a rock climbing instructor.

2nd Year PhD

cellawestray2021@u.northwestern.edu

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Cella Westray

2nd Year PhD

cellawestray2021@u.northwestern.edu

Cella Westray is from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She graduated from Grinnell College in 2015 with a double major in Music and Biology, after which she completed a Postbaccalaureate teaching and research fellowship with the Grinnell Music Department. Her research interests include historically-informed composition and music theory. She is also interested in the cognitive processes involved in learning of musical schemata and in compositional creativity.

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Cella Westray

2nd Year PhD

cellawestray2021@u.northwestern.edu

Cella Westray is from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She graduated from Grinnell College in 2015 with a double major in Music and Biology, after which she completed a Postbaccalaureate teaching and research fellowship with the Grinnell Music Department. Her research interests include historically-informed composition and music theory. She is also interested in the cognitive processes involved in learning of musical schemata and in compositional creativity.

I know what music theory is, but what is music cognition?

Music cognition is the research field that studies the mental processes underlying musical activities such as listening and comprehending, performing, and composing. Researchers in the field include music theorists, experimental psychologists, and neuroscientists, as well as ethnomusicologists, music educators, music therapists, and physicians.

FAQs

What would I study and learn in the program?

The PhD program is rooted in the discipline of music theory. Students receive thorough training in the analysis of musical structure, systematic and historical aspects of music theory, and psychological aspects of musical structure. Areas of research in the program deal with style analysis in historically informed ways, the intersection of theory and culture, expressive performance in music, the psychological nature of musical styles and structure, and the psychophysiology of musical experience.

See Full Degree Requirements:

  • Bachelor of Music: Music Cognition

  • Bachelor of Music: Music Theory

  • Master of Music: Music Theory

  • PhD in Music: Music Theory and Cognition

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Should I apply for the Master's or the PhD?

Students whose ultimate goal is to pursue a PhD in music theory should apply directly to the PhD program. It is possible to apply directly to the PhD with a bachelor's degree; a master's degree is not required. Our MM degree functions more as a one-year course of study than an entry point in the PhD. The MM program is more appropriate for students who wish to explore or strengthen their knowledge of music theory before embarking on further graduate study.

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Why focus on the PhD and not the Master's?

While a Master's degree is a beneficial step towards a career in academia, our streamlined 5-year PhD program allows students to acquire the equivalent of a Master's degree in the process of obtaining their PhD.  It is beneficial to the student because it provides full funding for the entire 5-year course of study. In addition, the end degree has a higher likelihood of job placement for our exiting students. We admit up to two PhD students per year.

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What will I do with a PhD when I'm done?

Students with a PhD in Music Theory and Cognition will be qualified for a career as a professor in a college or university music department. Our program is not intended for students seeking positions in psychology or neuroscience departments. Within the field of music theory, more and more job descriptions are listing cognition as a desired area of research emphasis, and our graduates will be strong contenders thereby.

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What should I do to prepare?

You should have as strong an undergraduate background in music theory, music history, and music performance as possible. Courses in form, atonal analysis, and advanced harmonic analysis are advisable. A semester of statistics is helpful, as well as an introductory course in experimental methods. Our accepted students usually have a broad background, and many have publications or conference presentations on their record before admission.

It would be helpful to read journals such as the Journal of Music Theory, Music Theory Spectrum, and Music Perception, and to attend conferences such as the annual meeting of the Society for Music Theory. There is also burgeoning literature in music cognition that you can read as you prepare. If your interests are cognitive you should also join the Society for Music Perception and Cognition.

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How do I apply?

Application requirements include two transcripts, letters of reference, the general GRE, TOEFL (for international students), and writing samples.

MM applicants apply through the Bienen School of Music. PhD applicants apply online via The Graduate School at Northwestern; start by reading the PhD Application Process.

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