Degree Requirements

PhD in Music: Composition and Music Technology

Diagnostic evaluation and initial advisement

There will be an initial interview with the Composition and Music Technology faculty to review the student’s background to determine the best course of study, based on the student’s interests and previous coursework. Students should regard all members of the faculty as advisors throughout the period of their degree studies. 

Program of Study

This program requires 18 units for those who matriculate with a master’s degree and 27 units for those entering with a bachelor’s degree only.

Applied Composition (6-9 units)

All students will take Applied Composition (MUS_COMP 512) per quarter of their coursework.

Core Coursework

MUSIC 540: Doctoral Music Research 
MUSICOL 400: Graduate Review of History
MUS_COMP 439: Materials of Music 1900-1947 
MUS_COMP 439: Materials of Music Since 1945
MUS TECH 300-level or above (3 units)
MUS_COMP 437 or 439 or 440 (3 units total)

Cognate Area (3 units)

Students will take three courses in a non-music field relevant to their main interest.

Electives (0-6 units)

Courses in Music Education, Music Theory and Cognition, Musicology or other Humanities and Social Sciences.

Students who wish to register for elective classes at other universities may do so via two programs with prior consent of the student’s advisor: CIC Traveling Scholar Program or Chicago Metropolitan Exchange Program. Questions about these programs should be directed to The Graduate School.

It is typical for whomever the student is currently taking MUS_COMP 512 to be considered as their primary advisor. 

Composition Colloquium

All students are required to register for and attend the weekly Composer’s Colloquium each quarter during residency. Each student is expected to regularly pursue additional performances on the Student Composers’ Concerts, Performance Studies student recitals, local/national conferences, etc. Student composers are expected to demonstrate active involvement in the above mentioned activities and to maintain a productive composition level throughout the program. A high level of achievement must be present in the following areas: composition, 20th/21st-century music, use of music technology tools, theory, orchestration, harmony, counterpoint, analysis, aural skills, and keyboard skills. 


All TA assignments for second-year PhD students will be to teach a variety of courses, including MUS_COMP 113 Class Composition; GEN_MUS 175 Selected Topics in Music Literature for Non-Majors; GEN_MUS 176 Selected Topics in Applied Music for Non-Majors; and MUSIC 126-1,2,3 Aural Skills I, II, & III. 

Students who desire to gain experience in Aural Skills will be assigned to teach all three quarters of the academic year, as this course is a structured sequential offering for undergraduate music majors. Students who desire to teach in General Music or Class Composition will typically teach only one quarter per academic year; however, the opportunity exists to teach more frequently as desired.

Students will be required to teach no later than Year 3, but will receive individual advisement at the end of Year 1 to address their career objectives and any pedagogical deficiencies that need to be addressed before assignment.

Doctoral Committee

No later than the final quarter of coursework, each candidate should assemble a committee of three members of the Music Studies faculty, two of whom must be members of the Composition and Music Technology faculty. This committee will be chaired by the candidate’s proposed dissertation advisor. The Doctoral Committee Chair serves as primary advisor from that point onwards in the candidate’s work towards the degree, and as first reader of the dissertation.

The Doctoral Committee has four functions:

  1. To supervise and attend the Doctoral Recital
  2. To administer the Comprehensive PhD Qualifying Exams
  3. To approve the Dissertation Prospectus
  4. To supervise and approve both parts of the Dissertation — the doctoral composition as well as the scholarly written essay when both have been completed to the satisfaction of the committee

Doctoral Recital

One full recital of works (approximately 60 minutes of music) on the Evanston campus is required. Students are responsible for arranging all aspects of the recital. The recital program may consist of any combination of works written after the initial registration in the doctoral program. All music to be presented on the recital, approximate date/alternate dates and program information must be approved by the Primary Advisor prior to the recital. Depending on when the recital is scheduled, the Primary Advisor may be either their current composition teacher or their Doctoral Committee Chair. 

Qualifying Examinations

The Comprehensive PhD Qualifying Exams are normally taken during the academic year following completion of coursework. They are administered by the Doctoral Committee, as constituted above. 

These Qualifying Exams will consist of three research/analysis projects, each of which typically culminates in a written paper. Each member of the Doctoral Committee is responsible for articulating a topic that the student prepares to address through research, or analysis of a selected score; the student responds with a written essay of approximately 25-30 pages per project. 

  1. Written portion (three essays as described above)
  2. Oral exam with Doctoral Committee: the oral portion of the composition qualifying exam can address topics including, but not limited to, those items covered in the written exams and will also include a discussion of the Dissertation Prospectus
  3. Teaching demonstration

Dissertation Prospectus

According to The Graduate School doctoral students who have not passed the prospectus by the end of the fourth year are not making satisfactory progress toward the degree. The prospectus in Composition and Music Technology is to be completed as soon as possible after passing the comprehensive examination. It consists of a proposal for the dissertation which outlines the topic, its significance, its methodologies, and includes a survey of the current scholarly literature and primary sources necessary for successful completion of the dissertation as well as a comprehensive bibliography.

The prospectus will be evaluated by the student's dissertation committee, and will be formally accepted after a brief defense. Following the successful defense, the student and their committee must complete the Prospectus Form via TGS on CAESAR. 

Dissertation Requirements

  1. A composition (the Doctoral Composition) of substantially ambitious scope (to be determined with the approval of the members of the Doctoral Committee)
  2. A scholarly analytical essay on a topic agreed upon by the candidate and their committee.

The two documents represent the culmination of intensive and original research that will make a meaningful contribution to knowledge in the student’s field. Students must consult with their dissertation advisor and committee before undertaking any writing. Both portions must be completed and approved by the student’s dissertation committee before the dissertation requirement can be considered to have been actually fulfilled.

The scholarly essay should be aimed at the same readership as that of an established professional journal (e.g., Contemporary Music Review, Perspectives of New Music, Tempo, et al.), with a target length of 5,000 words. 

Dissertation Completion

The student will complete the dissertation under the direction of a committee comprised of three current faculty of Northwestern University, at least two of whom must be members of the Composition and Music Technology program. The Doctoral Committee Chair must be a member of The Graduate School faculty. The student is encouraged to apply for external funding of dissertation research through TGS and the Office of Fellowships. Dissertations must be formatted according to TGS Dissertation Formatting Guidelines. The student and committee must complete and submit the PhD Final Form via CAESAR.


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