Degree Requirements

PhD in Music: Composition and Music Technology

Diagnostic evaluation and initial advisement

An initial interview with the Composition and Music Technology faculty will 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.

Academic Advisement

The faculty member with whom the student is currently taking MUS_COMP 512 is considered as their primary advisor. By the beginning of a student’s third year, the chair of their doctoral committee serves as primary advisor for the remainder of their degree.

Program of Study

18 units for students who matriculate with a master’s degree
27 units for students who matriculate with a bachelor’s degree

Applied Composition – 6-9 units

Students must enroll for applied composition in each quarter of coursework.

MUS COMP 512 Applied Composition

Core Coursework – 8 units

MUSIC 540 Doctoral Music Research
MUSICOL 400 Graduate Review of Music History
MUS COMP 439: Materials of Music 1900-1947
MUS COMP 439: Materials of Music Since 1945
MUS TECH, 300 level and above – 2 units
MUS COMP 437 or 439 or 440 – 2 units

Cognate Area – 3 units

Students enroll in three courses in a non-music field relevant to their main interest. For example, a student may enroll in three courses in Screen Cultures or Environmental Sciences. Another possibility is to take courses within one of the many existing interdisciplinary Clusters (such as African Studies or Critical Theory) organized by The Graduate School. Additionally, a student may devise their own interdisciplinary cognate area under the supervision of their primary advisor, if their non-musical interests direct them towards research in an area without a preexisting Cluster. (See TGS website: Clusters and Certificates)

Electives – 0-6 units

Courses in music theory and cognition, musicology, music education, conducting (with approval of conducting faculty), humanities and social sciences, or science and engineering.

Students who wish to register for elective classes at other universities may do so via two programs:

  1. The Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA), a consortium of the Big Ten schools and the University of Chicago
  2. The Chicago Metropolitan Exchange Program (CMEP) in collaboration with the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago

Questions about these programs should be directed to Bienen Graduate Services with prior consent of the student’s primary advisor.

Composition Colloquium – 0 units, 6-9 registrations required


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 composer’s concert, performance study student recitals, and local/national conferences, etc. Student composers are expected to demonstrate active involvement in the aforementioned 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 and 21st century music, use of music technology tools, theory, orchestration, harmony, counterpoint, analysis, aural skills, and keyboard skills.

Recital – 0 units, 1 registration

MUS COMP 580 Doctoral Recital


PhD students are expected to teach a variety of courses, and teaching assignments are made in consultation with a student’s primary advisor. Composition students typically teach at least one quarter of MUS COMP 211 Class Composition during their fourth year. Students who desire to gain experience in aural skills may teach three consecutive quarters of MUSIC 126 or 226 in fall, winter, and spring to undergraduate music majors.

Doctoral Committee

Students must assemble a doctoral committee by the spring quarter of their second year. The committee must be comprised of three current faculty members at Northwestern University, two of whom must be part of the Composition and Music Technology program. The committee must be chaired by the proposed dissertation advisor, who must be a member of the Graduate School faculty. The chair serves as the primary advisor from that point on, and as first reader of the dissertation.

The Doctoral Committee has four functions:

  1. To administer the comprehensive PhD qualifying exams;
  2. To approve the dissertation prospectus;
  3. To supervise and approve both parts of the dissertation – the doctoral composition and the scholarly written essay when both have been completed to the satisfaction of the committee.
  4. To supervise and attend the Doctoral Recital.

Qualifying Examinations

Students begin the qualifying exams in their third year and must complete them by the end of the spring quarter of the third year. The exams are administered by the doctoral committee and consist of a written and oral portion. For the written part, each member of the committee, in conjunction with the student, selects a specific research and/or analysis topic. Students may write an article-length essay (20-30 pages) submitted to the faculty member by an agreed upon date, or take an exam given by the faculty member during an agreed upon three-day period. The oral portion of the composition qualifying exams may address topics including, but not limited to, those items covered in the written exams.

Students should submit the PhD Qualifying Exam form in GSTS after successful completion of the exams.

Dissertation Prospectus

Students must complete their prospectus as soon as possible after passing the qualifying examinations, but no later than the end of their fourth year. The prospectus 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 and a comprehensive bibliography. The prospectus is evaluated by the doctoral committee and is formally accepted after a brief defense.

Students should submit the PhD Prospectus form in GSTS after successful defense and acceptance of the prospectus.

Dissertation Requirement

The requirements consist of:

  • a composition of substantially ambitious scope, to be determined with the approval of the members of the committee, and

  • a scholarly analytical essay on a topic agreed upon by the candidate and their committee. The 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.

The two documents represent the culmination of intensive and original research, and must make a meaningful contribution to knowledge in the field. Students must consult with their committee before undertaking any writing. Both the composition and the scholarly analytical essay must be completed and approved by the committee before the dissertation requirement is considered fulfilled.

Dissertation Completion

Students are encouraged to apply for funding for dissertation research through TGS and the Office of Fellowships. Dissertations must be formatted according to TGS Dissertation Formatting Guidelines. Students should submit the PhD Final Exam form in GSTS once the composition and the scholarly essay are completed and approved by the committee.

Doctoral Recital

One full recital of works is required. Students are responsible for arranging all aspects of the recital. The recital program must be approximately 60 minutes of music, and may consist of any combination of works written after the registration in the PhD program. All music to be presented on the recital, approximate date/alternate dates, and the location and program information must be approved by the committee chair prior to the recital.


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