Degree Requirements

PhD in Music: Musicology

Diagnostic evaluation and initial advisement 

There will be an initial interview with the Musicology Program Coordinator to review the student’s background in Western music history, world music cultures, theory, languages, and bibliographic skills to determine the best course of study, based on the student’s interests and previous coursework.

Program of Study

The PhD in Musicology requires 18 units for those who matriculate with a master’s degree and 27 units for those entering with a bachelor’s degree only.

A typical program of study includes coursework in Western historical and global geographic musics; identification of and coursework in a non-music cognate area; electives to strengthen the student’s main area of interest; and a common core of methodological courses in Musicology. A majority of courses must be at the 400-level, and a majority, or minimum of two, each quarter must be Musicology (designated MUSICOL) unless approval is given by the Program Coordinator prior to registration.

Depending on their main field of interest, students will have to serve as a TA for the complete core Music History sequence (MUSIC 214-16) and/or the core World Music Cultures course (MUSIC 213) as part of their professional preparation.

Seminars (6-12 units)

All students will take at least one musicology seminar (400-level MUSICOL course not also listed at the 300-level) per quarter, which must include during the course of study Field Methods, Historiography, and Notation/Editing/Performance. Any substitutions must be approved in advance by the Program Coordinator.

Music Historical and Regional Studies (3-8 units)

The courses in this area will depend on the student's interests and previous coursework. Students will enroll in whichever of courses Musicology 350-355 they have not previously taken at the same level at another school and students with interest in ethnomusicology will enroll in whichever of the available courses 320-329 are available they have not previously taken at another school. With permission from the Program Coordinator, students may substitute seminars on the same periods and geographies.

Cognate Area (3 units)

Students will take three courses in a non-music field relevant to their main interest, such as Anthropology, Art History, History, Literary and Cultural Studies, Philosophy, or Sociology.

Musicological Studies (0-8 units)

Additional courses in musicology

Electives (0-6 units)

Courses in Music Education, Music Theory and Cognition, 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.

Foreign Language Requirement

The Musicology Program generates and assesses its own language examinations in French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Russian in order to emphasize the kind of readings and technical vocabularies most likely to be encountered in research on the histories and cultures of music. PhD students must pass examinations in two of these foreign languages.

The exam for each of these five languages will be offered each academic year, and will be compiled and evaluated by the Musicology faculty member with the best knowledge of the scholarly literature in that language. The examination consists of three parts and is two hours in length:

  • Part One is the translation of a substantial excerpt from a scholarly article or book chapter on a musical topic.
  • Part Two is a translation of a poem.
  • Part Three is the translation of music terms.

Students may use a bound dictionary, but no electronic resources. The exam is evaluated on a pass-fail basis, and students may pass or fail each of the three parts separately. The examiner may also ask the student about aspects of their translations before making any final determinations.

Students whose dissertation research will involve significant research in scholarly literature in a foreign language other than French, German, Italian, Spanish, or Russian may petition to replace one of their two examinations with that language, for which special arrangements will need to be made in advance.

Students interested in summer language learning should visit the relevant pages on The Graduate School website to familiarize themselves with appropriate arrangements well in advance.

Foreign Language Exam Procedure

Students planning to take any language exam in a given quarter should inform the Program Coordinator of their intentions as soon as possible. The Coordinator will pass the names of examinees for each language on to Bienen’s Graduate Services. That office will coordinate the date, time and place for each exam with the set of examinees for that language. If multiple students wish to pass the same language during the same academic year, an effort will be made to find a date mutually agreeable to those students and the faculty examiner.

It is strongly recommended that students take both language exams as early as possible, preferably before their candidacy exams. For those who need to learn or refresh knowledge of one or both required languages in order to pass a translation exam, funds are available to cover tuition for summer language courses at the University of Chicago or other CIC institution. For more information, please consult the advisors at The Graduate School.


All TA assignments for second-year PhD students will be to generally assist with the undergraduate core sequence in Music History (MUSIC 214-16) and/or World Music Cultures (MUSIC 213). After successful completion of coursework, they may teach their own sections of General Music courses. 

Qualifying Examination

The Comprehensive PhD Qualifying Exam is normally taken during the academic year following completion of coursework. No later than the final quarter of coursework, each candidate should assemble a committee of three members of the Musicology faculty, chaired by the candidate’s proposed dissertation advisor.

The examination consists of three parts, and will be administered and evaluated during a week of the student’s choosing within the regular academic year.

Part One

Part One will be given on the Monday of the chosen week, and turned in the following day. At least four months prior to the examination date, the candidate submits five broad research questions covering content and methodology relating to the general field surrounding the dissertation area. These questions may be modified or conflated by the student's committee in order to generate three questions from which the candidate will select two. These essays are typically 2,500-3,000 words in length. This portion of the examination may be completed by the student at home. The answers should demonstrate the student’s command not only of the issues raised by the questions, but also the relevant scholarly literature cited with author-date references within the body of the two answers, as well as an attached bibliography prepared in advance.

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Part Two

Part Two of the examination will occur on the Wednesday of the chosen week. As preparation for this, the candidate must submit to the committee at least four months in advance of the proposed examination date a list of 40 musical works. For historical musicology, this list must include all time periods and geographies of Western tradition. The committee with input from the rest of the Musicology faculty, may at its discretion replace with other choices a substantial portion of the items on the submitted list. The examination will consist of a set of five questions about the listed works, of which the student will answer four, and will emphasize not only aspects of the individual pieces, but connections between and among them, as well as the cultures in which they were produced. This part of the examination is closed-book, to be completed within an eight-hour period inclusive of breaks. The length of individual essays will vary widely but the overall length of this portion of the exam should amount to around 3,500-4,000 words. 

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Part Three

Part Three of the examination takes place on Friday of the chosen week, and is a teaching demonstration at the sophomore level, designed to replicate the teaching aspect of an academic job interview. The topic, which will lie outside the candidate's area of expertise, will be presented to the candidate the Friday before the exam. This 45-minute demonstration will be given before the Committee and any other Musicology faculty members who wish to attend. Following the teaching demonstration will be a question period during which the Committee will ask the candidate any questions they have about any part of the exam. The outcome may be pass, fail, or a provisional pass, which then may involve an additional oral or written examination at a later date.

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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 Musicology 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 and Oral Defense

The student will complete the dissertation under the direction of a committee comprised of three or four current faculty of Northwestern University, at least two of whom must be members of the Musicology program. The Director (advisor) must be on 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, and, following a successful defense, the student and committee must complete and submit the PhD Final Form via TGS or CAESAR. 


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