Degree Requirements

PhD in Music: Musicology


PhD students should regularly consult with the Musicology Program Coordinator to determine the best course of study, based on the student’s interests and previous coursework.

Program of Study – 18 units

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. Most courses must be at the 400 or 500 level, and a majority, or minimum of two, each quarter must be in Musicology (designated MUSICOL in CAESAR) unless approval is given by the program coordinator prior to registration.

All students are expected to finish required Musicology coursework (18 units) within two years. The faculty reserves the right to require additional coursework for students who do not pass the repertoire exam in the second year of study. Supplementary coursework, e.g., toward a certificate program, cognate area, or any Music Studies field, may be taken during the third year.

Musicology Core – 3 units

MUSICOL 523 Ethnographic Field Methods
MUSICOL 535 Music Historiography
MUSICOL 560 Notation and Editing

Cognate Area – 3 units

Students enroll in three courses in a non-music field relevant to their main interest, for example Anthropology, Art History, History, Literary and Cultural Studies, Philosophy, or Sociology.

Musicological Studies – 6 units

Additional courses in musicology, 300 to 500 level. PhD students should register for the highest level of courses with multiple course numbers.

Electives – 6 units

Courses in other Music Studies areas (Music Education, Music Theory and Cognition, etc), Musicology, or other Humanities and Social Sciences.

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.

Foreign Language Requirement

Students are required to pass one foreign language exam. Students may select the foreign language in consultation with the faculty.

Students who need to learn or refresh knowledge of any language may enroll in language courses through Northwestern, the BTAA, or CMEP.

The Program Coordinator schedules the language exams. Students planning on attempting the exam during any quarter should notify the Musicology Coordinator of their intention to take the exam at least two months in advance.


Second-year students are often assigned as teaching assistants for the undergraduate core sequence in Music History (MUSIC 214, 215, and 216) and/or World Music Cultures (MUSIC 213) as part of their professional preparation. 

Students may not teach independently during fall quarter of their third year, but may teach their own sections of general music (GEN MUS) courses during winter and spring quarters of their third year.

Qualifying Examination

The Musicology PhD qualifying examination is a multi-year, multi-part process that begins at the end of the student’s first year.

First Year

May: All students in the cohort are given a single list of 40 works that will constitute the basis of their repertoire exam, to be taken in September of the second year. The works list, which will change from year to year, is constituted by a committee of three full-time faculty members, each of whom chooses 15 works (with 5 of the resulting 45 eliminated by the committee chair to ensure a balance of eras, genres, etc.). Students are expected to study the 40 works over the summer to prepare for the Repertoire Exam in September. Students should familiarize themselves with the works, understand how they relate to their social and musical contexts, and know the most significant scholarship on these works.

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Second Year

September: All students in the cohort take the Repertoire Exam. It will consist of 5 score identifications and 5 listening identifications drawn from the list of 40 works specified the previous May. The score identification and listening excerpts will be presented to the student (each in their own room in the Advising Center on the second floor of RCMA without internet access) 90 minutes before they meet with the exam committee to discuss them. Students who fail a portion of the Repertoire Exam will be given an opportunity to retake it in December.

December: Repertoire Exam retake. Students who fail the Repertoire Exam a second time may be asked to take up to 9 additional credits of coursework. They will be placed on academic probation and permitted to retake the repertoire exam a third time with a new list of 40 works the following October.

May: Students who have passed the Repertoire Exam are given four musicological topics (which may be historical, ethnographic, methodological, etc.), of which they choose three to address in the Essay portion of the exam. The topics will be chosen to avoid the students’ areas of specialization. Work on the Essays is to be undertaken independently during the summer. Each Essay is to be no more than 20 pages (double-spaced) in length, excluding bibliography. 

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Third Year

September: Students submit their three Essays on a date specified by the exam committee. Each examinee meets with the three-member faculty exam committee to discuss the Essays. If the Essays are deemed satisfactory, the student passes this portion of the exam. If the Essays are deemed unsatisfactory, the student will revise and resubmit them and undertake a second discussion in December. If the student fails the Essay portion a second time in December, they may be asked to take up to six additional credits of coursework. In this case, they will either be given an opportunity to retake the Essay Portion (with different topics) the following Fall Quarter, or be formally excluded from the PhD program.

October: Regardless of whether the student passes the Essay portion of the exam, they will present a Teaching Demonstration on a topic chosen by the Committee and shared with the candidate one month before the date of their lecture. All three committee members will attend each lecture. Following the lecture, the student will meet with the committee to discuss the Teaching Demonstration, after which the committee will meet privately to determine whether the student has passed. If a student fails, they will be asked to give another Teaching Demonstration in December (for faculty alone, without undergraduates present, and perhaps on a revised or entirely different topic). If the student fails a second time in December, they may be asked to take up to an additional six credits of coursework. In this case, they will attempt to pass the Teaching Examination the following Fall Quarter. Depending upon the judgment of the faculty as a whole, if the student fails the Teaching Demonstration a second time, they may be formally excluded from the PhD program but given the opportunity to complete a terminal Master’s degree following the completion of remaining credits.

December: Students who have failed the Essay portion of the exam and/or the Teaching Demonstration will be given an opportunity to resubmit/retake those portions. If a student fails either portion of the exam a second time, they will potentially be given a terminal Master’s degree and formally excluded from the PhD program. 

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Doctoral Committees

There are two separate faculty exam committees each fall quarter for the Qualifying Exams.

  1. Repertoire Exam Committee of three full-time musicology faculty members; 
  2. An Essay and Teaching Demonstration Exam Committee consisting of three full-time musicology faculty members.

Ideally no one faculty member will serve simultaneously on both exam committees, though this may at times be unavoidable. Each exam committee has a Chair responsible for coordinating the content and mechanics of the exam.

Each student must formally identify their dissertation committee (including the primary advisor), at the time they submit a prospectus for approval. Identification of an advisor should begin with verbal agreements between the student, the advisor, and the other committee members well before the prospectus is submitted.

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 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 chair must be on The Graduate School faculty.

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 following a successful defense.


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