How do I Earn a Music PhD?

N. Madison
N. Madison

A music Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the most advanced music degree a person can earn from a higher education institution. Depending on the schools that interest you, you may pursue a PhD in music theory, music education, or composition; many schools also offer doctoral degrees in music performance. The requirements you’ll likely have to meet for a PhD in music may depend on the school at which you choose to pursue your credential. Typically, however, you’ll need to finish secondary school or obtain a general educational development (GED) diploma to get started. Then you’ll likely have to complete a bachelor’s degree in a music-related field, and some PhD programs require applicants to earn master’s degrees as well.

It’s important for a student to do well in college if his goal is to earn a PhD in music.
It’s important for a student to do well in college if his goal is to earn a PhD in music.

Most colleges and universities require applicants to earn secondary school diplomas before applying for admission to their undergraduate programs. While in high school, or even prior to that, you may benefit from taking music classes and studying subjects such as music history. You may also prepare by learning to read music. Earning a high grade point average and participating in extracurricular activities may also help you get into the college of your choice. If you don't finish secondary school, you’ll likely have to obtain a GED or similar credential before applying for college.

PhD candidates are typically assigned to an advisor who will assist them through the process of undertaking their graduate research.
PhD candidates are typically assigned to an advisor who will assist them through the process of undertaking their graduate research.

It’s also important to do well in college if your goal is earning a PhD in music. You’ll typically need a high grade point average, official transcripts, exam scores, and letters of recommendation to be accepted into a music PhD program. Some programs may require you to complete a master's level program in a music major before you apply for the PhD program. As such, you may benefit by researching requirements for music PhD programs that interest you while you are still in undergraduate school. This way, you can determine whether you’ll need to apply for a master’s program before applying to a music PhD program.

Many music PhD programs will ask for additional documents or evidence of your ability to succeed in a music doctoral program. You may be asked to write a paper or two that has a music theme, for example. You may even have to audition for some programs. Once you are accepted, you will typically complete a selection of required courses and electives. You may also be required to take exams and prepare a doctoral dissertation or complete another type of major project to earn a music PhD.

N. Madison
N. Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


There is another way to get a PhD in music performance, without doing any study at all. If you reach a certain level of fame, universities will give you honorary degrees as a kind of publicity stunt.

It really annoyed my father who spent a lot of money and worked really hard to get his PhD, when a pop star was awarded an honorary degree at the same ceremony. Admittedly, the star had probably done a lot of work on his craft as well, but still, he also had the money and accolades to show for it. Did he really need the degree as well?


@Fa5t3r - Personally, I think that a person owes it to themselves to try a variety of things, just so that they know what they want to focus on. Even if you are sure you want to do something to do with music, you might not realize whether you are better suited to performance or composition until you learn more about them.

And, once you get up to PhD level, you really need to be specific about that. A PhD requires years of steady work on a specific subject and if you aren't sure what you want that subject to be, you can waste a lot of money.


If you are contemplating a higher level degree like this from high school, it can seem very complicated. I remember thinking it was almost impossible to understand how everything worked when I was in high school and thinking about my future.

But it's important to think in steps and to think about what you enjoy and what you're good at and what you want to do in the future. Don't start out thinking that you are absolutely going to get a PhD in Music. For one thing, you might find that you don't enjoy school enough to keep going with a PhD course. It takes a long, long time to complete it and many people won't manage it before their 30s.

For another, it's important to realize that education isn't always the best way into an industry. Particularly one like music. Education is important, of course, but many people find their opportunities arrive independent of schoolwork.

Post your comments
Forgot password?