PhD in Music

The UBC School of Music offers a PhD in Music with an emphasis on Musicology, Music Theory, or Ethnomusicology.

Qualified students may combine the curricula of two or more emphasis in their programs of study with the supervisory committee’s approval. We designed the program to provide thorough training in musical research and analysis techniques and applications.

In addition to offering courses in the established practices of their respective fields, the academic faculty have eclectic interests that bridge conventionally separate disciplines, or historical and geographical area specialities. Members of all divisions teach and write about world popular music of many kinds. A Canadian Indigenous music scholar teaches a cross-disciplinary course in critical studies. Theorists and ethnomusicologists collaborate on the analysis of world traditional musics; historical musicologists branch out to write and teach about sound studies, Cantonese music, or opera in global context; and our music theory faculty research rhythm and cognition in many aspects.

  1. Prerequisites and remedial subjects. Registration in Music 512E (Directed Individual Studies).
  2. Course work (curriculum, language requirements).
  3. Formal approval of thesis topic. At this time the student should present for approval to the advisory committee evidence of progress such as a bibliography, an outline of methodology, a ground plan of themes to be explored and expanded, etc.
  4. Comprehensive examinations
  5. Advancement to candidacy and completion of Music 512E (by the end of the third year).
  6. Research and fieldwork (if applicable); thesis (Music 649); and final oral examination.

Entrance requirements

To enter the PhD in music, you should have completed a master’s degree or its equivalent, including a thesis, and follow our entrance requirements:

You should demonstrate extensive experience with music history research and bibliographical techniques, as well as in German or French (see the explanatory notes to the MA in Historical Musicology).

To be eligible for entry into the Music Theory emphasis, you should demonstrate experience with music-theoretical research and have completed a program of study comparable to our MA in Music Theory.

To be eligible for entry into the Ethnomusicology emphasis; you should have:

  • Completed Music 520 (Introduction to Music Research) or its equivalent.
  • Completed at least two graduate seminars in ethnomusicological theory, method, and/or transcription (the equivalents of Music 529 and 531).
  • Demonstrated reading or fieldwork proficiency in one language beyond your first language (see the explanatory notes to the MA in Ethnomusicology).

  • Students who have completed 12 credits in the first year of an MA program may, at the discretion of the faculty, accelerate directly into the PhD (without completing the MA thesis) if they have demonstrated sufficient mastery of graduate-level material and development as a scholarly writer.
  • Students who wish to transfer from a master’s to a doctoral program must have completed one year of study in the master’s program with a minimum 80% average in 12 credits, of which at least nine credits must be at the 500 level or above and at least nine credits must be at 80% or above and must show clear evidence of research ability.

Program and progress review

Each year in the spring term, the appropriate division will review your program and your progress to allow you to continue with your PhD in Music degree.


In addition to MUSC 649 (PhD thesis, no credit), you will take 21 credits of coursework as specified below. Your supervisory committee must approve all programs of study.

The minimum of 21 credits of course work will include the following:

  • 3 credits of Music 512E (Directed Individual Studies) taken on a topic related to the subject of your PhD thesis. You should register in Music 512E during the first year of doctoral study and remain in this course until you have advanced to candidacy.
  • You should take at least 12 credits (four courses) of seminars in Musicology, one from each of the historical periods: pre-1600, 1700-1800, 1800-1900, and 1900-present. Eligible Musicology courses include:
    • 523 Seminar in Medieval Music - 3/6 credits
    • 524 Seminar in Renaissance Music - 3/6 credits
    • 525 Seminar in Baroque Music - 3/6 credits
    • 526 Seminar in the Classical Period Music - 3/6 credits
    • 527 Seminar in Nineteenth-Century Music - 3/6 credits
    • 528 Seminar in Twentieth/Twenty-First Century Music - 3/6 credits
    • 532 Advanced Studies in Music History and Musicology - 3/6 credits
    • Note that actual topics will vary from one year to another. Conceivably one seminar of the same number may be taken twice if offered on two different topics. With the supervisory committee’s approval, other courses may be counted toward these 12 credits in Musicology.
  • 6 credits (two courses) in Music Theory at the 500 level. Music Theory courses should have a strong analytical component.

You are encouraged to take or audit additional elective courses in addition to the minimum program requirements.

In addition to the 21 required credits, you may elect up to 4 credits of Music ensemble or, with permission of the Director of the School of Music, Music Performance.

The minimum of 21 hours of coursework will be determined by the student and their committee, and will include the following:

  • Graduate seminars on topics in music theory and analysis - 9 credits
    • Note: In addition to these 9 credits, graduate seminars from our MA curriculum (including Music 501 or Advanced Schenkerian Analysis) may be required by the supervisory committee for students who have not completed similar courses previously. 
  • 512E Directed Individual Studies - 3 credits
    • Note: Must be taken on a topic related to the subject of the PhD thesis. You should register in Music 512E during the first year of doctoral study and remain in this course until you have advanced to candidacy.
  • Two 500-level seminars in Musicology, one on music before 1800, and one on music since 1800 - 6 credits
  • Any 300- or higher-level course in music or another discipline, as approved by the student's supervisory committee - 3 credits

The 21 credits should be distributed as follows:

  • 512E Directed Individual Studies - 3 credits
    • Note: Must be taken on a topic related to the subject of your PhD thesis. You should register in Music 512E during the first year of doctoral study and remain in this course until you have advanced to candidacy.
  • At least 12 credits of Music courses selected from the following:
    • 428 Area Studies in Ethnic Music - 3 credits
      • Note: May be repeated with a different topic.
    • 529 Seminar in Ethnomusicology - 3 credits
      • Note: If this course has been taken at the MA level and/or at another institution, it may be repeated for credit toward the PhD if the content is sufficiently different, and with the instructor’s permission.
    • 530 Topics in Ethnomusicology - 3/6 credits
    • 531 Seminar in Ethnomusicology - 3/6 credits
    • 532 Advanced Studies in Music History and Musicology - 3/6 credits
      • Note: May be repeated with a different topic.
    • 533 Advanced Studies in Music Theory - 3/6 credits
      • Note: May be repeated with a different topic.
    • 565 World Music Ensemble - 3 credits
    • 566 Intensive Chamber Ensemble - 1 credit
  • Elective courses: 6 credits - Any 300- or higher-level courses in historical musicology, music theory, or composition; and/or cognate electives chosen from upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses in Anthropology, Asian Studies (including languages), or another non-music discipline related to the student's area of research.

Note for MA transfer students

Students permitted to transfer from the MA to the PhD require 27 credits of coursework in total. The first 6 credits of MA coursework will not transfer to the PhD.

Language requirements

  • German and French reading knowledge is a prerequisite to the program and shall be tested by a language examination before advancement to candidacy.
  • You may also require proficiency in a third language if the advisory committee deems it essential for thesis research.
  • Language requirements will be tested by an examination administered by faculty within the division of Musicology. During the examination, you will be provided with a roughly 500-word excerpt in the original language (generally relevant to your field of research) and given 60 minutes to provide a written translation that demonstrates accurate comprehension of the passage (a polished translation is not required). You may use a dictionary for this examination.
    • In cases where a faculty member in the division of Musicology is not available or competent to administer such an examination, we will make arrangements with faculty in another department at UBC.

  • A reading knowledge of a language other than English is a prerequisite to the program; students admitted with a deficiency in this area must rectify it by the end of the first winter session of their PhD program.
  • Proficiency in a second language may also be required if the advisory committee deems it essential for thesis research.

  • A reading or fieldwork proficiency in a second language is a prerequisite to the program (if you are admitted with a deficiency in this area, you must rectify it by the end of your first winter session in the PhD program).
  • For the PhD, one additional language will normally be required, ideally a language or dialect appropriate to the proposed research area. If your research requires more intensive language study than basic reading knowledge (such as spoken Chinese or classical Chinese) further work in a single language may be recognized as fulfilling this requirement.

Comprehensive examinations

You must successfully complete your comprehensive examinations before you may actively pursue research for your PhD thesis– except for the preparatory studies conducted as part of Music 512E.

You may take these examinations only after removing all entrance deficiencies, satisfying the language proficiency requirements, completing all course work, and receiving official approval of your PhD thesis topic.

  • A written examination covering the major historical eras: Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Twentieth Century to the present. You must answer one question from each of these eras.
  • A written examination covering questions related to your chosen area of research for your PhD thesis.
  • An oral examination with emphasis on your chosen research area, but dealing with subjects related to the written examination and possibly several selected sound recordings.

  • A written examination in music analysis; you will be assigned a small number of compositions before being examined.
  • A written examination dealing with major trends and scholarly contributions to music theory, historical and recent, with some emphasis on topics relevant to your thesis proposal.
  • An oral examination involves prepared oral presentations on four topics closely related to the thesis project and directly engaging:
    • a selected body of music associated with the thesis topic and
    • selected scholarly contributions, contemporary and historical, pertinent to this repertoire.

The comprehensive examination has five parts, each devoted to a general topic chosen in consultation between the student and faculty. The student then prepares a bibliography related to the chosen topics and uses this to guide a period of reading and study lasting about six months. About one month prior to mutually agreed-upon examination dates, the committee and student meet to narrow down specific topics to be addressed in the exam itself.

The exam format is subject to some flexibility but, in general, lasts two days. It consists of five activities chosen from among the following

  • Sit-down essay(s) written in two-hour exam format
  • A conference presentation
  • An undergraduate lecture class (mock, or real if schedule permits)
  • A graduate seminar (given to peers in the program) with bibliographic supplement
  • A comparative book review (prepared in advance)
  • A grant proposal (prepared in advance)
  • Video documentary or podcast(s) (prepared in advance)
  • Others the student and committee may propose

PhD thesis and advisory committee

You must take 3 credits of Music 512E (Directed Individual Studies) to formulate a proposal for the thesis topic. You should register in Music 512E during the first year of doctoral study; this course will continue until the student advances to candidacy. The principal supervisor will provide a grade for Music 512E.

The School of Music must then approve the thesis proposal before you can take the comprehensive examinations. In accordance with your proposed research area, a committee will be established early in the period of residency. This advisory committee will include the thesis supervisor and at least two other members, one of whom may be drawn from outside the School of Music.

The basic requirements for a doctoral student to be admitted to candidacy are:

  • All required coursework, remedial requirements, and language requirements have been successfully completed
  • The comprehensive examination has been passed
  • A thesis prospectus has been approved

A graduate program may also wish to apply additional criteria for students to be admitted to candidacy. In such cases, the graduate program must inform the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and the student(s) of these criteria in writing.

You are normally expected to complete your comprehensive examination within 24-30 months from initial registration. The deadline for advancement to candidacy is 36 months from initial registration. Extension of this period may be permitted by the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies in exceptional circumstances.

As soon as you have satisfied all requirements, the graduate program must recommend that you be admitted to candidacy to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. The appropriate form is to be found on the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies website.

The PhD thesis must be researched and written under the direction of the thesis supervisor and with the assistance of the candidate's committee as required.

The dissertation should demonstrate a capacity for research that enhances or qualifies existing bodies of knowledge or presents critical new interpretations of prevailing materials and methods.

It must satisfy all requirements established by the Faculty of Graduate Studies in its final form. An external examiner will be asked to evaluate the thesis and, when possible, to join the committee for the final oral defence.

You should consult the Faculty of Graduate Studies website for deadline dates for submitting the doctoral thesis and information concerning the final oral examination.

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