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Graduate Studies

The Department of Music at Berkeley is one of the oldest and most prominent in the country, bringing together a renowned group of composers, scholars, and performers. The graduate program is ranked among the top in the nation. The department offers the M.A./Ph.D. and the Ph.D. degrees (for those who have previously completed a Master’s degree) in composition and scholarship, the latter with options in the history and literature of Western music and in ethnomusicology. The Music Department does not offer the terminal M.A. degree. The program provides graduate students with a solid mastery of their discipline while cultivating a sense of intellectual and creative independence. Students are free to explore related fields of study both within the music program itself and in the larger university. Graduates of the Berkeley Music Department play prominent roles in distinguished musical institutions across the nation and abroad.


Students are supported by fellowships and teaching opportunities. A typical funding package consists of tuition, health insurance, and student fees, plus a stipend guaranteed for five years (M.A./Ph.D.) or four years (Ph.D.). Students are awarded a fellowship in their first year. Support in subsequent years is in the form of a combination of fellowships and appointments as Graduate Student Instructors. Additional support for summers and research travel is available by application. In addition, students apply for Graduate Division and Extramural Fellowships during their tenure as a graduate student.

Areas of specialization

Each of the graduate programs — compositionethnomusicology, and history and literature — has a set of requirements that are tailored for the particular specialization.


Students in composition  are encouraged to create music that is personal both in style and content while building a firm technical foundation. Composition is taught through seminars and independent studies by all composers on the faculty. Opportunities exist for public performances of student compositions, including chamber, vocal, and orchestral works. Facilities are available for work in electronic and computer music.  For more information, view the Graduate Student Handbook.


Students in ethnomusicology prepare for ethnographic research, through the study of cultural theory and methodology from various disciplines. Each student’s program is individually designed in consultation with an advisor, including opportunities for drawing on Berkeley’s considerable resources in related disciplines and area studies. For more information, view the Graduate Student Handbook.

History & Literature

Students in the history and literature program gain skills for historical research while developing a sense of critical inquiry and intellectual independence. The M.A. program introduces students to musicological methods and techniques and at the same time seeks to broaden their horizons through a variety of courses, including analysis and ethnomusicology. The Ph.D. involves more detailed work in research seminars and special studies. Dissertation topics at Berkeley have run the gamut of scholarly approaches and subjects, from source studies to theoretical or critical works, and from early medieval chant to the music of the present day. For more information, view the Graduate Student Handbook.

The Master of Arts Degree

The period of study in all areas of specialization is four semesters ending with the M.A. comprehensive examination. The general course requirement for the M.A. is 24 units, at least 12 of which must be in the graduate series in music.

The Doctor of Philosophy Degree

Since the Ph.D. degree is awarded for original, creative achievement, not for the mere completion of a course of study, course and unit requirements are not rigidly prescribed. There is an academic residence requirement of two years. The amount of time needed to complete the Ph.D. varies considerably from one student to another, but students are encouraged to proceed as fast as they can and as the nature of their doctoral project allows. It is expected that the typical student (having obtained an M.A. degree) will have pursued sufficient course work, fulfilled all the supplementary requirements, and taken the qualifying examination, advanced to candidacy, and completed a prospectus for the doctoral project by the end of two years.  After this time the only requirement is that the student satisfactorily complete the doctoral project.

Language Proficiency

Doctoral students must satisfy a foreign language requirement of reading knowledge of two languages.

Proficiency in a language is usually demonstrated by a written examination consisting of a passage (or passages) totaling a minimum of 300 words, at least partly taken from the literature on music. Proficiency in the second language may be established either by examination or by four semesters of coursework with a grade of B or better. For students who enter at the M.A. level, one language must be completed before the M.A. exam. Students entering at the Ph.D. level must complete both language requirements prior to completion of the Qualifying Exam.

Graduate Student Instructors

The department employs graduate students after their first year of study to be graduate student instructors in a variety of courses in European music history, American music cultures, ear training, harmony, computer music, chorus, and orchestra. Teaching experience and training of this kind are philosophical and practical aims of the program, and a primary means of student support. The department has as one of its principal goals the preparation of teachers for colleges and universities. Every effort is made to ensure that graduates have the knowledge, imagination, and musical and pedagogical skills to enable them to inform and inspire others.

An unusual feature of the program, and a major advantage for students at Berkeley, is the number and variety of courses in which they are given employment and in which they teach under faculty supervision. Teaching experience of this kind is both a philosophical and practical aim of the program and a means of student support. The department employs graduate students (normally after their first year of study) as graduate student instructors in courses in European music history and appreciation, American music cultures, ear training, harmony, computer music, chorus, and orchestra.

The Ph.D. Qualifying Exam

The purpose of the Qualifying Examination is to determine that the student is an expert in those areas that have been specified for the examination, and can in all likelihood design and produce an acceptable dissertation.

The Ph.D. Qualifying Exam Committee consists of four faculty members: three from the Department of Music and one outside member who must be a member of the Academic Senate. One of the members of the committee functions as chair. The chair of the committee must be a member of the Academic Senate and cannot be the same as the chair of the student’s dissertation committee.

The Doctoral Dissertation

Each doctoral candidate must be responsible for and prepare a dissertation representing his or her own contribution to original scholarship or creative work. The student’s project must be approved and guided by a Dissertation Committee comprising three members of the faculty, including the Dissertation Chair and two additional pertinent specialists, one of whom must be from a department other than Music.


The traditional career for Ph.D.s in music has been university and college teaching. There are also other professional activities for which a Ph.D. in music is desirable, such as editing, criticism, arts management, music technology, and professional composing.

Members of the faculty provide advice on career planning, dossiers, and interviews, as well as recommendations for job candidacies. Berkeley Ph.D.s are likely to compete successfully for positions at leading institutions. Competition, however, is keen and advisors work closely with students to help them plan a course of study that reflects the realities of the job market.