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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 musicology and ethnomusicology. The Music Department does not offer the terminal M.A. degree. 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 coursework, fulfilled all the supplementary requirements, and taken the qualifying examination, advanced to candidacy, and completed a prospectus for the dissertation by the end of two years. 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 the university. Graduates of the Berkeley Music Department play prominent roles in distinguished musical institutions across the nation and abroad.

Areas of specialization

Each of the graduate programs — compositionethnomusicology, and musicology— 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.


Students in the musicology 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.


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.). Funding for summers and research travel is available by application. In addition, students apply for Graduate Division and Extramural Fellowships.

Language Proficiency

Doctoral students must demonstrate reading proficiency in two languages, either by passing an exam or four semesters of language coursework. This requirement must be satisfied before 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. 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 teach under faculty supervision.

The Ph.D. Qualifying Exam

The purpose of the Qualifying Examination is to determine that the student is an expert in specific subject areas and can in all likelihood design and produce an acceptable dissertation. The Ph.D. Qualifying Exam Committee consists of four faculty members. The chair of the committee 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.


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.