I was looking at some sites of music universities (mainly in the US) and I saw that you could do a PhD in Music.

This made me wonder: What exactly does a PhD student in music do?

If I'm not mistaken, PhD students do some kind of research, right?

So what kind of research can a music PhD be?

  • Take a look at the British Uni. sites. There's a lot of info on them.
    – Tim
    May 29, 2014 at 9:59
  • 1
    Great question +1: Check out Will Gay Bottje (born 1925), DMA, Eastman School of Music, 1955 first in the nation to earn this degree. I can verify this as I was one of his electronic music students many years ago. Amazing, profound, think out of the box, hands on, incredible ear, one of the best composers if not professors of music of the 20th century. He is also a great friend, flutist, and champion of the arts.
    – filzilla
    May 29, 2014 at 15:52

2 Answers 2


The University of Indiana's School of Music is the largest college music program in the USA. From their web page, Doctoral Degree Programs:

The Graduate Division of the Jacobs School of Music offers course work leading to the degree of Doctor of Music in the areas of music literature and performance, composition, and conducting. The Jacobs School of Music also offers the Doctor of Music Education degree and, through the University Graduate School, the Doctor of Philosophy degree in the areas of musicology, music education, and music theory.

So a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in Music in Musicology, Music Education, or Music Theory would be more oriented toward becoming a person who could teach those particular subjects to undergraduate students in college. These three subjects have to do with academic research and writing books and publishing papers, much more than being a performing musician.

In contrast, a Doctor of Music (DMA) degree would be the highest degree for a performing musician, composer, or orchestra or choral conductor.

I'm not sure what the difference would be in a Doctor of Music Education degree versus a Doctor of Philosophy in Music Education degree.

If you go to the web page above, you can read the requirements for doctoral dissertations for each of the different degree programs, and find links to learn about the curricula.

  • Don't forget about a PhD in Composition! (Not the same as theory :) ) May 29, 2014 at 23:28
  • 1
    What schools give a PhD in Composition, and how would it differ from a DMA in Composition?
    – user1044
    May 30, 2014 at 1:00
  • 1
    @WheatWilliams I would have thought the same, but google doctoral degree music composition gives slightly more results for Ph.D on the first page.
    – NReilingh
    May 30, 2014 at 15:56
  • 2
    @WheatWilliams - most would say the difference is that it gives you better color choices for your robes. :) May 31, 2014 at 8:55

The previous answer is very cogent. I would add -- as the possessor of such a degree and someone who works turning out students with the same degree -- that few people actually get a "PhD in Music." My own degree is Doctor of Philosophy in Music History and Literature. I work with people who have the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Ethnomusicology, or Doctor of Philosophy in Music Theory, and so on. Often these people work in a Department of Music -- but no one is getting a degree that just says "Music."

Most DMAs are also in something more specific than Music, like a Doctor of Musical Arts in Flute, or in Composition, or Accompanying.

  • 5
    It's great that we have some DMAs and PhDs in Music participating on this site. I merely hold a Bachelor of Music degree, but I claim the self-appointed title of "Armchair Musicologist".
    – user1044
    May 31, 2014 at 14:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.