Music Theory

Columbia’s graduate Music Theory program immerses students in a wide range of current and past scholarship, including analytical approaches to Western concert music and popular music, music cognition and philosophy of music, the history of music theory, and feminist theory and gender and sexuality studies. Topics of recent Music Theory seminars include “Introduction to Cognitive Musicology,” “Music and the Body,” “Techniques of the Listener,” “Knowing, Doing, Making,” “Analysis, Description, Interpretation,” “Interdisciplinary and Humanistic Approaches to Music Theory,” and “Debussy and Modernism.” 

Students in our program come from a wide range of backgrounds. Drawing on their own strengths as musicians and scholars, members of the program become well-rounded theorists, able to communicate coherently and in an informed manner about the contemporary landscape of music theory, as well as about areas not covered in our coursework. Students are encouraged and guided in the development of independent logical thinking and critical reading skills. They are expected to be (or become) sophisticated musicians, with acute powers to hear music intelligently.

Columbia’s Music Theory program prides itself on a strong record of preparing PhD recipients to take up full-time academic positions in higher education. Its recent doctoral graduates currently hold professorships at Eastman School of Music, New York University, Indiana University, Smith College, University of Durham, University of Michigan, Washington University, Wesleyan University, Wheaton College, and others. We consider the wide intellectual range and ecumenicism of our students and faculty to be a strength. Our graduates may be found on faculties of not only music theory, but also performance and composition, as well as computer science and media studies. Columbia’s Music Theory PhDs have also pursued successful careers in digital humanities, academic publishing, graduate pedagogy, and youth performing arts education.

During the first two years, students are involved intensively with coursework. Students will take three proseminars in the musicological areas (Ethnomusicology, Historical Musicology & Music Theory), as well as lecture courses or research seminars in more specialized topics. Students are also encouraged to take courses outside the Music Department in areas of interest to them. General (Qualifying) Exams are taken in the third year. Additionally, students will prepare a dissertation proposal in two Dissertation Proposal Seminars I and II in year 3.  Then a dissertation proposal (or prospectus) is  orally examined by a faculty committee of at least three.

The PhD dissertation is a document representing original research and thought. The dissertation process is supervised by the Faculty Advisor. In addition to the Faculty Advisor, two faculty members from the Department serve as readers. When the dissertation is deemed ready for defense, two additional readers from outside the Department are appointed (for a total of five).

The Degree Requirements/Timeline page provides detailed information for the Music Theory PhD.

  • Toru Momii, "Music Analysis and the Politics of Knowledge Production: Interculturality in the Music of Honjoh Hidejirō, Miyata Mayumi, and Mitski" (2021)
  • Michael Weinstein-Reiman, "Touch and Modernity in French Keyboard Pedagogy, 1715–1915" (2021)
  • Anthony James Fort, "Rhythm in Modernist Classical Music Sounds Different Depending on How You Move" (2020)
  • Mark Saccomano, "Musical Sound and Spatial Perception: How Music Structures our Sense of Space" (2020)
  • Eamonn Bell, "The Computational Attitude in Music Theory" (2019)
  • Marc Hannaford, "One Line, Many Views: Perspectives on Music Theory, Composition, and Improvisation through the Work of Muhal Richard Abrams" (2019)
  • Will Mason, "Feeling Machines: Immersion, Expression, and Technological Embodiment in Electroacoustic Music of the French Spectral School" (2019)
  • Galen DeGraf, "Navigating Musical Periodicities: Modes of Perception and Types of Temporal Knowledge" (2018) 
  • Maeve Sterbenz, "Moving with Music: Approaches to the Analysis of Movement-Music Interactions" (2017)
  • Orit Hilewicz, "Listening to Ekphrastic Musical Compositions" (2017)
  • Benjamin Hansberry, "Phenomenon and Abstraction: Coordinating Concepts in Music Theory and Analysis" (2017)
  • Caleb Mutch, "Studies in the History of the Cadence" (2015)
  • Max Schmeder, "Thirty-Three Miniature Dialectics: Hegelian Philosophy vis-à-vis Beethoven’s 'Diabelli' Variations, Op. 120" (2014)
  • Kate Heidemann, "Hearing Women's Voices in Popular Song: Analyzing Sound and Identity in Country and Soul" (2014)
  • Scott Gleason, "Princeton Theory's Problematics" (2013)
  • Victoria Tzotzkova, “Theorizing Pianistic Performance: Tradition, Instrument, Performer” (2012)
  • Justin Hoffman, "Listening with Two Ears: Conflicting Perceptions of Space in Tonal Music" (2011)

Columbia theorists currently hold positions at Harvard University (Toru Momii, PhD '21), Wesleyan University (Michael Weinstein-Reiman, PhD '21),  Wheaton College (Mass.) (Will Mason, PhD '19), University of Michigan (Marc Hannaford, PhD '19), Smith College (Maeve Sterbenz, PhD '17), Indiana University (Orit Hilewicz, PhD '17), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Benjamin Hansberry, PhD '17) Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (Caleb Mutch, PhD '15), Washington University (Paul Steinbeck, PhD ’08), Rutgers University (Christopher Doll, PhD ’07), University of Alberta (Maryam Moshaver, PhD ’06), Kunitachi College of Music (Cathy Cox, PhD ’06), Carnegie Mellon University (John Ito, PhD ’04), Princeton University (Elizabeth Margulis, PhD ’03), Hong Kong University (Youn Kim, PhD ’03), Cleveland Institute of Music (Diane Urista, PhD ’01), New York University (Martin Scherzinger, PhD ’01, and Marilyn Nonken, PhD ’99), Tamagawa University (Akira Takaoka, PhD ’99), National Taiwan University (Yuh-Wen Wang, PhD ’98), UC Santa Cruz (Paul Nauert, PhD ’97), Eastman School of Music (David Temperley, PhD ’96), University of Western Ontario (Kevin Mooney, PhD ’96), Columbia University (Galen DeGraf, PhD '18) and elsewhere.