Graduate Study in Historical Musicology

The graduate program in historical musicology at Columbia is one of the oldest and most distinguished in the United States. It was founded in 1932 by Paul Henry Lang, who set the tone for a broadly interdisciplinary, humanistic approach to musical scholarship that continues today. Since its inception the program has embraced and fostered research in Western music and musical thought of all eras, from antiquity to the present. Music is studied through primary sources, the analysis and development of style, and in wider historical, cultural, and social contexts. The central component of the graduate composition program is the composition seminar, which includes individual lessons.

Students normally take 6-7 years to complete a PhD.  During the first three years, students are involved intensively with coursework. Within the first two years, students will take two of the three proseminars in the musicological areas (Historical Musicology, Theory, Ethnomusicology), 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. In the second semester of the third year of graduate study, a student will normally work with a faculty member in an MPhil Seminar, essentially a tutorial in which a dissertation topic is developed through guided reading and weekly discussions. At the end of the Seminar a dissertation prospectus is prepared and then orally examined by a faculty committee of at least three.

The PhD dissertation is a document representing original research and thought. Most dissertations in Historical Musicology take approximately 3 years to complete, from the date of proposal defense. The dissertation process is supervised by the faculty sponsor (normally the faculty member with whom the student has taken the MPhil Seminar). In addition to the sponsor, 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).

For the M.A. Degree

  • Ten graduate courses or 30 points (4000-level or above), including the following:
    • The proseminar in Historical Musicology (GR6105)
    • At least one other proseminar: Ethnomusicology (MUSI GR6411) or Music Theory (GR6333)
    • One course in musical analysis, chosen in consultation with the advisor
    • Other courses chosen in consultation with the advisor
    • Professional Strategies and Skills (GR6000) taken in the second year.
  • One revised seminar paper
  • Passing of a translation exam in one foreign language

According to GSAS regulations, all MA requirements must be completed within 4 consecutive semesters from initial date of registration.

For the M.Phil. Degree

  • Four graduate courses (12 points) beyond those required for the M.A. (for a total of 42 points), chosen in consultation with the advisor and requirements of the area
  • Passing of a translation exam in a second language
  • Passing of a multi-part General Examination
  • Preparation of dissertation proposal in M.Phil. Seminar with intended sponsor

According to GSAS regulations, all MPhil requirements (including those for the MA) must be completed within 8 consecutive semesters from initial date of registration.

For the Ph.D. Degree

  • Succesful defense of the proposal in oral Proposal Defense (2-3 hours)
  • Completion and defense of the dissertation in accordance with GSAS procedures

Years 1 & 2


Proseminar in Historical Musicology (GR6105) (Year 1)
One other proseminar: Ethnomusicology (MUSI GR6411) or Music Theory (GR6333) (Year 1 or 2)
A graduate course in musical analysis, to be selected in consultation with the advisor (Year 1 or 2)
Professional Strategies and Skills (GR6000)  (Year 2).
Graduate courses selected in consultation with, and with the approval of, the advisor. One or more may be courses offered in other Columbia departments, or (in Year 2) courses offered through the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium.


First translation examination taken in early September, January, or early May (Year 1).
Passage of second translation examination encouraged (Years 1 or 2).
Parts 1 and 2 of General Examination (Identification of Music and Analysis of Music), taken in in May of Year 2.
These parts of the General Examination, although taken in Year 2, are part of the MPhil (not MA) requirements.


MA Essay (September 30 of Year 2), a seminar paper written in Year 1 in a Music Department course and revised in consultation with the professor for whom it was written. MA Essays are normally between 20 and 30 pages in length.

All MA requirements must be completed by the end of Year 2.

Year 3


Courses (4000-level and above), chosen in consultation with the advisor to fulfill the total combined 42-point requirement for the MA and MPhil degrees.
Normally in the second semester, the MPhil Seminar (GR8500), preparation of dissertation proposal with faculty member.  This course counts toward the degree requirements.


Part 3 of General Examination (late summer, before registration period of Year 3)
Second translation examination (if not passed in Years 1-2)

Year 4


Courses (4000-level and above), chosen in consultation with the advisor to fulfill the requirements for the MPhil degree.


Dissertation proposal submitted to area committee by midterm date of Fall semester


Proposal Defense (Fall); candidacy for the Ph.D.; work on dissertation

All MPhil requirements must be completed by the end of Year 4.

Years 5 and beyond

Work on PhD dissertation.  Defend dissertation.

GSAS expects PhD dissertations to be completed by the end of Year 7.