Graduate Program in Music and Sound Studies


Cornell awards the Ph.D. for original contributions to the study of music, considered broadly to include a wide range of repertories, traditions, and methodologies. While the program encompasses ethnomusicology, music theory, and historical musicology, Cornell offers a single Ph.D. in music and sound studies.

The music and sound studies program at Cornell is designed to lead to the Ph.D. degree; a terminal M.A. is not offered, but students who enter the doctoral program without having already earned an M.A. receive this degree in the course of their studies. Students accepted into the Ph.D. program are guaranteed five full years of financial support, in the form of two years of fellowships (usually taken in the first and fifth years) and three years of teaching assistantships.

The doctoral program in music and sound studies is uniquely flexible; it is developed individually, in consultation with the student’s Special Committee, and students may combine their study in the Field of Music (music and sound studies, composition and performance practice) with work in other Fields of study at Cornell.

There are no formal course requirements in the Field of Music; nevertheless, students are generally expected to take graduate research seminars with at least six different faculty members. As part of the six required seminars, students must take Music 6201 (Introduction to Bibliography and Research), at least one course on an ethnomusicological topic and at least one course on either a topic of music analysis or a popular music topic. Students are also encouraged to take courses outside of the department, which may be used to form the basis of a Graduate Minor in another discipline.

Music and Sound Studies Admissions

Academic Requirements:

Students wishing to enroll in the Ph.D. program in music and sound studies must have a B.A., B.Mus., or M.A. and have completed formal study of a foreign language.

Application Deadline:

January 15th for Fall admissions.  (The Fall semester begins at the end of August.)

Application Materials:

The following materials must be submitted online via the Cornell University Graduate School online application system:

  • Cornell Graduate School Online Application form

  • Application Fee

  • Academic Statement of Purpose

  • Personal Statement

  • Transcripts and evidence of foreign language study. (If transcripts do not show this evidence, provide another form of documentation).

  • TOEFL scores (see Graduate School TOEFL requirements for further details)

  • Three letters of recommendation from faculty members acquainted with your work

  • Two essays (term or honors papers). Preferably one on a broad topic in music studies and the other showing detailed study of one or a few pieces of music or recorded sound.

  • Optional: A recorded performance on a musical instrument or as a singer (if unable to submit online, a copy may be mailed to: Graduate Field Assistant in Music, Cornell University, 101 Lincoln Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853-4101)


Every student accepted into the Ph.D. program at Cornell receives five years of guaranteed funding, including financial support for four summers. Every student is given a fellowship for the first year; a second year of fellowship year may be taken in the fourth or fifth year, or may be deferred if outside funding is procured by the student. The remaining three years of funding are in the form of teaching assistantships. Student Health Insurance is provided under fellowship and teaching assistantships. Partners, spouses, and dependents can be included for additional charges.

Although it is possible to complete the Ph.D. within five years, most students require one or two more years. When possible the department may offer additional semesters of teaching, but such support is not guaranteed. Many students seek outside fellowships (such as A.M.S. 50 or Fulbright Fellowships) beginning in their fourth and fifth year. There are also a few dissertation fellowships available through various Cornell programs. Entering students are encouraged to apply for Javits, Mellon, or other outside fellowships as another means of extending their graduate support. For a list of external and internal graduate fellowships (searchable by keyword, program name, or deadline) see the Graduate School Fellowship Database.

The Department of Music offers a wide variety of teaching experiences, and students are free to request a specific teaching assignment. The faculty makes every effort to match interest and skill to course offerings. Click here to learn more about teaching assistantships.

In addition, fourth and fifth year graduate Ph.D. students who have passed their qualifying exams may be given the opportunity to design and teach their own course as a First-Year Writing Seminar.

Program Guide and Requirements

The phrase Field of Music, or Field, is the official Graduate School designation for the graduate programs and the Graduate Faculty in music. The Graduate Faculty includes Professors Appert, Balance, Bjerken, Boettcher, Ernste, Hicks, Krumhansl, Miller, Moseley, Ogonek, Papalexandri-Alexandri, Peraino, Piekut, Pond, Richards, and Yearsley. Retired members of the Graduate Field may also continue to participate on graduate student committees; currently they include Professors Bilson, Groos, Harris-Warrick, Hatch, Holst-Warhaft, Rosen, Sierra, Webster, and Zaslaw. The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) coordinates the activities of the Field, including such concerns as admissions, financial aid, advising, and job placement, and represents the Field vis-à-vis the Graduate School. As of the academic year 2023-24 the DGS is Professor Appert. More information about the structure of the Field and major and minor concentrations may be found at the end of this document.


The minimum residence requirement is six residence units (a unit equals one satisfactorily completed semester of full-time study). At least two of the minimum six units must be spent in consecutive semesters of full-time study on the Ithaca campus. At least two of the six must follow successful completion of the Admission-to-Candidacy exam (colloquially “A Exams”; see below, although this requirement, too, can be waived upon petition).

Diagnostic exam:

Entering students meet individually with the Chair and the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) at the beginning of their first semester of residency to discuss their teaching experience, skills, and expectations for their teaching assignments during their studies at Cornell. They also discuss specific gaps in skills or areas of knowledge, and how the student would like to address them in the coming years. The Chair and DGS will discuss possible options and alert relevant members of the faculty so that students feel supported in their development at Cornell.

Language study:

The ability to have conversations and to read texts in languages other than English is critically important in music and sound studies. The Field of Music requires reading proficiency in two foreign languages that, ideally, will be necessary to advanced work on the dissertation or a secondary area of specialty. Students must pass one of the two language exams prior to the completion of the A exam (i.e. the Special Field portion); the second language exam can be delayed until after the Special Field exam, but must be passed before the beginning of your 5th year.  Students who have not already gained proficiency in two suitable languages are advised to begin this work during the summer before they arrive at Cornell. German, French, Italian, and Spanish exams are given regularly by the Graduate Field. The Field considers computer coding languages to be equivalent to other languages.

Exams in other languages may be requested and arranged with suitable faculty outside the music department, in consultation with the DGS. Native speakers of languages other than English may take an exam requiring translation from their native language into English to fulfill one language requirement.

Graduate language exams test for reading comprehension of substantial pieces of prose and for ability to translate accurately shorter passages of prose and poetry. Sample exams are available in the Music Library. Exams are generally offered in the week before a semester begins.

With the approval of the special committee, one language requirement may be satisfied by the successful completion of language coursework in the relevant department at Cornell, at least some of which is set at an intermediate level. The meanings of “successful completion” and “intermediate level” will be clarified at the discretion of the individual committee.


During the first two years (4 semesters) students are expected to take graduate research seminars with at least 6 different music faculty members, within the guidelines described below. The distribution of faculty members ensures a broad grounding in topical areas and methodologies, and a sufficient number of seminar research papers from which the student will choose one to revise for the General Exam (see below). This policy also allows time for students to take courses outside the music department. During the third year, students should take at least two seminars; there are no formal requirements for the fourth year and beyond, although students are encouraged to enroll in seminars of interest.

Course/distribution requirements:

As part of the 6 required seminars, students must take:

  1. The introductory course on Research and Critical Methodologies is team-taught by the Music Librarian and a musicologist or ethnomusicologist, and typically taken in the first semester of residency;
  2. At least one course on an ethnomusicological topic and
  3. At least one course on EITHER a topic of music analysis OR a popular music topic.

Graduate seminars are normally taken for a letter grade, but it is possible to take one research seminar per semester on an S/U basis, with the instructor’s permission; students taking the S/U option are required to participate fully in the seminar, but are not required to write the final paper.

Students are required to submit what they consider to be their best seminar paper from their first year of residency at the beginning of their third semester. Students will receive written feedback on their submission and their overall performance in seminars during their first year, reflecting their progress during the first year and suggesting any areas for improvement.

Students are required to take the first part of their A Exams during the week preceding the beginning of their fifth semester of study, and the Special Areas Exam (part two of the A Exams) no later than the end of their sixth semester.

Recommended schedule:

Year 1: Seminars: 3 plus 3 (may include a language; discuss with the DGS) Summer 1: language study, if the language requirement is not yet satisfied

Year 2: Seminars: at least 2 plus 2; teaching Summer 2: Generals exam study

Year 3: General qualifying exam at beginning of year; Special Areas Exam at end of year. Seminars: at least 1 plus 1; teaching. Begin to work on dissertation area as well as prepare for Special Areas Exam.

Summer 3: prepare dissertation proposal and topics for Special Fields exam

Year 4*: Special Field Exam in August prior to the start of the semester; teaching plus optional seminar; dissertation research and writing

Summer: dissertation research and writing

Year 5: Dissertation research and writing

*Note: One of the two post-A's years (Years 4 and 5) will include teaching duties; the choice of which is made by the Chair in consultation with the DGS.

Special Committee:

Each graduate student’s program is supervised by a “Special Committee” of professors. Although the Field as a whole sets policies, it is the Special Committee that certifies that the various requirements for graduate degrees have been satisfied. The Special Committee of a doctoral candidate comprises three or four professors who are members of the Graduate Faculty; each student selects the members of his or her Committee, subject to their agreement. Every Committee comprises a Chair and two or three “minor members.” The Chair always represents the major subject. Two minor members also represent official subjects or concentrations (see “Graduate minor” below). Retired professors with the status of Graduate School Professor may co-chair a committee; however, a second co-chair from the active faculty must also be chosen.

If students wish formal supervision in an area that is not adequately represented at Cornell, they may, with the approval of the Special Committee, petition the Graduate School to permit the appointment of an authority from outside Cornell. Students must have three Cornell members on the Special Committee; the outside authority serves as an additional member.

All decisions regarding the composition of the Committee are subject to the approval of the entire Committee.

Graduate Major Subject and Concentration:

The Field of Music includes two major subjects, each with one or more associated “concentrations” that represent our three degree programs. As a Ph.D. student, the major subject is “music,” and the concentration is "music and sound studies." By contrast, the major subject for D.M.A. students is “music”; their concentration will be either “composition” or “performance practice.” Below is a list of the current faculty and their concentrations.

Music and Sound Studies: Appert, Balance, Boettcher, Ernste, Hicks, Krumhansl, Moseley, Peraino, Piekut, Pond, Richards, Yearsley.

Music Performance: Bjerken (piano), Richards (organ), Yearsley (organ, harpsichord, clavichord).

Musical Composition: Ernste, Papalexandri-Alexandri, Ogonek.

Students must make sure that their committee members, whatever the Graduate Field, represent an official concentration. The “Academics” page of the Graduate School website has a link to a PDF file listing officially recognized “Fields, Subjects, and Concentrations.”

Graduate minors:

Students in the Field of Music are required to have one minor subject of study, represented by at least one member on the special committee, and course work in that area as deemed suitable by that committee member. The graduate minor can be chosen among the three distinct subjects within the Field of Music, which are 1) music and sound studies 2)  performance practice, and 3) composition. (Ph.D. students with a major concentration in music and sound studies may also choose a minor concentration in music and sound studies, in recognition of the heterogeneity of methods and topics in music and sound studies.) A graduate minor subject may also be taken in an area of study outside of the Field of Music, such as Comparative Literature, Psychology, History, English. Some academic programs, such as the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program (FGSS), offer graduate minors as well.

Those who hold minor member status on the Graduate Faculty may only participate as a minor member of the committee. Students may also petition the Field for permission to include as a minor member of the committee other members of the Music Department faculty who are not on the Graduate Faculty (e.g., Professor Spinazzola).

During students’ first year, the DGS, acting as temporary Chair, will sign the necessary forms and can offer advice about forming the Committee. Students must choose at least a Committee Chair by the beginning of their third semester; ideally, the entire committee will be established then, which must in any case happen before the end of the third semester. The most effective way to get to know the professors in the Field is to take courses with them or work with them independently. A professor's participation should not be taken for granted; any professor may decline to serve on any Committee. Requests to serve should be preceded by extended acquaintance and prior consultation.

The Field requires that students meet with their Special Committee every semester; it is the student’s responsibility to organize the meetings.

Students may change the membership of their Special Committees if their academic focus changes or if other circumstances warrant a reformulation. Unless students have already passed the second part of the A exam (see below), no special permission is required except that of the remaining and new members of the reformulated Committee. (The DGS must also sign the form, so that the Field as a whole understands the reasons for the change.)

Admission-to-Candidacy Exam (General and Special Areas):

The A Exam consists of two parts: the General Exam and the Special Areas Exam. The purpose of both exams is to assure professional competency in scholarship, teaching, and public presentations. Students will be able to demonstrate their knowledge and critical skills in written and oral form, developing a body of polished scholarly work and exercising their skills at oral discussion and argument.

The purpose of the General Exam is to develop a portfolio of six topics that reflect your course work in seminars, teaching interests, and a certain breadth of knowledge of repertories and scholarly issues in order to be broadly conversant with your chosen subfield of music and sound studies. The purpose of the Special Area Exam is to develop special expertise in the larger area that circumscribes the dissertation topic, as well as one secondary area (the minor).

Paperwork to schedule the Special Areas segment of the A Exam must be sent to the Graduate School at least 7 days in advance of the exam, and the report of the exam must be sent within 3 days of completing the exam. If a committee member must participate remotely, a petition must be filed with the Graduate School in advance of the exam. The Graduate Field Assistant is available to assist with these requirements and to ensure that forms are submitted in a timely manner.

Cornell’s committee-driven system means that minor variations to the exam structure outlined below may take place as deemed appropriate by the committee; major diversion from this structure may require approval from the Graduate Field.

I. Generals: to be taken no later than the start of the 5th semester

The entire cohort will take this exam at the same time, during the week prior to the start of their fifth semester. This exam consists of 4 parts

  1. One revised seminar paper. In consultation with the committee, the student will choose one seminar paper from among those written in the first four semesters. In most cases this seminar paper will have originated in a departmental graduate seminar; exceptions to this are at the discretion of the committee. In revising the seminar paper, the student is expected not only to incorporate suggestions received from the seminar professor, but also to significantly clarify and polish arguments, address historical, critical, and / or disciplinary contexts, and expand the scope, bibliography, and repertoire list as appropriate. In the course of revising, students are encouraged to seek further feedback from members of their committee, the seminar professor, or other appropriate faculty. The expanded bibliography should define an area somewhat broader than the paper (such as a historical period, geo-political area, genre, or critical method) as well as the current state of research. Students will be asked to talk about these larger historical- critical contexts in the oral exam (see below).

    This portion of the exam is designed to give the student practice in the kind of revision required of any peer-reviewed article, as well as potentially lead to the publication of an article prior to entering the job market. The revised seminar paper is due least two weeks prior to the Exam date.

  2. One annotated undergraduate-level syllabus NOT RELATED TO a seminar they have taken. In consultation with the student’s committee, this syllabus can be designed for a general non-music major audience, or an upper division music major audience. Annotation means that a written justification of the lecture topics, readings, writing, listening, and viewing assignments must accompany the outline of the class. Textbook chapters may be assigned but finding supplemental reading is required. The student should have familiarity with all assigned reading and listening, viewing, and should be prepared to be questioned on these items during the oral portion of the exam. This syllabus can be used as draft for the Randel fellowship, incorporating feedback received during the oral.
  3. Four shorter essays written over one weekend (defined as Friday 9:00 AM to Monday 11:59 PM (closed book/open note). In consultation with the committee, the students will determine four additional topics that fall within the categories listed below, prepare repertoire lists of ten representative pieces per topic, and assemble bibliographies relevant to the chosen topics. At the discretion of the committee, these essays can be related to seminars the student has taken. The final bibliographies and repertoire lists must be approved by the committee no later than two month prior to the weekend of the exam. At the discretion of the committee, one or two topics chosen for the Generals can overlap with essay questions developed in the Special Areas.

    During the exam period, students will be given one question for each of the topics no later than Friday 9:00 AM of the weekend period. All essays are due to all committee members (usually as electronic attachments) by 11:59 PM Monday.

    This portion of the exam is designed to ensure that the student has a solid knowledge of a broad but defined repertoire of music and scholarship, and a facility of thinking and writing about music that will allow the student to be conversant within the field as a whole.  Successful essays will draw on specific examples from the paired repertoire lists to anchor arguments, and will demonstrate a familiarity with the classic and current scholarship on the chosen topic.
  4. A two-hour oral exam covering all the components of parts 1-3 (revised seminar paper, syllabus, and four topics). The student may be asked question on all bibliography and repertory items submitted by the student to the committee in conjunction with parts 1-3. Drop the needle or score identification may be included: ‘identification’ taken loosely to identify and describe key stylistic markers, etc.

    This portion of the exam is designed to ensure that the student has the requisite skills of being able to craft on-the-spot oral explanations, arguments, and analyses required for the profession in the form of job interviews, Q&A, and teaching. It is highly recommended that students rehearse oral exams with their peers.

Categories for General Exam Topics

  • Medieval
  • Renaissance
  • The long 17th century (chronological range dependent on topic)
  • The long 18th century (chronological range dependent on topic)
  • The long 19th century (chronological range dependent on topic)
  • 20th-21st century
  • Performance practice
  • Popular Music
  • Non-Western Area Musics
  • Ethnomusicological methods and theory
  • Music Theory and Analysis
  • Music and Constructions of Identity (including Gender, Sexuality, Class, Race, Nation, Ethnicity, Geographic Regions)
  • Critical Theory and/or Aesthetics and Criticism (including Sound Studies, Improvisation Studies, and other interdisciplinary configurations)

II. Special Areas: to be taken no later than the end of the 6th semester

  1. Three long essays written over the course of a week each, on three questions each developed with a specific committee member:

    Students will develop bibliographies, repertoire lists, and probing topical questions for three areas under the supervision three different committee members. One essay topic must represent the graduate minor subject; the other two essay topics should relate to the student’s conceived area of specialty and provide a context for the student’s dissertation topic or associated teaching interests.

    At the end of a designated period of development and study, three successive weeks of one month (usually August) will be devoted to generating the essays. Essay length will be based on one week of writing on each question (one week = Monday 9:00 AM through Friday 11:59 PM, with two 2 days “rest”). Books and notes may be used. Essays should be submitted to the committee in succession, at the end of the designated week of writing for that topic.

  2. Dissertation proposal: The PhD thesis, or dissertation, is a substantial work displaying independent thought and research on an original topic in any area of musical study, including aesthetics, analysis, criticism, ethnomusicology, history, and performance practice. (Note: The dissertation is generally written under the supervision of the Chair, but a minor member may be the most active supervisor of the dissertation; the nature and extent of minor members' participation varies according to individual circumstances).

    The dissertation proposal is due at the same time as the last essay. The proposal should include at least:

  • A proposed topic for the PhD thesis with a clearly argued rationale for its relevance and contribution to the field
  • A scholarly context in the form of a preliminary literature review (be sure to survey other dissertations registered with Doctoral Dissertations in Musicology [DDM])
  • An annotated chapter outline and an outline of a research and writing schedule
  • A preliminary bibliography (more expansive than the literature review)

Drafts of introductions or other chapters are also desirable, but not required.

  • 3. A two-to-three-hour oral examination on covering the topics of the essays and the dissertation proposal. Students will be expected to show an in-depth knowledge of the musical repertory, the important scholars past and present, current issues of their chosen areas of expertise, and to demonstrate a facility with oral presentation and argument. Scores and/or texts chosen by the Special Committee may be discussed in the exam, and will be given to students shortly before the exam.

The Final Examination (B exam), also known as the thesis defense

After the student has written and revised a complete draft of the PhD thesis, the student must complete two portions of a dissertation defense (known as the B exam in Graduate School documents). This consists of two parts:

  1. A public colloquium of 45-50 minutes on a topic drawn from the dissertation, to be given during the same semester that the student plans to submit the entire thesis to the Special Committee.
  2. A formal meeting with the student’s Special Committee to defend the dissertation. Students are expected to submit a complete draft of the thesis - including an abstract not to exceed 600 words - to all members of their committee six weeks before their defense, unless otherwise specified by the Committee.

Both parts of the dissertation defense must be announced to the Graduate Field no later than 7 days in advance of the dates; the thesis defense must also be scheduled with the Graduate School at least 7 days in advance of the exam, and the results must be submitted within 3 days of the exam. Ideally the public colloquium should take place during the regular departmental colloquium time as part of that series of lectures; therefore the student will need to submit a title and abstract to the Lecture Committee one semester in advance to facilitate scheduling. Exceptions due to scheduling conflicts will be accommodated.

[Note: the Thesis and Dissertation Guidebook, as well as formatting guidelines may be found at]

A Exam Quick Guide:

Day 1: General Exam (1+1+4+oral)

1 seminar paper rewritten
1 syllabus NOT RELATED TO a seminar
4 shorter essays based on 4 topics, each with 10 representative pieces (closed book/open note)

  • 1 of the 4 essays (but no more than 1) can be related to a seminar taken
  • The four shorter essays should be written over a weekend (defined as Friday 9:00 AM to Monday 11:59 PM)

Oral exam (2 hours)

Day 2: Special Field: (3+1+oral)

3 long essays, one tied to each committee member; 1 WEEK of writing on each

A completed dissertation proposal.

Oral examination (2-3 hour)


The General exam must be taken in August on the weekend BEFORE the first week of classes in the third year, with the orals to follow the next week.

Special Fields exams: The Grad School stipulates that the A exam (i.e. the completion of the Special Field Exam) must occur BEFORE the beginning of the seventh semester (i.e. year 4). Thus: writing in weeks 1-3 of the August before the seventh semester; orals in orientation week or week 1. Also possible: Writing in weeks 1-3 of May of the sixth semester; orals at end of May.

General Calendar

First year

Week before classes

  • Orientation
  • Language exams
  • Diagnostic exam
  • Choose courses for the fall

Fall semester

  • Seminars
  • Language study, as necessary
  • Choose courses for the spring
  • Meet with the DGS at least once

Spring semester

  • Seminars
  • Language study, as necessary
  • Meet with the DGS at least once
  • Begin thinking about Special Committee Chair
  • Participate in prospective student visits
  • Choose courses for the fall


  • Language study, as necessary
  • Identify Special Committee chair; file necessary form; with the chair, choose other committee members

Second year

Fall semester

  • Special Committee Chair must be selected by the beginning of the semester, and the rest of the committee by the end
  • Seminars
  • Complete language exams
  • Teaching
  • Meet with Special Committee at least once
  • Choose courses for the spring

Spring semester

  • Seminars
  • Teaching
  • Meet with Special Committee at least once
  • Participate in prospective student visits
  • A Exam General preparation, especially for those entering in Fall 2014 and later
  • Choose courses for the fall


  • A Exam preparation

Third year

Immediately prior to the beginning of the Fall semester

  • A Exam General for those entering in Fall 2014 and later

Fall semester

  • Seminar(s)
  • Teaching
  • Meet with Special Committee at least once
  • Prepare for A Exam (Fall 2013 and earlier)
  • Choose course(s) for spring

Spring semester

  • For those entering in Fall 2013 and earlier, complete at least the Generals Exam; ideally the Special Areas exam will also be completed during this semester; the Special Areas exam must be scheduled at least seven days in advance and the report must be filed within three days of the exam – consult the grad field assistant for help (see for required forms)
  • For those entering in Fall 2014 and later, Special Areas exam preparation and completion; this exam must be scheduled at least seven days in advance and the report must be filed within three days of the exam – consult the grad field assistant for help (see for required forms)
  • Meet with Special Committee at least once
  • Seminar(s)
  • Teaching
  • Participate in prospective student visits
  • Work on dissertation proposal


  • For those entering in Fall 2013 and earlier, complete the Special Areas exam, if not completed during the previous semester
  • Dissertation proposal

Fourth year

Fall semester

  • Dissertation proposal must be accepted
  • Meet with Special Committee at least once
  • Teaching
  • Possible seminar
  • Dissertation research and writing

Spring semester

  • Teaching
  • Dissertation research and writing
  • Meet with Special Committee at least once
  • Participate in prospective student visits
  • Possible seminar


  • Dissertation research and writing

Fifth year

Fall semester

  • Dissertation research and writing
  • Meet with Special Committee at least once
  • Possible FWS assistantship
  • Possible Randel fellowship

Spring semester

  • Dissertation research and writing
  • Meet with Special Committee at least once
  • Participate in prospective student visits
  • Possible FWS assistantship
  • Possible Randel fellowship


  • Dissertation research and writing
  • Possible dissertation defense; defense (B Exam) must be scheduled at least seven days in advance and the report must be filed within three days of the exam – consult the grad field assistant for help (see for required forms)

Sixth year

  • Possible Randel fellowship
  • Dissertation defense