Ph.D. in Composition

Students meet with members of the department's composition faculty on a weekly basis and in seminars with a special focus on contemporary music studies. Examples of seminar topics include Music 575S: Generative Media Authorship (Spring 2014) and Music 690S: Contemporary String Quartet (Fall 2012). Students also take course work in other areas of the department and participate in the discourse of the university at large. Student works are created and presented in collaboration with Visiting Artists and under the rubric of the concert series Encounters: with the Music of Our Time. Seminars by some of contemporary composition's important figures are frequent. Recent visitors have included Steve Reich, James MacMillan, Melinda Wagner, David Lang, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and Meredith Monk.

We admit students to the Ph.D. program with a full five-year fellowship, but you may earn a Master of Arts en-route to the Ph.D. A terminal master's degree will be awarded if a student does not demonstrate the ability to do substantial and original work in composition. Students are notified that they may continue on towards their doctorate after the qualifying examination. 


NOTE: Up to two graduate electives can be taken outside the Department of Music as approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.

The Graduate School requires six semester of "full-time" registration regardless of the number of courses taken or residence.

Reduction in Courses for Students Entering with Masters Degree

Entering students who have already completed a master's program at another institution can reduce their total Duke course requirements by up to four courses, reducing the number of required courses taken at Duke to thirteen. You must prepare a written request listing the courses for which transfer credit is desired and submit to the Director of Graduate Studies no later than the end of the second semester in residence at Duke. Specific course requirements (for example, music analysis) may be waived if the student has successfully taken the equivalent course elsewhere, subject to the approval of the DGS. The transfer of graduate credit does not change any other requirements for the doctoral degree. Students who have completed a graduate degree in a language other than English and who need to take remedial course work in English at Duke may take two courses of language study during their first year.

Typical Degree Sequence

Semester Typical Course of Study
Year 1, Semester 1
  • Music 663, Theories and Notation of Contemporary Music
  • Music 697, Composition
  • Seminars in musicolgy, ethnomusicology or theory
  • Diagnostic examination
  • Foreign language examination
Year 1, Semester 2
  • Music 560 Tonal Analysis
  • Music 690S-1 Composition Seminar: Selected Topics
  • Music 698 Composition
  • Seminars in musicology, ethnomusicology, or theory
  • Portfolio submitted by the end of this semester
Year 2, Semester 1
  • Music 699 Composition
  • Two graduate courses in music
Year 2, Semester 2
  • Seminars in musicology, ethnomusicology, or theory
  • One music elective (500 level or above)
  • Music 797 Composition
  • Qualifying examination
Year 3, Semester 1
  • Music electives (500 level or above)
  • Music 798 Composition
Year 3, Semester 2
  • Preliminary examination
  • Ph.D. composition portfolio
  • Article intended for publication
Following Year
  • Pay fees only (until completion of degree)
  • Final examination (dissertation defense)