Direct Entry PhD in Music Theory

The following is for informational purposes only. For the official version of the program requirements, please consult the SGS calendar.


This program is offered on a full-time basis only and begins in September. We have ONE admissions cycle per year.

Minimum Admission Requirements

The PhD in Music, Music Theory field is a research degree. Exceptional students may be admitted directly to the doctoral stream with an appropriate bachelor’s degree (direct entry). Applicants must have an average standing of A– or better.

Applicants, whether from the University of Toronto or from elsewhere, may be interviewed by the Department.

An alternative option for these applicants is the two-year MA, which may be followed by a separate PhD program. Applicants already holding an MA may apply to the four-year fully-funded PhD.

For more details on how and when to apply, visit Applying & Auditions (Direct Entry PhD in Music Theory).

Program Requirements


There are six main requirements in the PhD in Music Theory:

Residence Requirement

Direct Entry PhD students are required to be in residence for three years, except for absences necessary for research and authorized by the Department. To fulfill this requirement, a student must be in such geographical proximity as to be able to visit the campus regularly and participate fully in the university’s activities associated with the program.

Course Requirements

A student must complete 6.0 full-course equivalents (FCEs) as follows:

Year 1

  • 3.0 FCEs at the graduate level

Students must maintain an average of at least A- in order to continue in the doctoral program. Successful direct entry students will go on to Year 2.

Year 2 & 3

  • MUS1250H PhD Seminar (0.5 credits)
  • MUS3997H Research in Music Theory (0.5 credits)*
  • 1.0 full-course equivalent in graduate-only seminars in Music Theory
  • 1.0 full-course equivalent in electives**

Students may be required to take additional courses or acquire other skills to meet the needs of their proposed subjects of study.

*Research in Music Theory (MUS3997H), must be started at the beginning of the second term of the second year and must be completed by the end of the first term of year 3. During their first two years, students are expected to discuss their interests, expectations and research objectives with faculty members. An appropriate supervisor for MUS3997H must then be agreed upon. The supervisor will be primarily responsible for determining the structure and content of MUS3997H, which will include a research paper.

**With the approval of the divisional course and program advising committee, one half-course may be taken outside of music theory, musicology and ethnomusicology (either in the Graduate Department of Music or in another graduate unit).

Coursework should be completed by the end of the second year of study, with an average grade of at least A-, with the exception of MUS3997H, which lays the groundwork for the dissertation research and leads to the Major Field examination in year 3. Students may be required to take additional courses or acquire other skills to meet the needs of their proposed subjects of study.

Language Requirements

[Updated Summer 2023]

Two research languages in addition to English are required: one “secondary” and one “primary.” Students may complete coursework in statistics or computer programming (coding) in place of one language. The goal is to have all language requirements fulfilled by the end of Year 3.

The “secondary” language requirement is the same as the MA language requirement. The default language for the secondary language requirement is German. Students who wish to choose languages other than German or to substitute coursework in statistics or computer programming (coding) must submit a petition to the Division Head (either Musicology or Music Theory) by the end of the first session of Year 1. 

Students can fulfil the secondary language requirement in one of the following three ways:

  • complete GER 300H at U of T or its equivalent from another university with a minimum grade of B+; or
  • complete GER 6000H; or
  • pass a proficiency exam set by the Division

Students who have fulfilled the MA language requirement at U of T may count this as the secondary language or use it as a stepping stone towards the primary language. It is expected that students complete the secondary language requirement by the end of Year 1.

The “primary” language requirement involves ​advanced reading proficiency in the chosen language. Students who wish to choose languages other than German or to substitute intermediate-advanced coursework in statistics or computer programming (coding) must submit a petition to the Division Head (either Musicology or Music Theory) by the end of the first session of Year 1. Information on petitioning is available at the Faculty of Music Graduate Studies Office.

Students can fulfil the primary language requirement in one of the following three ways:

  • complete a 400-level language course at U of T or its equivalent from another university with a minimum grade of B+; or
  • pass a proficiency exam set by the Division; or
  • pass an exam in another graduate unit by arrangement through the Graduate Department of Music

Students are allowed two attempts at the in-house exam after which they must take a language course at the appropriate MA or PhD level. All language requirements must be completed by the end of year 4. Exceptions are granted only in extenuating circumstances and by petition.

Comprehensive Examinations

The comprehensive examinations (UTORid login required), taken in the fall of year 3, are in three parts: (1) contemporary issues, (2) history of the field, and (3) repertoire. Students are permitted two attempts to complete the comprehensive exams, the second attempt to occur in January of Year 2.

Major Field Examination

The purpose of the Major Field Examination is to assess the student’s general knowledge of his or her chosen research field, to examine the theoretical premises and methodological approaches set out in the research paper, and to determine eligibility to continue to the research and writing stages of the dissertation. The Major Field Examination is associated with MUS3997H and is scheduled to take place no later than the end of year 2.

By the midpoint of year 3 the student must submit an dissertation proposal (UTORid login required) of up to 3000 words for divisional circulation. This proposal will derive from the research and writing being undertaken for MUS3997H, and its purpose is to elicit constructive advice from graduate faculty that may help both to direct the student’s study and prepare him or her for the Major Field Examination. Based on these responses, and on faculty members’ fields of expertise, the supervisor will appoint a Major Field Examination Committee comprising the supervisor plus at least two other members of the graduate faculty.

The supervisor will determine a grade for MUS3997H, and the Major Field Examination Committee will pass or fail the student’s performance in the oral examination. The student must attain at least an A- in MUS3997H and pass the oral examination in order to proceed with the PhD. In the event that these standards are not met, a second Major Field examination will be scheduled approximately two months later for the resubmission of the research paper and/or a second attempt at the oral examination. A failure to achieve the standards set for the written and/or oral examination at the second attempt results in the student being required to withdraw from the program.

It is the responsibility of the Associate Dean, Graduate Education to inform the student of the results of the Major Field examination as soon as possible. It is the responsibility of the Major Field Examination Committee to make a recommendation to the Associate Dean, Graduate Education concerning the timing of the second examination if necessary. The committee appointed to conduct the second examination should as far as possible include the same members who examined the student in the first place.

On successful completion of all course, language and Major Field exam requirements, a doctoral student becomes a doctoral candidate and embarks fully on dissertation research and writing.

The Doctoral Dissertation

The doctoral dissertation must be a piece of original scholarship based on primary materials and submitted in conformity with the guidelines stated below. In most cases, the doctoral candidate’s supervisor for MUS3997H will continue to act as supervisor for the rest of the doctorate. A Doctoral Advisory Committee will be struck on successful completion of MUS3997H and the Major Field examination: this committee must consist of at least three members of the University of Toronto’s graduate faculty, one of whom, if appropriate, may be from outside the Graduate Department of Music. In many cases, the Major Field Examination Committee will become the candidate’s Doctoral Advisory Committee.

Within a month of the successful completion of MUS3997H and the Major Field examination, a revised and more detailed dissertation proposal must be submitted that also outlines a tentative schedule for research and writing. The Doctoral Advisory Committee will meet with the candidate in order to approve the dissertation proposal and offer advice. Thereafter, the candidate will meet no less than twice a year with the Doctoral Advisory Committee. The candidate will prepare progress reports, including written work, to be circulated to committee members at least two weeks in advance of the meetings (or longer, in the event of a substantial body of written work). The Doctoral Advisory Committee will then prepare its own report of the meeting and will indicate whether or not satisfactory progress towards the doctorate has been made. In cases where progress is unsatisfactory, clear guidelines must be provided that set out expectations to be met at the next meeting. Two unsatisfactory assessments (consecutive or in total) will result in the candidate being required to withdraw from the program.

In some cases, fieldwork will be required as part of the doctoral study. Candidates planning to undertake fieldwork must apply to the Associate Dean, Graduate Education for off-campus status. All off-campus candidates must leave an official field address with the Graduate Office while they are away. Since it is each candidate’s responsibility to apply for off-campus status, failure to apply could result in forfeiture of registration, fellowships and awards, and loss of full-time graduate status.

University policy regarding “Safety in the Field” outlines a hierarchy of responsibility for safety starting with the candidate’s academic supervisor. Before departing for the field, the candidate must file a letter with the Department that acknowledges awareness of any risks in the proposed fieldwork. In some instances, doctoral candidates may need to satisfy an ethics review, in which case research must be structured according to the University of Toronto’s guidelines on the use of human subjects.

When the Doctoral Advisory Committee is satisfied that the dissertation is ready to proceed to its oral defense, the candidate will prepare the work according to the formatting guidelines established by the University of Toronto’s School of Graduate Studies. The dissertation shall not exceed 80,000 words exclusive of notes and bibliography. Exceeding the prescribed length limit is a sufficient reason for a dissertation to be refused examination. Once the dissertation has been fully prepared for submission, a doctoral candidate becomes a doctoral author.

A date will be set for the PhD defense roughly eight weeks after submission of the dissertation. The Doctoral Defense Committee will ordinarily consist of five or six voting members (there must be a quorum of four voting members) and will include the supervisor, other members the Doctoral Advisory Committee (only two of whom may be voting members), at least one internal reader who has not been closely involved in the supervision of the thesis, and an external examiner from another university who is an expert in the author’s field of study. The external examiner will provide a written report to the author and the other members of the Doctoral Defense Committee no less than two weeks prior to the defense.

Extensions, Lapsing, and Reinstatement

It is the Graduate Department of Music’s aim that doctoral candidates complete their degrees within four years. A candidate who has failed to complete all degree requirements within six years may be granted a one-year extension, if the Department approves. The Department is likely to approve such a request if the candidate can provide evidence that he or she has made substantial progress and is likely to finish within the one-year extension. PhD candidates who fail to complete the program in that period may apply for a further extension of up to one year, but the Department scrutinizes such an application very carefully and consents only if it is persuaded that the thesis will be completed within the period of further extension. Third extensions are decided by the School of Graduate Studies and are rarely granted.

A failure to complete the program after an extension, or the refusal of an extension by the School of Graduate Studies, results in the lapsing of the candidacy. Lapsing does not mean termination. The School of Graduate Studies thinks of the lapsed candidate as being “inactive.” Lapsing has the effect of withdrawing the privileges that membership in the University brings – the right to a carrel in the library, to supervision, and so on. But those whose candidacy has lapsed are encouraged by the Department to finish their programs and are helped in every way possible while doing so. Dissertations must be complete before applying for reinstatement by the School of Graduate Studies. Candidates will be required to pay at least the equivalent of one term’s full-time fee in order to be reinstated.

A request for reinstatement may be refused when, in the view of the Department Chair, the thesis or research paper is not sufficiently complete or of sufficiently high quality for the Department to support it.