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music history Degrees

Music History (MH) is also called Historical Musicology, a term that emphasizes its sub-disciplinary status within Musicology. Since all cultures in history have produced music, studies in Music History are inherently broad and multidisciplinary. Despite overlap with Ethnomusicology, however, Music History tends to focus on classical Western music and analysis — though this is not always the case.

Like Musicology, Music History is primarily an academic research discipline. Students are expected to develop rigorous research skills and a comprehensive understanding of the myriad manifestations of music in human history. Most Music History students have an in-depth understanding of a particular historical period, tradition or genre of music-making. Music History studies are often combined with Theory or Literature.

Aspiring music historians should only attend programs with appropriate accreditation by a regional body approved by the U.S. Department of Education. The best Music History programs are also accredited with the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM).

Bachelor's Degree in Music History

Many students formally begin their Music History studies in graduate school with an Historical Musicology or Ethnomusicology major. At the undergraduate level, Music History is frequently studied as a concentration within a broader area like Music. However, the best-equipped undergraduate programs offer the professional Bachelor of Music (B.Mus.) in Music History, a track often affiliated with Honors programming.

Baccalaureate MH students study both musicianship and the liberal arts. They master the art of playing and performing as a musician and acquire precise aural, or listening, skills. All students must become proficient in at least one major performance area and a foreign language, as well. Each Music History major further explores historiographic research methods, musical notation and composition, theory, the social evolution of music, the development of instruments and techniques, and literary analysis.

Admission to a dedicated Music or Music History program usually hinges on a successful audition. Four-year bachelor programs may culminate in a senior project, thesis or recital, providing a valuable opportunity to conduct independent study.

Bachelor-level coursework in Music History includes classes like:


  • Languages & Comparative Music

  • Writing About Music

  • History of Musical Genres

Master's Degree in Music History

The two-year master's degree in Music History is a research- rather than practice-oriented degree. Graduate school provides the opportunity to develop advanced competencies in Music History that can be applied in professional research positions. Because getting a Ph.D. is so popular, many programs let students earn a Master of Arts (M.A.) while they work towards their doctorate.

Admission to a M.A. program in Music History requires extensive written communication abilities and basic music-making skills, too. GRE scores are often mandatory. The Master of Music (M.Mus.), a professional music degree, has a greater emphasis on performance and requires an instrument or voice audition for admission. M.A. programs may or may not have audition obligations. Regardless of the degree, applicants must demonstrate reading proficiency in at least one foreign language, especially French, German or Italian.

The master's curriculum in MH consists of core coursework, electives, examinations, seminar papers and/or a thesis. Students must pass several exams to earn their degree, including language reading ability and musicianship tests. A comprehensive exam or master's thesis is obligatory for graduation.

Master-level classes in Music History may include:


  • Schenkerian Analysis

  • Music of the Americas

  • Aural Foundations of Rock & Roll

What can you be with a master's degree in Music History?


  • Music Librarian

  • Music Publishing Director

  • Adjunct Professor of Music History

Doctorate in Music History


The Ph.D. in Music History or Historical Musicology is a research-oriented degree. There are also Doctor of Music or Musical Arts (D.M./D.M.A.) programs with a strong dual focus on musical performance on the one hand and historical scholarship and research on the other. Doctoral programs in Music History include at least three to five years of full-time graduate work, or around 90 credits, including the process of researching and writing the dissertation. Coursework includes seminars in Music History, Music Theory, Musicology and Ethnomusicology, plus electives.

Doctoral applicants must demonstrate representative knowledge of the literature and composers of each major period of music history. Applicants should also be able to demonstrate a special proficiency in a particular historical period or compositional style. Programs always have their own residency guidelines, coursework prerequisites, and timelines for graduation. Students should assume these features are institution-specific and plan their education accordingly.

Once admitted, new doctoral students should elect a committee to supervise their progress as soon as possible. The chosen committee will design the student's curriculum and collaborate on the development of their dissertation topic proposal. Some Music History candidates must defend their proposal's feasibility before undertaking initial research.

To graduate, doctoral candidates must demonstrate solid foreign language reading abilities. Many doctorates require reading proficiency in two or more languages. Passing scores on multiple examinations of musicianship and scholarly competency are also a precondition of graduation.

Doctoral coursework in Music History may include:


  • Analysis of Tonal Music

  • History of Music Theory I & II

  • Proseminar in Ethnomusicology

What career can you choose with a doctorate in Music History?


  • Professor of Music History

  • Music Historian & Library Researcher

  • Director of Music History & Theory Studies