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Graduate Program Chair in Composition and Theory,
Yu-Hui Chang

Graduate Program Chair in Musicology, Eric Chafe

Joint MA Adviser in Music & Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Eric Chafe

For more information about admissions, financial aid, and student services, please visit the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

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Music Department Course Requirements 

Music Graduate Student Handbook

Current Graduate Students 

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Composition and Theory Ph.D.

Lydian String Quartet reading student compositions

Lydian String Quartet reading
student compositions

Founded by American composer Irving Fine, the Brandeis Music Department’s program in composition and theory offers in-depth study in composition, theory and analysis, and electro-acoustic music. The graduate program provides students with the time and means to develop a secure command of the craft of composition under the guidance of its faculty. Students have their compositions performed and recorded on the graduate student composers’ concert series New Music Brandeis. They may also have their compositions read by the Lydian String Quartet, whose members are Professors of the Practice in the music department, and by ensembles-in-residence that are invited to Brandeis by the music department. Ensembles have included the New York New Music Ensemble, NotaRiotous, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), and Speculum Musicae. The Slosberg Music Center houses the Brandeis Electro-Acoustic Music Studio (BEAMS) where composers can work with analog and digital equipment. There is also an extensive collection of period instruments including two harpsichords and an historic Viennese fortepiano, which are kept in the Jencks Early Music Room.

Since teaching is an important aspect of graduate training, graduate students receive assignments as teaching fellows for music courses during their second, third, fourth and fifth years of training. Responsibilities include course preparation, lecturing, administering and grading exams, and meeting individually with undergraduates. The culminating doctoral thesis consists of an extensive original composition and a written analytical thesis. Students who complete the Ph.D. program have gone on to successful careers in composition and in teaching at colleges and universities throughout the country. A partial list of graduate alumni and placement can be downloaded via this link: Graduate Alumni.

The basic requirements for the Ph.D. program include:
  • Sixteen courses at the graduate level.
  • Teaching: preparation of graduate students for teaching careers is an integral part of the Ph.D. programs in music. Beginning with the second year of residence, doctoral candidates in composition participate as teaching fellows in the relevant undergraduate courses, for a minimum of seven semesters. All teaching comes under the guidance of the primary course instructors and the department chair.
  • Satisfactory completion of the language requirement in one language (French, German, Italian, or another language by petition).
  • Examinations: general examinations during the second year. Oral qualifying examination in the third year.
  • Dissertation: an original musical composition and a thesis on a theoretical or analytical subject. Two copies of the thesis, as well as an abstract not to exceed 350 words in length, should be submitted to the program chair no later than December 1 for a February degree, or March 1 for a May degree, of the academic year in which the Ph.D. degree is to be conferred. Upon completion of the thesis, the candidate is expected to defend it in a final oral examination.
  • Three years of residency.
  • Attendance at departmental composition colloquia.

Boston Area Graduate Consortium: for cross registration at other institutions

This consortium allows for Brandeis graduate students to take graduate level courses at Boston College, Boston University, and Tufts University as part of their tuition at Brandeis. A full-time graduate student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is permitted to enroll in no more than one graduate cross-registered course each term. This should be viewed as an opportunity to enhance their graduate experience, and not as a substitute for courses already offered at Brandeis. Graduate students wishing to consider this option must first discuss it with their Graduate Program Chair. Learn more about the Graduate Consortium.

Financial Aid

Students admitted to the Ph.D. program are offered full tuition and living stipend by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, which is renewable based on successful academic progress for a total of 5 years. Information about this and other sources of funding may be found on the GSAS website. GSAS also offers graduate student awards, prizes, and annual travel grants for presentations of works.

Application Procedure

Applicants are asked to apply directly to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences using the online application procedure Apply Online. The deadline for applications for admission for the fall semester is January 15. Students are not admitted to the Ph.D. program during mid-year. GRE scores are recommended; English proficiency exam scores are required when applicable.

Application Fee:
check the GSAS Admissions site for the fee, which must accompany the application. Applications will not be considered without payment of the application fee. Current Brandeis students are exempted from paying the application fee.

Statement of Purpose: in essay form, state reasons for undertaking graduate study. Please describe your qualifications for the academic program to which you are applying and your objectives in undertaking this program.

Applicants should clearly outline their research interests. The statement should also indicate how the applicant’s research interests would complement those of the faculty. Applicants should discuss their plans for their academic and professional career and how the particular graduate program will help them attain their goals.

Written Work: You are required to submit at least three original scores, with corresponding audio files of performances of those scores, if available. These are to be submitted as digital files; information about acceptable file formats is provided in the application instructions on the GSAS application website. You may specify a URL where your score file or audio file is located (i.e. on youtube or vimeo) but you must make sure that the link is active and as specific as possible so that your work may be easily reviewed without searching a website. Do not send native notation program files (e.g. .MUS, .SIB). If you wish to submit non-digital files you must contact the music department ( first to request an exception.

Music Composition Exam: The Department of Music employs an informal testing procedure designed to assist the admission committee in reviewing applications to the graduate programs in Composition and Theory. Upon submission of the online application, please submit this exam via the applicant self-service status page.

  • There are two short exercises in tonal music. You are asked to spend up to, but under no circumstances more than, four hours (including copying time) in the preparation of your answers. Please note that your application will be considered incomplete without this exercise.
  • Upon completion of the test, you are asked to sign the appended statement affirming that you have received no outside assistance in preparing your answers. You should then upload the exam directly to your applicant self-service status. It is highly advised that you keep a copy of your exam for your own personal records; electronic submission of this exam is strongly preferred.
  • Sample Exam.

Two Letters of Recommendation submitted online. At least one should be from a faculty member.

GSAS will continue to accept hard-copy letters of recommendation from those referees who prefer this method. All letters should be mailed directly to GSAS.

from all universities and colleges attended must be uploaded to your application; do not mail official transcripts. For more information, visit Frequently Asked Questions

Graduate Record Examinations General Test: the GRE General Test is recommended, but is not required. The ETS code for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is 3092. For more information about the GRE, visit

Non-native Speakers of English: international students should visit the international admission section of the GSAS website for information on TOEFL, IELTS, and PTE requirements. The GSAS TOEFL school code is 3261.

Application Deadline:
the deadline for Ph.D. applications is January 15. Admission to the program is for the following fall semester.

Tracking the Application: GSAS will provide information for tracking the application online in the form of a checklist. Data is updated in real time.

Visiting Brandeis: applicants are welcome, but not required, to visit Brandeis and interview with faculty during admissions time, or at another time during the academic year if more convenient. Interviews can be arranged directly with the individual faculty members by email or telephone. Attending seminars and meeting with current graduate students can also be arranged. A complete list of concerts is available online. Tours of the Brandeis campus are conducted daily.