Top 10 Best Online Doctoral Programs in Music

Graduate Music Online Programs
The doctoral-level study of music can be tricky to negotiate and challenging to complete under the *best* of circumstances. But for musicians who are already touring, or who (like most of us) don’t live near an institution that offers a doctorate in music, signing up for a doctorate in the field can be especially challenging.

Fortunately, distance learning is picking up the slack. These ten programs—each offered by a university that holds U.S. regional accreditation or its country’s equivalent—provide options to travelers, the disabled, residents of isolated cities and rural areas, and others who are willing and able to complete doctoral-level study in music but can’t (or would prefer not to) participate in an on-campus program.

1. Boston University, Online DMA in Music Education

Boston University’s new online Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.) in music education allows music educators to obtain a degree, off-campus, from one of the most prestigious universities in the United States. Applicants must hold an accredited master’s degree in music, music education, or a closely related field with a cumulative 3.0 GPA or higher, along with at least 3 years of music teaching experience at some level. The curriculum consists of six major-area courses, three additional courses on musicology and music theory, three approved electives, and a dissertation.

By choosing elective courses wisely, students can create their own specialization tracks. A student who wishes to specialize in African-American music, for example, could take electives on the blues, jazz, and African music. The program takes several years to complete, and may require several short on-campus residencies.

2. University of South Africa, DLitt et Phil in Musicology

With more than 400,000 students all over the world, the University of South Africa is both the largest and the least expensive university on this list. It’s also among the oldest. Boasting both Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela among its graduates, UNISA has been offering distance learning courses since 1873. Like most universities that offer British-style research doctorates, UNISA requires applicants to complete a research project under the supervision of a member of the faculty; the D.Litt. et Phil. program in musicology typically takes three to six years to complete. Applicants must hold a master’s degree in music or the equivalent.

There are two tracks available for the research project: research-only, and research plus portfolio. The research-only project requires an academic dissertation of 60,000 to 90,000 words, while the research plus portfolio option requires a portfolio of original written compositions contextualized by an academic thesis of 24,000 to 36,000 words. The degree can be completed entirely by distance learning from anywhere in the world, and no on-campus visits are required.

3. Monash University, Ph.D. in Music Composition

Located in Victoria on the southeastern coast of Australia, Monash University is one of Australia’s prestigious Group of Eight and has long been noted for its strength as a research institution. Founded in 1958, and with more than 50,000 students, it’s one of the more widely respected universities in Australia.

It also offers a wide range of distance learning programs, among them a Ph.D. in music composition that can be done with almost no on-campus residency. Students must visit face-to-face with their supervisor for at least five days each year, but these meetings need not necessarily take place on campus (though they generally do); the rest of the communication may take place by telephone, mail, email, or videoconferencing.

Students are required to write an academic thesis of up to 80,000 words, and can finish the program after as little as three years of full-time study. The student’s previously-written work, including prior musical compositions, may comprise some—but not all—of the thesis matter.

4. University of Birmingham, Ph.D. in Musicology

Founded as a medical school in 1828, Britain’s University of Birmingham was rated #1 in Britain by the *Times Higher Education* supplement in 2014. It is among the most prestigious research universities in the country, and its music department, whose resources include the Barber Music Library, is world-class.

Birmingham’s Ph.D. in musicology can be completed in three to six years. Students are required to write a supervised academic thesis of about 80,000 words, and must visit the campus at least three times during the program; the rest can be completed entirely by distance learning.

5. Union Institute & University, customized Ph.D.

Union offers one of the oldest regionally accredited distance learning Ph.D. programs in the United States, and it is also among the most unconventional. Students work with cohort groups to design a specialized major on a specific topic that interests them, and then work through a series of individualized classes culminating in a supervised final project supervised by a university-approved expert in the field. The program requires short residencies at regional seminars and cohort sessions that are held at a variety of locations spread throughout the world (though most are held in the United States).

As a practical matter, the Union program is a good fit for someone who wishes to specialize on a highly specialized or interdisciplinary music-related topic, but specifically seeks a U.S. credential (or simply prefers more guidance and camaraderie than what might be available in a British, South African, or Australian research-oriented program).

6. University of Southern Queensland, Ph.D. in Creative Arts and Media

The University of Southern Queensland has long been recognized as a global leader in distance education, and its distance learning Ph.D. program in creative arts and media can easily be tailored to a specific music-related research interest. Residency is negotiated on a case by case basis.

7. The Open University, Ph.D. in Music

Residents of the UK are eligible to sign up for the Open University’s research-based Ph.D. in music by distance learning on a part-time basis. Non-UK residents are sometimes accepted on a case-by-case basis, if they live near an affiliated research center and/or can travel to the Open University campus in Milton Keynes, but this is not commonly done.

The OU, which is a public university and funded by the British government, boasts over 165,000 students and over two million graduates; it is one of the largest distance learning providers in the world.

8. Lesley University, Ph.D. in Expressive Therapies [music therapy]

Lesley University’s low-residency Ph.D. in expressive therapies allows students to focus on a music therapy track, spending a total of nine weeks on campus (broken up into three three-week summer residencies) and completing the rest of the program online. Students spend the first three years of the program on coursework, and then a final year or two on a dissertation.

9. University of Winchester, D.C.A. in Performing Arts

Winchester’s low-residency D.C.A. in performing arts, designed with working professionals in mind, can be completed in five to seven years. Students are required to attend two short September intensive residencies, but the program can otherwise be completed online. The curriculum is highly individualized and can be easily tailored to musical performance.

10. Liberty University, Doctor of Worship Studies

Liberty University, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, offers a wide array of online and low-residency programs designed for Protestant Christian religious leaders. The low-residency Doctor of Worship Studies (D.W.S.) can be completed almost entirely online (though students must take three week-long intensives on the university’s campus in Virginia over the course of the program), and the curriculum provides a broad overview of the theology and practice of church music.

Anything We’ve Missed?

If you know of any other distance learning doctoral programs in music offered by accredited, nonprofit universities, please let me know below the fold; I might feature them in a followup piece.

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