Research Degrees (MPhil/PhD) in Music


Read more about this program on the school's website

Program Description

Mode of Attendance: Full-time or Part-time

Staff and students of the Department of Music pursue research on a wide range of subjects, mainly but not exclusively focused on the music of Asia and Africa. Staff have special interests in the music of China and Central Asia (Harris), Korea (Howard), Japan, Indonesia and Thailand (Gray), India and Nepal (Widdess), the Islamic Middle East (Wright), the Jewish world (Wood), West Africa and Cuba (Durán) and South and East Africa (Impey). But research is not limited to these areas: projects have been undertaken on American jazz, and on the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and Eastern European music, for example. Staff often have research interests in issues that cross regional boundaries; see the Department Staff page for a summary of their interests, and select the name of a lecturer for further details of their individual research specialisms and activities.

Whatever its regional origin, music is studied as a cultural phenomenon, and also from analytical and historical perspectives. Instrumental and vocal, sacred and secular, art and popular, traditional and modern musical forms are all of the equal interest. Research methods employed include fieldwork, interview, archive research, recording and filming, performance, transcription and analysis, and composition.

Research training and coursework

All research students are required to follow a course of research training held in the department in their first year. In addition, they may be required to take one or more postgraduate courses, such as the MMus core course Ethnomusicology in Practice, and/or a language course, depending on their prior qualifications and the requirements of their research project. They are also expected to attend department research seminars, and they may be recommended to attend research training workshops elsewhere in SOAS, or in institutions such as the Institute for Musical Research (


Each research student is allocated a Supervisory Committee, comprising the First Supervisor, who will be primarily responsible for guiding the student’s research; the Second Supervisor, who is available for periodic consultation; and the Third Supervisor, normally the Research Tutor. The Committee as a group periodically assesses the student’s progress (see Structure). Research students are welcome to consult any members of the Department of Music about their research. Where the project is inter-disciplinary, the Second Supervisor can be a member of another department.

Residence requirements

MPhil/PhD students are required to be resident in London, with the following exceptions:

  • In Year 2, you may spend up to 12 months overseas on fieldwork.
  • In Year 4, you may apply for permission to work away from SOAS (this does not affect your fees).

Part-present or Distance Learning research degrees are not currently available.


Year-by-Year Requirements for Full-time MPhil and PhD Research Students.

Note: Part-time students spend two years for every one year of the Full-time scheme, except at the Continuation of Writing-Up stage where only one year is allowed. For further information about research degrees at SOAS, see the Code of Practice for Research Degrees.

Year 1: Research Training and Upgrade to PhD

During Year One, the student refines the research proposal and decides in conjunction with his/her Supervisory Committee whether the research project should be directed towards the goal of an MPhil or a PhD degree. Students who wish to work towards the PhD must pass the process of upgrading registration from MPhil to PhD candidacy.

Upgrade requirements:

A. Written submission

You must provide the following to the Supervisory Committee by the May deadline (exact date TBC by SOAS Registry):

  1. An essay of not more than 12,000 words, comprising:
    1. An outline of the research topic, the specific questions to be addressed and the expected contribution of the study to the discipline.
    2. A review of the relevant theoretical and subject-specific literature.
    3. An outline of the methodology to be followed, including an outline of any fieldwork to be carried out, and of any performance or composition work to be submitted as a substantive part of the thesis.
    4. A summary of any original research investigation that you have already carried out that will contribute to the thesis.
  2. An initial Bibliography, comprising the literature directly relevant to the research, including non-text material where appropriate, set out according to standard bibliographical conventions.
  3. A provisional chapter-outline of the thesis. The title of each chapter should be accompanied by a short (1-paragraph) explanation of the subject matter.
  4. A short report on the research training that you have undertaken to date, the progress achieved, and any training that you will need in the next stage of your research.
  5. A brief (1-page) discussion of any considerations of research ethics that arise from the topic or the methodology proposed.

B. Oral presentation

Following the submission of the above, you are required to give an oral presentation of 30 min duration, followed by discussion. This presentation will be attended by your Supervisory Committee. The presentation should include a musical performance, and/or recordings of composition work if these form an integral part of your research project. The Oral Presentation should include results of any research already undertaken, and plans for the next stage of research.

The Supervisory Committee will then discuss the Written Submission and Oral Presentation with you and make recommendations. The Supervisory Committee may ask you to revise or add to the Written Submission before upgrading is approved.

The date of the Oral Presentation will be arranged by the Research Tutor in consultation with your Supervisory Committee.

The Written Submission and the Oral Presentation should demonstrate to your Supervisory Committee

  1. Your ability to undertake PhD-level research, including the ability to exercise critical thought, adopt an analytical approach, and pursue original research;
  2. Satisfactory progress in research training;
  3. Competence in written and spoken English;
  4. Awareness of any relevant ethical issues.

Year 2: Fieldwork or Data Collection

  1. If you spend more than 1 month in the field, a report must be submitted each month to your First Supervisor via email.
  2. You should aim to complete at least one further chapter in a draft.

Year 3: Completion of Full Draft

  1. Term 1: Required seminar presentation on the outcome of fieldwork, or other work in Year 2, and its impact on your research project.
  2. Term1: Submission of a fieldwork report (3,000 words), OR the chapter(s) completed during Year 2, to your Supervisory Committee.
  3. Term 3: Submission of a draft thesis by 1 September (date TBC) to your Supervisory Committee.
  4. The completed Extension of Writing-Up (Continuation) Form must be submitted to the Supervisory Committee; if the Committee is satisfied that the draft thesis can be developed into a thesis of a quality worthy for submission for examination in the subsequent academic year, the student will be allowed to register on Extension of Writing-up (Continuation) Status in Year 4 at reduced fees.

Teaching experience may be available in Year 2, 3 or 4, depending on the progress of your research and on Department needs. Consult your Supervisor and the Associate Head of Department.

Year 4 – Completion and Submission of Thesis

The completed thesis must be submitted for examination before the end of Year 4 (part-time: Year 7). Extensions beyond this date are granted only in exceptional circumstances.

Note the following requirements:

  1. The Examination Entry form must be completed, signed by your supervisor, and submitted to Registry at least 2 months before submission of the thesis.
  2. A Nomination of Examiners form must be submitted by your supervisor to the Research Tutor. This must be approved by the Department Research Committee and the Registry before the thesis can be sent to the examiners.

At your viva (thesis examination), the examiners aim to confirm:

  1. That the thesis is genuinely the work of the candidate.
  2. That the thesis forms a distinct contribution to the knowledge of the subject and affords evidence of originality by:
    1. The discovery of new facts; and/or
    2. The exercise of independent critical power.
  3. That the thesis is satisfactory as regards literary presentation.
  4. That the thesis is of a standard to merit publication in whole or in part or in a revised form.

Important notice

The information on the programme page reflects the intended programme structure against the given academic session.

Research Admissions and Applications

We welcome applications from qualified students holding a good Master’s-level degree (or overseas equivalent) in a relevant subject for research degrees at SOAS. Applications should be submitted online.

It is important to apply well before the start of the academic year in which you wish to enrol to allow us time to process your application. If you are applying for scholarships, earlier deadlines may apply.

The SOAS PhD programme is competitive and applicants should have a track record of high academic achievement and a viable proposal which will contribute to the research interests of the Department. Please note: we discourage purely speculative applications. Applications for interdisciplinary research are welcome, but only one application to one Department may be submitted.

How to apply

If the subject you are thinking of researching coincides with the research interests of one or more members of academic staff, you are welcome to contact them to discuss your project before applying. If you are not sure how your projects fit in with the department’s subject coverage, or if you have any other question about the department or the research programme in general, you may contact the Research Tutor. When you are ready to apply, please do so online at

In considering your application, the Registry will advise the department as to whether your academic qualifications meet the normal requirements for MPhil/PhD at SOAS, and whether you meet English language requirements. The Department will consider your background and experience more generally, your research proposal, and your references. We will pay particular attention to the questions:

  • Is your project one that can reasonably be completed within 4 years (or part-time equivalent), taking into account any difficulties there may be in working in particular parts of the world;
  • Do you have the appropriate subject knowledge and skills, or can these be provided at SOAS as part of your research training (you may be recommended to take a Master’s degree first before commencing research);
  • Do you communicate effectively in written English;
  • Do your referees confirm that you have the ability to carry out this research;
  • Can the Department provide appropriate supervision?

Please ask your referees to note the questions on the reference form and respond to them as far as possible in their reference. Your referees should have personal knowledge of your academic and/or musical (performance, composition etc.) work.

Entry requirements

Postgraduate students of the Department come from a wide variety of backgrounds in the UK and from overseas. Most are performers of music as well as researchers; applicants are evaluated individually on the basis of their background and academic achievements. Applicants should normally possess a Master’s degree, or equivalent, in Music, Ethnomusicology or other relevant disciplines. Applicants who are accomplished performers or teachers, or who work in the music industry, may have alternative qualifications and are encouraged to apply.

Unconditional English Language Entry Requirements

Applicants that require a Tier 4 visa to study in the UK must provide a UKVI IELTS Academic certificate from a UKVI approved test centre.

International applicants requiring a Tier-4 Visa to study in the UK

Test Unconditional entry Unconditional entry with in-sessional support
IELTS (Academic) 7.0 overall or higher, with 7.0 in sub-scores. 7.0 overall or higher, with at least 6.5 in sub-scores

EEA and EU applicants

Test Unconditional entry Unconditional entry with in-sessional support
IELTS (Academic) 7.0 overall or higher, with 7.0 in each sub-score. 7.0 overall or higher, with at least 6.5 in sub-scores.
TOEFL IBT 105 overall or higher, with a minimum of 25 in sub-scores. 105 overall with a minimum of 22 in sub-scores.
100 overall with a minimum of 25 in writing and 22 in other sub-scores.
Pearson Test of English (Academic) 75 overall or higher, with a minimum of 70 in sub-scores. 70 overall or higher, with a minimum of 65 in sub-scores.
Last updated Sep 2019

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