Music Performance Practice PhD/MA by Research

Uniquely, we offer degrees in performance practice at MA by Research and PhD levels, which allows performers of a proven ability to develop their work on historically-informed performances of western art music.

The programmes are assessed by performance supported by written work which demonstrates a high level of ability in presenting, and reasoning from, historical evidence relating to performance practice.

James Lovelock

James Lovelock

Doctoral researcher, Department of Music

“For me, it’s been great to be able to study for my PhD alongside taking advantage of the other opportunities that the university and the Guild of Students offer. In the last three years, I have written and directed musicals in Birmingham and London and recorded the soundtrack in a studio, organised over twenty events for LGBTQ History Month, helped to run a research conference, improvised at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and worked five different casual and part-time jobs for various university and guild departments. This depth of experiences is just not possible with a full-time job, and I have absolutely no regrets about coming back to university for my PhD.”

The MA by Research in Performance Practice is examined by:

  • thesis of c.20,000 words
  • a performance not exceeding 45 minutes actual performance time (30-35 minutes for wind and brass players) which illustrates, at least in part, ideas raised in the thesis
  • a written programme note for, and detailed critical commentary on, the performance.
  • The PhD in Performance Practice is examined in two stages. At the end of Year 2, you will give a live ‘Minor Performance’ of 30 minutes, together with a written programme note for, and critical commentary on, the performance.  This performance is examined by two internal examiners and is followed immediately by a short viva focusing on issues of performance. You may be advised by the examiners not to proceed to the PhD in Performance Practice, but rather to transfer to a Musicology PhD.

At the end of Year 3, you will be examined by:

  • a thesis of c.60,000 words
  • a ‘Major’ performance of one hour’s actual performance time (40-50 minutes for wind and brass players),
  • a written programme note for, and detailed critical commentary on, the performance.

The performance will be given as a standard live recital, of which a recording will be made and a copy on CD submitted with the library copy of the thesis. The recital element will be examined by three examiners (one external and two internal).

These courses can be studied on campus, or by Distance Learning

At Birmingham you also have the option of studying languages, free of charge. Almost no other UK University offers you the opportunity to learn the intense graduate academic language skills which you may need to pursue your research.

Profiles of our current Music doctoral researchers

Why study this course

  • The department celebrated excellent Research Assessment Exercise 2014 results . 38% of research at the University of Birmingham for Music was top 4* rated ‘world-leading’. A further 50% was rated 3* ‘internationally excellent’.
  • We are located in the Bramall Music Building in Chancellor’s Court at the heart of the University campus. The premises are centred on the 450-seat Elgar Concert Hall and contain a suite dedicated to the study and performance of early music, five electroacoustic studios and a large rehearsal room.
  • Our Music Library is one of the best in the country, with special collections focused on 20th-century English music, including Elgar’s diaries, manuscript scores and early editions, and Baroque music, including many manuscript and early printed sources, and an extensive microfilm collection.

Fees and funding

We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2016/17:

  • Home/EU: £4,110 full-time; £2,055 part-time*
  • Overseas: £15,030 full-time

* For UK/EU postgraduate research students the University fee level is set at Research Council rates and as such is subject to change. The final fee will be announced by Research Councils UK in spring 2016.

For part-time students, the above fee quoted is for year one only and tuition fees will also be payable in subsequent years of your programme.

Eligibility for Home/EU or Overseas fees can be verified with Admissions. Learn more about fees for international students

Tuition fees can either be paid in full or by instalments. Learn more about postgraduate tuition fees and funding

Entry requirements

Learn more about entry requirements

International students

Academic requirements

We accept a range of qualifications; our country pages show you what qualifications we accept from your country.

English language requirements

You can satisfy our English language requirements in two ways:

How to apply

Before you make your application

Please refer to our six step process on applying for PhD, MA by Research and MRes opportunities for Arts subject areas.

You may wish to register your interest with us to receive regular news and updates on postgraduate life within this Department and the wider University.

Additional Guidance for applicants to the PhD Distance Learning study mode.

Making your application

When clicking on the Apply Now button you will be directed to an application specifically designed for the programme you wish to apply for where you will create an account with the University application system and submit your application and supporting documents online. Further information regarding how to apply online can be found on the How to apply pages

Apply now

  • Singers and singing; gender and sexuality; performance; early modern period.
    Contact: Dr Amy Brosius
  • Fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; violin performance; conducting.
    Contact: Dr Andrew Kirkman
  • Early music performance practice.
    Contact: Dr Mary O'Neill
    Tel: +44 (0)121 414 5792

The University has been recognised for its impressive graduate employment, being named ‘University of the Year for Graduate Employment’ in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2016.

In addition, the global edition of The New York Times has ranked the University 60th in the world and 9th in UK for post-qualification employability. The rankings illustrate the top 150 universities most frequently selected by global employers and are the result of a survey by French consulting firm Emerging and German consulting firm Trendence.

Your degree will provide excellent preparation for employment and this will be further enhanced by the employability skills training offered through the College of Arts and Law Graduate School. The University also offers a wide range of activities and services to give our students the edge in the job market, including: career planning designed to meet the needs of postgraduates; opportunities to meet employers face-to-face at on-campus recruitment fairs, employer presentations and skills workshops; individual guidance on your job applications, writing your CV and improving your interview technique; and access to comprehensive listings of hundreds of graduate jobs and work experience opportunities.

Birmingham's Music postgraduates work in a wide range of careers within and beyond the music world. A postgraduate degree in Music develops a broad base of skills including general skills such as communication, problem solving and research, and also specific skills developed by practice and performance such as self-management, team work and presentation.

Over the past five years, 96% of Music postgraduates were in work and/or further study six months after graduation. Whilst some graduates pursue music-related careers, others choose to use their transferable skills to follow career paths in fields including finance, the media and the public sector. Employers that graduates have gone on to work for include: Arts Council England; BBC; Birmingham Conservatoire; Birmingham Contemporary Music Group; Coventry City Council Performing Arts Service; Lancaster University; National Opera Studio; National Orchestra; Raffles Institution; and Royal Northern College of Music.

Music postgraduate alumni profiles

Birmingham has been transformed into one of Europe's most exciting cities. It is more than somewhere to study; it is somewhere to build a successful future.

Get involved

In addition to the student groups hosted by the Guild of Students, each school runs its own social activities, research fora, seminars and groups for postgraduates.


Coming to Birmingham to study might be your first time living away from home. Our student accommodation will allow you to enjoy your new-found independence in safe, welcoming and sociable surroundings.

The City of Birmingham

One of Europe's most exciting destinations, Birmingham is brimming with life and cultures, making it a wonderful place to live, study and work. Our students fall in love with the city - around 40% of our graduates choose to make Birmingham their home.