Musical Composition PhD/MA by Research (On-Campus or by Distance Learning)

Music as a creative art form in the 21st century can combine both tradition and innovation, bringing together instruments (some new, some with centuries of history) and the latest in high technology.

As a composer today all of these resources are available to you, and our research degrees in composition aim to foster your skills as you navigate this exciting new world.

On this programme you can create works which use electroacoustics and computer technology, traditional (and not so traditional) instrumental and vocal composition, or which combine these aspects. Works for interactive systems, multimedia, and sound installations are also welcome, and you are encouraged to find your own individual path.

Major funding opportunity for Home/EU applicants to this PhD programme

We are part of the Midlands3Cities consortium, offering up to 89 Arts and Humanities Research Council funded studentships. This includes full research fees, a substantial maintenance grant and additional research training support. Applications are now open. Find out more detailed information on this scheme.

James Lovelock

James Lovelock

Doctoral researcher, Department of Music

“I studied with Birmingham as an undergraduate and I had a particularly good relationship with my supervisor and the department of Music. I also love Birmingham as a city – there is so much going on and it has all the benefits of a city but with a proper campus community.”

Both the PhD and MA by Research require you to attend a training programme as prescribed by the Department and both are assessed on the submission of a portfolio of compositions but these differ between the two programmes:

MA by Research – the portfolio should have a total duration of between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on the nature and size of the forces used, to be agreed with the supervisor.

For those following the MA by Research programme, it is possible to upgrade to a PhD.

PhD – this substantial portfolio (approximately 90 minutes in duration) should display a suitable range of genres and resources to be agreed by the supervisor, which is not derivative, and which satisfies the examiners that it contains original work which is worthy of performance at a professional level and also worthy of publication

You can study an MA by Research or PhD programme on campus or by distance learning. Please note that if you are studying with us by distance learning, there is a compulsory annual visit to campus (every two years for part-time PhD students) - please see our frequently asked questions about distance learning to find out more.

Profiles of our current Music doctoral researchers

Why study this course

  • You have the opportunity to write works for the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (our ‘Ensemble in Association’) the Department’s New Music Ensemble, and for other workshops with visiting performers and ensembles (e.g. Darragh Morgan, Carla Rees, Joby Burgess, Exaudi, and the Hermes Ensemble in recent years). The internationally recognised BEAST system (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre; arguably the best system of its type in the world) regularly presents student works in concerts with up to 100 loudspeakers in Birmingham and abroad (e.g. Berlin, Copenhagen, Basel).
  • Our postgraduate laptop ensemble, the Birmingham Ensemble for Electroacoustic Research (BEER) provides opportunities to explore advanced aspects of live electroacoustic performance such as controller integration, network music, and live coding.
  • 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’.

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

  • Electroacoustic composition
    Contact: Dr Annie Mahtani
    Tel: +44 (0) 121 414 5787
  • Composition and electroacoustic music (including mixed and live works, network music, laptop ensembles)
    Contact: Dr Scott Wilson
    Tel: +44 (0)121 414 5767
  • Instrumental/vocal composition
    Contact: Professor Michael Zev Gordon
    Tel: +44 (0)121 414 6743

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.

University of the Year for employability

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.