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This Handbook is intended to help guide new and continuing students through their graduate studies in ethnomusicology at Brown. It contains a mixture of rules, regulations, rationales, and advice.

The Music Department’s graduate programs are currently administered by Jennifer Vieira. She tracks students' academic milestones and maintains online and hard copy records. As our liaison with the Graduate School, she is here to assist students in all administrative matters having to do with regulations, forms, and deadlines (including but not limited to leaves of absence, 6th-year funding requests, support assignment forms, course registration problems, and transfer credit). Jen should be contacted first on all administrative matters having to do with the Graduate School. Additionally, each graduate student should meet regularly with his/her academic advisor and the Director of Graduate Study (currently Professor Joshua Tucker) to discuss goals, course planning, and progress.

Please alert the DGS and/or Jen if you encounter any broken links on this page.

Related Resources


I. Overview of Requirements & Regulations
II. Evaluation & Financial Support
III. Qualifying Examinations
IV. Year-by-Year Walkthrough
V. Other Policies

I. Overview of Requirements & Regulations 

You are admitted to the graduate program with the expectation that you will be a full-time student and earn both the M.A. and Ph.D. If you already hold the M.A. in ethnomusicology or a closely related field, you will have the option of transferring some course credits and may not need to file for the M.A. at Brown. In practice, however, you will probably complete most of the same coursework as students who entered Brown without the M.A.

Most of your graduate training will take the form of graduate or upper-level undergraduate seminars; participation in one or more music ensembles; where needed, language study via undergraduate-level coursework or independent study (in the case of rarely-taught languages); independent preparation for and completion of qualifying examinations (detailed below); and the completion of two major fieldwork projects, one leading to a master's paper and the other to a doctoral dissertation. You should also expect to work closely with your advisor, in the form of one-on-one mentoring sessions about research plans and professional activities, and to participate in campus activities that enrich your intellectual toolkit, such as performances, seminars, and colloquia by visiting speakers or artists. Other types training may be required, depending on your interests and the local availability of necessary resources.

By the end of your studies, you will understand the intellectual history and the methods that guide ethnomusicological understandings of the relation between music and humanity. You will be able to critique existing research in this field and allied fields (including but not limited to anthropology, cultural studies, historical musicology, and ethnic studies), and you will be able to design and conduct original research at the highest professional level. You will be prepared to teach undergraduate and graduate students about these matters, and about matters of general musical interest as well. Should your interests lead you in the direction of public-sector work, you will also be prepared to work in public and private institutions that support musical research and performance of various kinds (see the Alumni Careers page).

A. M.A. requirements

Course credit vs. tuition credit
You must complete a minimum of 8 course credits and pay for 8 tuition units to complete the M.A. (From the Graduate School Handbook: "Tuition and academic credit are only loosely coupled. Academic credit requires that tuition be paid, i.e., tuition credit is required for academic credit to be earned. The converse is not true; tuition credit stands even if the student fails the course, or even if the student did not register for as many courses as were paid for.") Your funding pays for 4 tuition units each semester, and these units accumulate toward your Ph.D. residency requirement (see below). However, that does not mean that you will actually take 4 courses each semester.

What does this mean in practice?

  • In your first year, when you are funded by a fellowship, a full-time courseload is 3-4 courses/semester. In subsequent years, when you are funded by a TA/RA/Proctorship assignment, a full-time load is 3 courses/semester.
  • You will complete the tuition unit requirement by the end of 2 semesters, although you might not have met the course-credit requirement by that time.

Required courses for the M.A.

You must complete 8 approved semester courses with a grade of B or higher. (Courses with a mandatory S/NC grade option must be completed with a grade of S.) You may take a mix of 2000-level and 1000-level courses. Four of these courses must be:

  • Music 2000: Theory & Method in Ethnomusicology
  • One 1000-level ethnomusicology course focusing on a particular musical tradition or geographical area.
  • Anthropology 2000: History of Ethnological Theory
  • Two semesters of music performance (counts as two half-credits = one course).
  • Recommended for most students: Music 1900: Introduction to Ethnomusicology

This means 3-4 of your 8 M.A. course choices are up to you. However, it would be wise to fill most of those slots with the additional courses required for the Ph.D.

To fulfill your performance requirement, you need not be registered for course credit, but you must demonstrate regular attendance and your instructor will be asked to submit an evaluation report to the department's Director of Graduate Studies at the end of the year. Graduate students are encouraged to participate in one of the department's ethnomusicology ensembles. You may also take private lessons for credit through the Applied Music Program (MUSC 1810). Registration in the Applied Music Program requires that you sign a contract prior to registering for the course on Banner: contact Jennifer Vieira for further information. If you wish to pursue this option (and you have the approval of your advisor and the DGS), you may email the department chair and petition to waive the AMP lesson fee. Once the fee has been waived by the chair, let Jen know so she can have the fee removed from your account.

Banner does not allow graduate students to register for courses numbered below 1000. If you wish to receive academic credit for any such course (e.g., a performance ensemble or language course), you should discuss it with your advisor, the course instructor, and the DGS. You will be required to present a rationale (why is this course essential to your graduate studies?), and you may need to do additional work in the course. Once the DGS approves your plan, you should ask Kathleen to petition the Registrar to lift the Banner restriction so you can register for the course.

You may transfer up to two appropriate graduate credits earned at another institution toward your M.A. course requirements. You need to get the approval of the DGS and Registrar using this form. Please see that Jen receives a copy of the signed form before you submit it to the Registrar. These two course credits will be academic credits. Only one of the two may also count as a tuition credit (as per the Graduate School Handbook.)

When you matriculate, you and your academic advisor will discuss your preparation for our program. Our normal expectations are that the entering student will have taken at least a year of undergraduate music theory, a year of Western art music history, and a semester of music outside the Western art music tradition, such as jazz, popular music, world music, or a course in ethnomusicology. Options for remediating deficiencies include auditing undergraduate courses, working with a private teacher, or working independently. You will work out an appropriate plan with your advisor and the DGS. Making up a deficiency should be your highest priority during your first year of study; you will not be able to continue in the program otherwise.

Foreign Language
You must demonstrate graduate-level reading comprehension of one foreign language. You will be examined by a member of the music department, or by another faculty member if no music department faculty member is competent in the language you have chosen. The examination requires translation of a page or two from a scholarly book within a three-hour period. You may use a dictionary. Please forward to Jen copies of any correspondence showing that this requirement has been met.

M.A. Paper
You must write a research paper (not a M.A. thesis) in ethnomusicology of about 30-50 pages. Typically, the paper is a fieldwork-based musical ethnography that will document, describe, analyze, and interpret some important aspect of a music-culture. You must also demonstrate the ability to investigate thoroughly the scholarship on the topic and to organize and articulate a scholarly argument. Many students use the summer of their first year to do fieldwork towards the M.A. paper.

You do not need to go through the formal M.A. thesis filing process outlined on the Graduate School's website. Rather, you submit the M.A. paper to your advisor and s/he informs the DGS and Jen Vieira that you have met this requirement for the M.A. The typical deadline for submitting a final draft to your advisor is April 15. The department has a May 1 deadline for informing the Graduate School that all M.A. requirements have been met.

Duration of Study
It is both inadvisable and virtually impossible to complete the M.A. in fewer than three semesters of full-time study. If you intend to continue in the Ph.D. program, you must complete the M.A. within four semesters of full-time study. Otherwise you must complete a terminal M.A. within five years.

Entry into the Ph.D. Program
By the end of your third semester of full-time study, the faculty informs you, based on an evaluation of your progress in the M.A. program, whether you will be admitted into the Ph.D. program. Students who have made satisfactory progress in the M.A. program can expect admission.

B. Ph.D. Requirements

You must hold the M.A. in ethnomusicology from another institution or complete all our M.A. requirements before entering our Ph.D. program. As a practical matter, however, we say that all of our students are in the Ph.D. program, and regard the M.A. as a pass-through degree.

Tuition Units, Residency, and Transfer Credit
For the Ph.D. the Graduate School requires the payment of 16 tuition units beyond the 8 for the M.A. – that is, a total of 24 tuition units. Since these accumulate at a rate of 4 per semester, you will have met this requirement after 6 semesters of residency (3 years), regardless of whether you are taking 3 or 4 courses per semester. (To quote again from the Graduate School Handbook: "Full-time doctoral students are billed for four courses even if they register for fewer, until the 24-course residency requirement for the Ph.D. has been met.") If you previously pursued a graduate degree at another institution, you may petition for transfer credit for up to 8 relevant courses. These 8 academic credits all count toward the 24 tuition-unit requirement. You may petition the DGS for transfer credit after completion of your first year at Brown, using this form. Please see that Jen receives a copy of the signed form before you submit it to the Registrar.

Course Requirements

  • The four courses required for the M.A. (see above)
  • Two courses from MUSC 2080 or 2090: Seminar in Ethnomusicology (various topics; repeatable for credit when the topic changes)
  • MUSC 2080E: Historiography of Music and the Performing Arts (core seminar in historical musicology; course number may change)

Beyond the seven required courses required for the M.A. and Ph.D., students have their choice of electives inside and outside the music department. You should select these courses in consultation with your advisor.

Practical summary: you must be enrolled in at least 3 courses each semester until you have met the coursework requirements (but you may take 4 each semester during the first year). This means taking 18-20 courses over 6 semesters of full-time study – though you may take fewer if you transfer in graduate credits from another institution. Only 7 specific courses are required, so you have at least 11 electives to play around with: non-required seminars in the music department, courses in other departments, language study, independent studies, etc. You may also cross-register in graduate courses at Harvard for credit, or undertake for-credit study as an Exchange Scholar at several other schools; see the Graduate School Handbook for details.

You are not required to take every graduate seminar in ethno/musicology that is offered, but you should plan on taking almost all of them, in order to get to know the faculty and broaden your own horizons. Taking some courses in other departments/disciplines is also strongly recommended. Before you ask a faculty member to advise an independent study, consult with your advisor and consider whether you have completely exhausted all relevant courses at Brown. (NB: Faculty do not give regular course offerings as independent studies.) That said, students do often register for one or two semesters of independent study (MUSC 2980: Reading and Research) to prepare for their oral exams.

Please note: advanced students who reside away from Brown while receiving Brown dissertation fellowship funding (or who "stop the clock" on their Brown funding while receiving external support) must still register for MUSC 2990 (Thesis Preparation) each semester. Only students who are on personal/family leave do not have to register. Check with Jen Vieira if you are unsure of the registration requirement for your particular situation.

Second Foreign Language
You must demonstrate knowledge of a second foreign language relevant to your dissertation research. This may be fulfilled by demonstrating graduate-level reading knowledge, or by demonstrating speaking ability in a field language. If you choose a field language, you should propose it to your dissertation advisor as early as practical, along with the name and credentials of a person qualified to examine you in that language. If your field language is English and no other language plays an important role in your research area, you may petition to waive the second foreign language requirement (with your advisor's approval). Please forward to Jen copies of any correspondence showing that your second language requirement has been approved or waived.

Ph.D. Qualifying Exams
You must pass a written general examination that covers the history, theory, and methods of ethnomusicology, as well as three approved areas of specialization. Two of the special areas must be ethnographic/historical; the third must be theoretical. The written examination is followed by an oral defense. The entire examination process takes place in January between the fifth and sixth semesters of study. (See below for further details.)

Dissertation proposal, the IRB, and Advancement to Candidacy
After passing the Ph.D. qualifying exams, you will choose a dissertation advisor and present a written preliminary proposal for your dissertation research. The proposal must include a statement of the subject or problem to be investigated, a review and bibliography of the relevant scholarly literature, a description of your research methods, a projected timetable, a discussion of the feasibility of the project, and a statement of its significance for the field of ethnomusicology. It must also contain a statement explaining how you will minimize potential harm to human subjects. Once the proposal is approved, you will advance to doctoral candidacy (i.e., become ABD). Your advisor should inform the DGS and Jen when your dissertation proposal has been approved.

If you are planning a dissertation project that involves research with human subjects (e.g., most forms of fieldwork), you must familiarize yourself with the requirements of Brown's Institutional Review Board and complete a few hours of required online training before you complete your dissertation proposal. There is an excellent chance that you will need to submit a research protocol for IRB approval before you begin your dissertation research. (Reading past IRB protocols should prove helpful.)

The dissertation must be an original work and make a contribution to knowledge in the discipline of ethnomusicology. It will be read by a committee of four or five people, chaired by your dissertation advisor. At least three members of the committee must be music department faculty and must hold the Ph.D. At least one member must be someone from outside the music department (and possibly from outside Brown) whose field is related to the dissertation topic, and who holds the Ph.D. or is a recognized expert in the field. No more than one member of the committee may be from outside Brown.

A public, oral defense of the dissertation before the dissertation committee will take place during the fall or spring semesters only, and no earlier than one month after the committee has approved the dissertation in written form. For a commencement at the end of May, the defense must take place before the middle of April, and the dissertation must be approved before the middle of March. You should arrange your defense date and time with Jen as soon as possible so she can reserve a room. Please also provide her with your committee member’s names, ranks, and affiliations so the necessary paperwork will be available at your defense. She will also need to know if any committee members will be coming from out of town, and whether you will require any tech support for committee members who can’t attend in person (e.g., Skype, teleconference, etc.). Under exceptional circumstances the student may defend the dissertation via videoconference (i.e., without coming to campus).

Duration of Study
The Graduate School requires students to complete the dissertation no later than five years after successful completion of the written and oral qualifying examinations. You may petition for a longer period, but there is no guarantee that the Graduate School will grant the petition.

II. Evaluation and Financial Support 

Acceptance by the Music Department and Graduate School implies that you have the potential for successful study at Brown. Thereafter the faculty offers you guidance to help you realize this potential. By enrolling for graduate study in ethnomusicology, you acknowledge the faculty's right and competence to evaluate you and if need be to recommend that you withdraw from the program.

After every course you take at Brown, the instructor will assign you a letter grade. Each year, normally at the start of the second semester, you will meet with the ethnomusicology faculty to discuss your progress, and then you will receive a brief written evaluation from the Director of Graduate Studies, who will communicate the consensus of the faculty. Making satisfactory progress means successfully completing all courses and fulfilling other requirements (including language examinations, qualifying exams, the master's paper, and dissertation research and writing) in timely fashion. If you are not making satisfactory progress, you will receive a warning which can lead to withdrawal from the program. Official timelines for warning and withdrawal may be found in the Graduate School Handbook.

  • Evaluation during the first year: You will receive a written evaluation of your progress at the end of each semester. Academic progress is judged by your coursework as well as by your efforts to remediate any deficiencies in music literacy, music history, or ethnomusicology shown in your preparation.
  • Evaluation during the second year: Any student who is not making satisfactory academic progress in the M.A. program may be asked to work for an M.A. as the terminal degree. In such a case, any financial aid will cease after the second year.
  • Evaluations during succeeding years: Any student who is not making satisfactory progress in the program may be asked to withdraw at the end of the school year. In such a case, financial aid will cease upon dismissal.

Financial Support
If you make satisfactory progress, Brown guarantees that you will receive financial support for at least five years. It is the ethnomusicology graduate program’s policy to distribute two of the guaranteed five years in the form of fellowships, and three in the form of teaching assistantships or proctorships. The first year is a fellowship year, the second and third years are assistantship or proctorship years, and the second fellowship may be taken in either the fourth or fifth year.

A sixth year of funding may be awarded by the Graduate School, upon the recommendation of the ethnomusicology program's faculty. If awarded, this funding comes in the form of a teaching assistantship. It is by no means guaranteed that the Graduate School will award this funding. However, the program's faculty will recommend students who achieve benchmarks that indicate timely dissertation progress, and the likelihood of a successful dissertation defense in that sixth year. Students who want to be considered for this funding should arrange to provide the following items by the time of their 5th year progress meeting (that is, in between fall and spring semesters of the 5th year):

  • a full draft of one dissertation chapter   
  • a plan for completing the remaining chapters (i.e., a chapter outline with summaries of each chapter's content, and a timeline for completing them)
  • you may also increase your chances of receiving sixth-year funding by applying for external fellowships (see below); applications for external funding will be taken into account, though not weighed heavily, in determining whether to recommend students for a sixth year of funding

A number of centers and institutions around Brown also offer sixth-year funding in conjunction with other activities, such as participation in weekly seminar series: see Interdisciplinary Opportunities in the Humanities here.

Fellowships, Teaching Assistantships, and Proctorships each come with a tuition scholarship, health benefits, and a cash stipend of approximately $24,000 per academic year (as of 2016-17). Summer support is funded for four years at approximately $2,555 per summer.

Teaching and Proctorships

As noted above, students who receive the standard five years of funding guaranteed by the Graduate School are expected to TA for six of the ten funded semesters: typically, this means TAing in the second and third years of study, as well as the fifth (with the intervening year devoted to fieldwork). TA appointments (that is, the assignment of TAs to particular classes) are decided by program faculty on a year-to-year basis, and depend partly upon the needs of the department: that is, they depend partly upon expected class enrollments. However, they are also determined with an eye to aiding the graduate student's professional development. Students can expect to TA courses that are varied in geographic and theoretical topic, and in size and format (i.e., large lectures vs. small seminars). They can expect to TA for several different faculty members. This distribution is designed to give students experience observing and performing in different kinds of teaching environments.

Graduate Teaching Assistantships and Proctorships in music normally require up to twenty hours of work per week during the school year. New TAs are also required to attend a New TA Orientation session, run by Brown's Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning, at the beginning of the second year. Teaching Assistants are responsible for assisting faculty members both inside and outside the classroom on all work related to the instruction of the course, such as taking attendance, monitoring library reserve lists, setting up and operating classroom technology, grading papers and examinations, holding office hours, making copies of syllabi and other handouts, tutoring students in music fundamentals, or leading discussion sections and listening labs. (NB: No graduate student is permitted to grade other graduate students.) A Teaching Assistant may also be asked to give occasional lectures.

When you are serving as a TA, it is expected that you'll meet regularly with the course instructor to plan out your work from week to week. You must also follow the conduct required of all Brown faculty members. This includes being present at all class meetings during the semester. If you know, for example, that a trip to a conference will keep you from coming to one class, or from teaching one of your sections, you must clear it in advance (and make provisional arrangements) with your course instructor. If you will be away for more than one class, you must ask permission of the Department Chair. 

It is expected that faculty will mentor student TAs, providing opportunities for in-class lecturing, discussion leading, input on syllabus design, input on assignments, and direction in grading practices, as appropriate to the assigned class. If you are interested in developing one of these teaching skills, or another not listed here, you should feel free to request such an opportunity. In all cases, you should receive verbal feedback on your teaching skills from the faculty that you assist and, if you so wish, written feedback as well.

The Proctor ordinarily works in the Orwig Music Library under the supervision of one or more faculty and the music librarian.

Conference Travel and Short-Term Research Funding
Travel for preliminary fieldwork, archival research, and participation at professional meetings will play an important role in your graduate studies. Funds are available from a variety of sources at Brown. See the conference funding page for application guidelines. In 2012, Brown introduced the Joukowsky Summer Research Awards, which may help you fund short-term fieldwork (e.g., for the MA paper project or pre-dissertation work) or language study away from Brown.

Students in the ethnomusicology program also have access to several smaller, limited-term opportunities. These may be used, as detailed below, to cover expenses and training that are otherwise difficult to support in other ways. Students who are interested in these opportunities should first discuss them with their advisor: if the advisor approves of the request, students may then submit emailed requests to the DGS (while cc'ing the advisor) and expect that they will receive the requested funding. These opportunities include:

  • a one-time disbursement of up to $3000, to be used EITHER for training that is difficult to undertake at Brown (such as study of a rarely-taught language, or of technical skills related to dissertation research); OR for summer research that has not otherwise been funded. In the case of summer fieldwork funding, students must first show that they have applied for or exhausted other available Brown resources, such as Joukowsky Summer Research Awards or Tinker Grants
  • a one-time disbursement of $5000 for summer support between the 5th and 6th years of study, available ONLY to who have no other summer funding
  • students may also apply for up to $500 to fund conference travel, IF they have already exhausted the considerable resources that are otherwise available (again, see the conference funding page for details)

Fieldwork Funding
You are expected to apply for outside funding for travel and living expenses involved in long-term dissertation field research, which normally requires a year or more on site. The Graduate School offers some financial incentives for winning external funding. You should consult the section "Conducting Dissertation Research Away from Brown" in the Graduate School Handbook for the most current regulations, but these are the three main options for funding dissertation work away from Brown during one of your years of guaranteed support:

  1. Use your remaining year of fellowship funding. Pros: Easy to do – just tell the DGS this is your plan. Cons: You won't be able to use that fellowship to fund dissertation writing in your 5th year, so you will have to TA while finishing your dissertation. You will also find it much more difficult to get 6th-year funding from Brown. (Remember that 6th-year funding is neither automatic nor guaranteed; it is based on meritorious dissertation completion proposals approved by the Chair and DGS.) Moreover, you won't be able to put an external fellowship on your CV.
  2. Win an external fellowship and apply for supplemental stipend and tuition support from the Graduate School under the incentive program. If this fellowship is equivalent to the standard Graduate School stipend, you will be guaranteed a 6th year of TA-ship funding from Brown. That is, in effect you are banking one of your guaranteed 5 years of support to use in the 6th year. If the fellowship is not equivalent to the standard stipend and you need partial funding from Brown, you will still have a greater chance of being awarded 6th-year funding than someone who didn't apply for external grants.
  3. Opt out of Graduate School funding and "stop the funding clock" for up to two semesters. In this case, how you fund your fieldwork is your own business. You'll have to pay Brown's fees for advanced enrollment tuition and health insurance (or provide proof of comparable health coverage) – but you'll be eligible to apply for an Advanced Student Tuition and Health Insurance Scholarship to cover these costs. Students who have applied for external funding (even unsuccessfully) get priority for these scholarships.

NB: If you are conducting fieldwork abroad, you are required to register with International SOS, per Graduate School policy (see the Graduate School Handbook).

III. Written & Oral Qualifying Examination 

In this examination you are required to demonstrate a sound general knowledge of the most important works and intellectual issues in the discipline of ethnomusicology, past and present, as well as demonstrating your competence in three areas of specialization. The exam takes place in January of the third year (i.e., between the 5th and 6th semesters of study). You will be examined in four areas:

1. History, theory, and method in ethnomusicology
2. Primary ethnographic/historical area of specialization
3. Theoretical area of specialization
4. Secondary ethnographic/historical area of specialization

You will determine your three special areas in consultation with your advisor and other program faculty, and will submit a draft abstract and working bibliography for each special area during the progress evaluation midway through your second year of study.  The abstract should be c. 750 words long, and the accompanying bibliography should contain c. 50 items that you deem central to your area. Your bibliography may well include a greater number of items: if so, you should still indicate to your committee which c. 50 items you consider to be most important, by starring them or by using an equivalent typographical convention. You must finalize any changes to the three areas no later than September 15th, at the beginning of your third year of study. This is also the deadline for finalizing the exam committee members. The committee will normally be chaired by your advisor, who will assist in confirming the availability and participation of other committee members.

Scheduling & procedure
On the first Monday in January (following New Year's Day), at 9 a.m., you will be given two questions in each of the first three areas. You will select one question in each area and will have two business weeks to write a 10-12 page response (+ bibliography) to each question. You will be permitted to consult your books and notes, and may work on campus or at home. You will submit the three essays in hard copy and via email to all committee members by 5 p.m. Friday, at the end of the two-week writing period.

For the secondary ethnographic/historical area, you will prepare a syllabus and related course materials for an undergraduate survey course of your own design. The syllabus should follow Sheridan Center guidelines and must include required reading and/or listening assignments for every class meeting, as well as additional recommended readings for every major topic area (for a total of ~50 bibliography entries). Assume that this class will have 30 students, no prerequisites, and will be taught at Brown in the fall semester following your exams, in a MWF 50-minute timeslot. In addition to the syllabus, you must submit lecture notes for one 50-minute class meeting of your choice. These materials are due at the same time as your three essays, but you may begin to prepare them whenever you wish.

The oral examination will consist of a three-hour defense of the written materials (with the understanding that questions may extend beyond the specific terrain covered by the essays, syllabus, and lecture notes). It will take place before the start of spring semester courses. The exam committee will consist of all in-residence ethnomusicology graduate program faculty, with participation from other Brown faculty or a faculty member from another university when appropriate to your areas of specialization. The committee will have at least three members. At least two members must be department faculty.

At the beginning of the oral exam, you will present a brief statement addressing how you came to choose these exam fields and how they relate to your future research and teaching plans. During the exam, the committee members will question you for about 40 minutes in each area consecutively. At the end of the exam, you will be asked to leave the room so the committee may evaluate your performance, and then to return to hear the result of the evaluation. Grades will be pass with distinction, pass, or fail.

Students who fail the qualifying examination will be placed on warning status. Such students will have an opportunity to re-take the written examination in May, with the oral examination scheduled before Commencement. They must pass the exam by the end of the spring semester or they may be withdrawn from the program before the start of the next academic year.

MUSC 2000: Theory & Method in Ethnomusicology is the most important course to help you prepare for the general history/method section, but you should review all of your coursework (and seek to fill in gaps not covered by those courses) in preparation for the exam. You may consult a list of past questions.

For the special areas, the faculty reserves the right to refuse to examine you in an area in which it feels insufficiently competent. Therefore, you should gain informal approval of an area before you begin to prepare yourself in it. You must identify two ethnographic/historical areas and one theoretical area. Ethnographic/historical areas are primarily defined by bodies of ethnographic/historical scholarship that focus on specific cultural groups, practices, repertoires, and sites; these areas may also be practically delimited by geographic regions, national boundaries, etc. You will establish the scope of these areas with your committee members and in your 500-word descriptive abstracts.

Examples of ethnographic/historical areas: African-American music; music of Brazil; Celtic music; European folk and popular music; global indigenous music; music of Indonesia; Latin American popular music; Middle Eastern music; music industries; web cultures; West African music; Western art music from Bach to the present.

Examples of theoretical areas: musical acculturation; music cognition; popular music studies; performance studies; music and linguistics; nationalism & cosmopolitanism; applied ethnomusicology; comparative music theory; historiography; improvisation; cultural studies; music education; dance studies; folklore; digital humanities.

You may be surprised to find a category like "music industries" or "web cultures" in the list of potential ethnographic/historical areas. In past decades, special-field examinations in ethnomusicology have typically covered the musical traditions and practices of a contiguous, bounded region of the Earth's surface, including (for example) the sounds, instruments, aesthetic ideals, histories, technologies, ideologies, and social institutions that tend to define musical activity in said region. However, there are other sources of coherence besides geography. For example, indigenous peoples share a common experience of dispossession; a history of cultural exchange that includes continent-wide coalition-building in recent times; and musics derived from common (pre-contact and colonial) origins, all of which makes "global indigenous music" a reasonable candidate for the ethnographic/historical area requirement. The notion of “web cultures,” similarly, is held together by a vast information/communications technological network with specific social/cultural affordances, and would be acceptable on similar grounds. It would also be reasonable to propose "indigeneity" or "network theory" as a theoretical area -- which would entail a different approach and scope for the exam field. As a rule of thumb, however, you should avoid proposing fields with major overlap: for instance, it would not be acceptable to propose "network theory" as your theoretical area and "web cultures" as an ethnographic/historical area, nor to propose "Latin America" and "Brazil" as your two ethnographic/historical areas.

The choice of areas of specialization must be carefully considered. If you intend to work in the public sector or in a museum, or in a library (where an M.L.S. degree is increasingly required), you should choose a theoretical area in your intended vocation. If college or university teaching is your goal, a strong background in Western art music is a prerequisite for music department positions partly in ethnomusicology and partly in Western music. For positions wholly in ethnomusicology, a secondary geographical area of specialization is a tremendous asset. In research-oriented departments with graduate programs, strong and deep competence in particular theoretical areas will be essential. In any case, you should guard against being perceived as too narrowly focused. While most candidates prefer areas with some relationship to their intended dissertation topic, it is not advisable to choose areas that cling too closely to it. Your choice of academic specialization both prepares you to situate your original dissertation research in a wider context, and signals to prospective employers the types of courses you are prepared to teach.

IV. Year-by-Year Walkthrough  (Timeline)

You will be assigned a member of the ethnomusicology faculty as an academic advisor, but you may change advisors at any time as long as the advisor you want agrees. (Your academic advisor will not necessarily be your dissertation advisor; you will formalize your choice of dissertation advisor in your third year.) Prior to or upon arrival at Brown you should consult with your advisor about your program of courses so that you may register for the fall semester. Your advisor will join you in assessing your strengths, your needs, and your goals.

  • Take all required M.A. courses that are offered. (NB: some are offered only in alternate years.)
  • Remediate any deficiencies in music literacy, music history, or ethnomusicology (in consultation with your advisor).
  • Review the foreign language you are most comfortable reading and pass the foreign language examination.
  • Begin research for the M.A. paper (usually through a seminar project).
  • Begin to develop one ethnographic/historical special area with a view toward the Ph.D. qualifying examination and the dissertation.
  • Learn about the IRB protocol review process and complete CITI certification. Submit IRB protocol for summer fieldwork if required.
  • Options for the summer: conduct fieldwork for your M.A. paper and/or to explore dissertation options; begin a second foreign language, particularly if it is a field language for the dissertation; work as an intern in public sector ethnomusicology or archiving.

At the beginning of the year you should meet with your advisor to discuss your progress and make plans for the future. Some of the things you must accomplish in your second year if you are to continue in the Ph.D. program:

  • Finish the course requirements for the M.A. and make progress on the course requirements for the Ph.D.
  • Make progress on your second language so that you may pass the language examination in your third year. If it is a field language, you need to propose it and a qualified examiner to your advisor as early as practical.
  • Identify your areas of specialization for the qualifying exam, and begin to develop a secondary ethnographic/historical area as needed.
  • Complete the M.A. paper.
  • Options for the summer: study for exams; preliminary dissertation fieldwork; language training; internship; investigate grants to fund fieldwork during your fourth year (some grants, e.g., the Fulbright, require application early in the fall of the third year).


  • Finish coursework. Take any remaining required courses, perhaps take an independent study course to prepare for your oral exam, take courses outside the music department related to your dissertation research, or perhaps a language course to fulfill the second language requirement.
  • Take the written and oral qualifying exam in January, between the two semesters.
  • Second language examination. If this is a field language, you may choose to be examined while at your field research site or after you return. In any case, you should propose the field language and an examiner to the dissertation advisor as early as practical.
  • Choose a dissertation advisor. This may be the academic advisor you were assigned when you entered the program, or it may be someone else. With rare exceptions, this person will be a member of the Brown music department who holds the Ph.D. Prospective advisors do have the right to decline, although in practice this is unusual.
  • Write a preliminary dissertation prospectus. You will draft a short version of your prospectus early in the fall if you are applying for fellowships to support fieldwork, for you will need such a statement in your grant applications. You should submit the full proposal to your dissertation advisor during the sixth semester, or possibly the following summer. The proposal is typically about 15 double-spaced pages (excluding bibliography, discography, and filmography), and includes a description of the research project, a concise literature review, a tentative chapter outline, and a timeline to completion.
  • Apply for external grants to fund field research the following year (so that you might be able to defer your Brown funding to Year Six).
  • Apply for IRB approval of your fieldwork plans, if applicable.


  • Conduct dissertation research (in the field, libraries, archives, etc.). Because of the difficulties of foreign travel and residence, potential problems with visas, equipment malfunctions, unforeseen obstacles, and new developments in your thinking, the "fourth year" may turn out to have more than twelve months. In many cases two trips to the field sandwiched around some time at home will be the best practice. This is why it is so important to scout out your research in advance during the summers of your first or second year in the program. While in the field you should keep in touch with your dissertation advisor.
  • If you are conducting fieldwork abroad, you are required to register with International SOS, per Graduate School policy (see the Graduate School Handbook).
  • Students who have completed their coursework and are paying the registration fee to continue active enrollment while doing fieldwork should register for MUSC 2980 (Reading and Research), using their advisor's section number. NB: if the advisor happens to be on leave, s/he may need to submit a hard-copy grade memo to the Registrar (during the exam period) rather than submitting a grade through Banner.
  • Students who have completed their coursework and are paying the registration fee to continue active enrollment while writing the dissertation should register for MUSC 2990 (Thesis Preparation).


  • Write the dissertation. You will need the use of a good university library, not only for its holdings but also for interlibrary loans, and so most students return to take up residence at Brown while they write. This has the added advantage that you are close to your dissertation advisor.
  • Students who have met the tuition requirement and are paying the registration fee to continue active enrollment while working on the dissertation should register for MUSC 2990 (Thesis Preparation).
  • When you hope to graduate in May of a given year, you will generally need to submit a complete first draft of your dissertation to your advisor the preceding December, to allow time for a cycle of feedback and revision before an April dissertation defense, final revisions, and final May 1 submission in keeping with Graduate School rules.
  • If you will not be graduating this year, complete a Dissertation Completion Proposal in March if you hope to receive 6th-year TA funding and/or a tuition scholarship and health insurance coverage for Year Six.

A few dissertation tips from Jeff Titon:

  • Try to see the forest as well as the trees. Returned from the field, or buried in the minutiae of documents, it is hard to maintain a sense of proportion.
  • Discuss early with your dissertation advisor whether you should show the dissertation outline first and then show it chapter by chapter, or wait until you have completed a first draft of the whole dissertation before substantial discussions. Each strategy has advantages. If you choose not to show anything before the whole first draft, meet with your advisor from time to time to discuss its progress anyway.
  • At a certain point you will need to stop reading and concentrate on writing.
  • You may find it helpful to rewrite the dissertation proposal in light of your research, and use it as a practical guide for writing the dissertation.
  • Have a sense of audience. For some it works best to imagine the advisor and the dissertation committee as audience; others work best by internalizing an audience consisting of those people whose work in ethnomusicology or a related discipline has meant most to them.
  • Realize that your dissertation is not your life’s work; it is only a stage in that work.


  • Students who are continuing active enrollment (anyone who is not on personal leave) while working on the dissertation should register for MUSC 2990 (Thesis Preparation).
  • If you will not be receiving any financial support from Brown during the sixth year (e.g., if you will be living away from Providence), you may want to apply for a personal leave so that you will not be responsible for paying tuition and health insurance fees. However, bear in mind that if you go on leave you will lose access to university resources, including online library databases. See the Graduate School Handbook for more details on leave categories and policies. If you and the DGS decide that it’s necessary for you to take a leave of absence at any time, for any reason, notify Kathleen so she can generate the appropriate paperwork.
  • If you will not be graduating this year, complete a Dissertation Extension Proposal in March if you hope to receive a tuition scholarship and health insurance coverage for Year Seven.

V. Other Policies 

Policy on the Use of Departmental Equipment
All department-owned equipment (musical instruments, audio and video recorders, cameras, computers, editing equipment, etc.) is used at your own risk. Ordinary wear excepted, if you break it, or lose it, you are liable pay for repair or replacement.

Independent Study Courses
Students are eligible to take independent studies in advanced subjects not offered in the departmental curriculum. You may arrange independent study courses for credit with the approval of your advisor. You approach a member of the faculty well before the start of the semester in question and propose to pursue a subject of study; you and the faculty member discuss the proposal and determine the procedure. Ordinarily you meet with the faculty member at regular intervals and complete some kind of project during the course. Faculty members may refuse to offer independent studies in areas where they do not feel sufficiently competent, or when their schedule does not permit it. Faculty members almost never offer independent studies in subjects already covered by course offerings.

Protection of Graduate Students' Rights
Jen Vieira maintains a file of information on you that contains your transcript, faculty members' evaluations of your coursework, memos, proposals, the written qualifying examination, appointment and leave forms, financial support letters, and various miscellaneous papers. You have the right to inspect this material under the Buckley Amendment but you must give a week's advance notice during the school year, and more notice during vacation periods. 

If you have a complaint against a student or faculty member, you should first try to resolve the problem at the department level. In most cases all that will be necessary is to speak to the person against whom you have the complaint. If that does not suffice, you should next speak with your faculty advisor. Usually your advisor can help you resolve the problem informally, but if not, you should speak with the Director of Graduate Studies. If you still feel that your problem is unresolved, the next step is to speak with the Department Chairperson. If all these resources of departmental clarification and conciliation have been tried and failed, you may turn to the Dean of the Graduate School.

When getting advice from various faculty members, or from Ms. Vieira, you should always be clear about whether you are getting their personal opinions about what you should do, or their understanding of departmental or Graduate School policy toward graduate students (what you must do). Anxiety sometimes arises when students confuse suggestions with policy. If you are concerned, or think something is odd, inconsistent, or unreasonable, you should ask the Director of Graduate Studies for clarification.

Policy on Research with Human Subjects
Brown University requires that all research projects that involve the use of human subjects must be reviewed for potential harm to humans. For dissertation research involving human subjects, Brown’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) must grant its approval. Refer to the Brown Human Research Protections Office website for guidelines and procedures. When preparing your research protocol for review, be sure to consult our program's IRB protocol archive & current tips.

IRB guidelines aside, ethnomusicologists follow ethical guidelines of their profession. These standards potentially conflict with those of the IRB. Many ethnographers reject the premise that their interlocutors in the field should be characterized as "subjects" of their research.  In navigating these troubled waters, you should familiarize yourself with the latest revision of the SEM ethics statement and position statement on IRBs. You should also consult the position statements of the American Anthropological Association and the American Folklore Society.

Your subjects have an inherent right to their own words, images, and music. At a minimum, we feel that the following ethical guidelines in work with human subjects should be observed:

  • You will tell your subjects at the outset that you are conducting ethnomusicological research; you will explain what you are doing and why, and make no attempt to conceal your presence, your purpose, or your equipment.
  • Your ethnomusicological research (i.e., interviews, observation, and documentation) will be done only with the subjects' permission.
  • You will inform your subjects of the expected outcomes of your research (e.g., for a term paper; for deposit in an archive; for publication in a dissertation, article, book, or other form) and obtain their permission for those outcomes. You will make every effort to be sure no harm comes to them as a result of your research.

Policies on Departmental and University Resources for Academic Support

Please inform the current DGS if you have a disability or other condition that might require accommodation or modification of any course procedures, or other program requirements. As part of this process, you should be registered with Student and Employee Accessibility Services (SEAS) and provide the DGS with an academic accommodation letter from them. For more information, contact SEAS at (401) 863-9588 or

VI. One last word of advice

Always remember that the department has invested in your success. We believe in you and want to support you. Good luck, and don't hesitate to ask for help along the way.

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  1. To be done:

    past IRB protocol (needs admin access)

    IRB protocol archive & current tips (needs admin access)