PhD in Music Psychology and/or Music Information Sciences 
supervised by Richard Parncutt at the 
Centre for Systematic Musicology, University of Graz, Austria

Updated December 2014

Are you thinking about a PhD in the area of music psychology and/or music information sciences? The Centre for Systematic Musicology at the University of Graz, Austria has established a good infrastructure for research students. We have also been receiving regular enquiries from students who are evidently not only talented and motivated, but also diverse with regard to culture and gender. That is promising, because we believe in a positive long-term connection between the quality of research and the diversity of researchers (Allen et al., 2006).

Before you can join us you will have to jump over three main hurdles:

This page aims to help potential PhD students to solve these problems so that they can our research group here in Graz. But first, consider some more general issues. 

What is it like to do a PhD in Graz, Austria?

Graz is a great place to study systematic musicology. There is plenty of sysmus research going on here - much more than you would expect for a town of 300 000 people. There is also a thriving student scene and lots of live music. Graz has four universities: the University of Graz plus independent universities of art/music, technology and medicine.

There are many research centres in the world in the area of systematic musicology, but there is only one Centre for Systematic Musicology. This may seem like a trivial observation, but label has an advantage: It allows us to be broadly interdisciplinary in our approach and present the benefits of our interdisciplinarity in grant applications. 

Before we get into detail, please compare the aims of your project with the aims of our centre. We focus on music psychology, but like also to incorporate approaches, arguments, materials and methods from acoustics, sociology, physiology, computer science and philosophy. Our centre also aims for the highest international standards, which basically means that we will try to get your work published in one the best international peer-review journals. Is this the right place for you?

There is no German language requirement for doctorate programs in Graz, and th
e English language skills of most students and academics in Graz are very good. But you probably would not come here if you did not plan to learn or improve your German, so please include that in your plans.

Entrance and course requirements are similar to other universities (further info below). The Studien- und Prüfungsabteilung will decide whether you fulfill the entrance requirements (further info below). You will be required to take a few extra courses that are relevant to your project. It is usually possible to find courses in English (e.g. most of the courses that I offer).

Why do a PhD in the area of music psychology or music information sciences?

Much of my published research has combined psychological and computational methods. That includes my PhD (University of New England, Australia, 1987), my 1989 book Harmony: A Psychoacoustical Approach, and many subsequent articles on music perception and cognition. I have also published in empirical music sociology. For that reason, my research students generally work in one of these subdisciplines and not in other areas of systematic musicology - although my venia docendi (which is a kind of license to teach at an advanced level and supervise research at German-speaking universities) allows me to supervise in any area of systematic musicology. 

Why would an ambitious young researcher today want to do a PhD in the area of music psychology, empirical music sociology or music information sciences?

Answer no. 1: There are plenty of interesting questions to ask in both areas, so there are plenty of opportunities to make an original contribution. Just go to any big international conference and you will be confronted by more questions than answers. That's the hallmark of a dynamic, developing field of research.

Answer no. 2: Contrary to what some people might tell you, there are interesting, rewarding careers out there for young researchers with good ideas, energy, flexibility, international mobility, and persistence. If that is you, I can predict right now that for every ten positions you apply for, you will get one. That may seem like long odds, but after a while it will become a routine. You will start to understand how the system works, and gain confidence. By pursuing this strategy, you can count on getting a chain of different positions after your PhD - some postdoc research positions, some junior university teaching positions - in different countries. If you continue to publish in good journals during that time, and if you apply regularly for professorships, the probability is high that you will eventually get one. You may even get a permanent or tenure-track position soon after your doctorate, but don't count on it! Read more here.

What research topics are available?

Students who ask this question are generally not ready for a PhD. Good PhD students in systematic musicology generally formulate their your own research questions, and then try to convince their target supervisor/s that their idea is promising. They have generally been thinking about those questions for some time, and they are highly motivated to answer them. On finishing their PhD, they know more about those questions than their supervisors and have become something of a world expert on their chosen topic. (Can you imagine being a world expert on a given topic? Do you want that? These are important questions to ask yourself!) For your interest, here are some research questions that interest me.

What kinds of doctorate can Parncutt supervise?

There is no doctorate program called systematic musicology, music psychology, empirical music sociology or music information sciences. My doctoral students, or the doctoral students that I co-supervise, are enrolled in broader programs such as humanities ("philosophy"), psychology, or music. 

This page is primarily for students who are considering the possibility of a Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Humanities, University of Graz (Doktorat der Philosophie an der Geisteswissenschaftlichen Fakultät) (more) under my supervision in the general area of systematic musicology. I normally supervise projects in music psychology or music information sciences, which are subdisciplines of systematic musicology. To be admitted to the program you will have to present a list of completed courses that can be considered equivalent to courses in the Musikologie curriculum in Graz. For example if you studied psychology you will find that many of your courses are similar in the main aims to our courses in music psychology or systematic musicology, but you will also be expected to have studied some more traditional musicology or humanities subjects. If you are unsure feel free to ask.

I can also (co-) supervise artistic or pedagogial doctorates at the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz (more). In that case, and if the project is not based on original quantitative or qualitative data, it is not necessary for you to satisfy my personal prerequisites below about previous empirical research.

In general, a dissertation or PhD thesis can be cumulative, that is, you can publish some papers in good journals on a similar topic and put them together with an introduction to make a dissertation. This is in fact my preference because if you have already published your materials in good journals the doctoral examination should be no more than a formality. Further details for Uni Graz are here

My requirements

A PhD is an original contribution to international research. Specialists in the same area (the examiners) must agree that it represents a "significant" contribution. This is the main question that is asked, or should be asked, in any PhD examination. It follows that to be accepted to a PhD program, you should be in a good position to make such a contribution. This should be clear in advance.

To make a significant contribution in subdiscipline X, you need a good command in advance of that subdiscipline's research methods. I say "subdiscipline" and not "discipline", because of the increasing specialisation that has been happening in all disciplines. That in turn is due to the increasing volume of research in all disciplines: experts know more and more about less and less.The diversity of methods in musicology is enormous due to the mixture of humanities and sciences; even within the humanities, ethnomusicology and historical musicology have very different methods; the same applies for example to acoustics and neurosciences. To do a PhD, you need a command of methods in the specific subdiscipline that corresponds to your research question.

To have a good chance of making a significant contribution in the area of music psychology, you will need to have a good command of the empirical methods of (music) psychology before you enrol for the PhD. If you don't have that background, you risk not finishing your PhD, which could mean years of wasted time. To get the required background, you must first learn about methods and data analysis, which normally happens in a Bachelor's or Master's program. You must then carry out a small empirical study, analyse and interpret the data, and write a report in standard form with introduction, method, results and conclusions. (This really is important, that is why I have highlighted it! I am very disappointed when promising students do not satisfy this criterion, because they often propose interesting projects and are otherwise well qualified and highly motivated. But without a good methodological grounding, they are unlikely to be able to complete their project.) The main evidence of your ability to apply empirical research methods is usually a Master's thesis that reports the results of a smaller empirical study. You can also convince a potential supervisor with a presentation at a good international conference (e.g. ICMPC) or a research report submitted for publication in a good journal (e.g. Music Perception).

Similarly for music information sciences: to have a good chance of making a significant contribution, you need to have a command of the empirical methods of music information sciences before you enrol for the PhD. First, you will need to acquire advanced computing skills in the processing of audio or symbolic files (music notation), or in the implementation and testing of computer algorithms (which incidentally was the core of my PhD and my 1989 book, upon which many further projects were based). Many people acquire these skills in a Bachelor's program. You then need to demonstrate that you can apply these skills in a small research project of your own. As for music psychology, that usually happens in a Master's program, and the evidence of your ability is usually your Master's thesis. Again, you can also convince a potential supervisor with a presentation at a good international conference (e.g. ISMIR) or a research report submitted for publication in a good journal (e.g. Journal of New Music Research).

Apart from that you will need:
Allow me to stress the importance of a thorough grounding in empirical methods. I regularly get enquiries from people who think they are ready for a PhD in sysmus, but I am pretty sure they are not, because they don't have enough grounding in empirical methods. Please believe me if I say this to you. I have experienced students wasting time trying to do a PhD for this reason, and I don't want it to happen to you. On the other hand please don't hesitate to enquire. It is also possible that you are better at empirical methods than you think.

Enrolment for a PhD at Uni Graz

The following details may have changed since I wrote them, so please check and if you find any error please let me know. There are two stages.

1. Application to Academic affairs (
Studien- und Prüfungsabteilung).

Please consult the information about admission 
here and about necessary supporting documents here. You will also need to demonstrate level XXX in German language and level 6.5 (IELTS) in English.

Get started early! In general the application process should be under way at least three months before you plan to start; six months would be better, and legally the process may take up to six months. In general, deadlines are more important for non-EU citizens, so if you do not hold EU citizenship, please ask directly about deadlines. You may find out that there is a strict deadline one month before the beginning of the semester when you plan to begin, e.g. 1 September for winter semester (starting on 1 October) or 1 February for summer semester (beginning on 1 March). 

If you have a question about this procedure, please contact the Studien- und Prüfungsabteilung (Academic Affairs) by calling University of Graz switchboard on +43 316 380-0 and asking to be connected (e.g. if you are connected to extension 2192, the direct number is +43 316 380-2192). If you find out that anything in this guideline is incorrect or misleading, or has changed. please let me know!

2. Application to the Dean's Office (Dekanat) of the Faculty of Humanities (Geisteswissenschaftliche Fakultät)

If your application passes the initial screening, it will be considered by the Curriculum Committee (Curriculakommission) of the doctoral program (Doktorat) of the Faculty of Humanities (Geisteswissenschaftliche Fakultät, GEWI-Fakultät). The Dean of Studies will require the following further documentation:

If you prepare a complete draft of these documents and send them to me, I will give you comments for improvement. After that you can get my signature and make the application.

You can call the Dean's office of the Faculty of Humanities either by dialing +43 316 380-0 and asking to be connected by by dialing direct +43 316 380-8018. Again, please let me know if you find an error in these guidelines.

Funding your PhD project

The Austrian government may not yet have realised the importance of PhDs for the overall research performance of universities and for national development. There are no Austrian government scholarships for PhDs (please correct me if I am wrong or if the situation changes). PhD students are expected to have rich parents or live on rather little.

But there are other several possibilities. First, the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Graz occasionally (about once per year) offers PhD scholarships. For that, I will have to recommend you.

In 2013 Uni Graz offered some new funding sources. Next try where several options are offered. Then, the Erasmus Mundus Masters and PhD scholarships; write a complete draft of your application and visit me to talk about it before submitting. Or look for scholarships and fellowships in the OEAD database: enter your country and see what you can find under the various disciplines that are relevant to your planned research. For example, students from China can apply to the Chinese Scholarship Council, and other bilaterial agreements between Austria (FWF) and different countries are listed here.

You may also consider the possibility of drafting a grant application for an FWF stand-alone project on my behalf. But remember that I don't have much time for writing grant applications so you might find yourself waiting a long time while I get around to it. To shorten the waiting time, work with me to prepare a complete application whose content I can agree with. I will do this if you clearly satisfy the prerequisites above and I think your idea has potential. We would start by developing and agreeing on the basic idea (that might take some time by itself). In 2009, doctoral students on FWF projects worked for 30 hours per week (longer was not allowed) for two years, and earned 1830 Euros gross per month for 14 months per year (i.e. you get occasional bonuses for Christmas and so on). So your gross yearly income would be about 25 600 Euros. This possibility applies to anyone in the world (including students already in Graz) who would like to do a doctorate in Graz. It also applies to postdocs; for rates of pay click here. New possibilities might have appeared since this page was written. So it is worthwhile writing directly to FWF Austria and the Research Office of the Uni Graz and asking for suggestions. I don't revise this page very often, so this list is neither current or complete. If you know of possibilities that I have missed, please email me so that I can include them.

Postdocs can also apply for:

Other possibilities are listed on the FWF homepage.

I like to apply for funding through the Austrian research fund FWF, because applications are generally written in English, reviewers are generally international experts in the specific area of the application, and the review procedure is relatively fair and transparent. I have no experience with IFK but from their webpage they seem to follow a similar policy.  Regarding IEF I have heard that the chances of success are not bad the second time you apply (after you reply to reviewers comments) but applications are only accepted once per year.

The success of any grant application will depend on:

Further ideas for funding are here.

Before you start planning a grant application, you need to make sure that your basic idea is good, because if it is not good you risk wasting a lot of time and effort. After that, find, read and understand the most important current and older relevant literature. On that basis, develop and revise your idea and approach. In this process, it is usual to revise your idea many times, so plan time for that and don't be surprised when it happens repeatedly. That's what good research is like!

My past PhD students

My past PhD students include Werner Goebl who worked on expression in piano music, and Margit Painsi whom I co-supervised on a project on the psychology of music education. Both now have permanent academic positions in Vienna. You can find their theses and publications in the internet. I also co-supervised the dissertation of Sarah Kettner on the role of narcissism in music performance. I recently supervised Ella (Daniela) Prem in a project on jazz voice sound (timbre). We have a postdoc at the Centre for Systematic Musicology, Erica Bisesi, who until recently (2011) held an FWF Lise Meitner fellowship and then successfully applied for her own FWF stand-alone project to study emotion and expression in piano music. (Nota bene: If you are good, you can apply for funding and get it!) Many of my Master's students have presented their research at international conferences. These include Manuela Marin who is the main driving force behind the SysMus conference series and currently (2014) has a predoc position at Uni Wien. Other Master's students who presented research at international conferences include Angelika Dorfer, Elena Gasenzer, Doris Grillitsch, Thomas Hutsteiner, Karen Jost, Annekatrin Kessler, Johann Lassnig-Walder, Gottfried Reichweger, and Anita Taschler. My student assistants Fabio Kaiser, Martina Koegeler and Martin Winter have also presented their research at international conferences. For further information see my student profiles and publications pages.

Further information

Feel free to telephone me at work or arrange a time by email to telephone. My contact details are here.


Richard Parncutt, Centre for Systematic Musicology, Faculty of Humanities, University of Graz